What is your choice of Plectrums/Pick
Plectrums and Guitars. First you find your dream guitar then you start playing it and realise your not getting the sound that you want. Or at least I did.
I remember years ago when I started playing any guitar and any plectrum would do. Then a few years later I read an article about the best plectrums for jazz players. It was suggested that jazz players use thicker plectrums for a fatter sound. So after doing some research I decided to try.
I then converted to the small Stubby 3.0mm plectrums. For many years I was totally satisfied and would not use anything else and even when I tried other plectrums I was never comfortable, so I stuck with the 3.0mm Stubby.
It wasn’t until a few years ago when I first spent time with my mentor master guitarist George Benson I noticed he uses a Fender or Ibanez plectrum which is far thinner than the Stubby that I use. I could not believe it. His sound was incredibly smooth and fat.
In private I had to re-think the whole thing and I am still doing so. The whole experience has led me on a journey and I am now trying different plectrums to see how they affect my playing. The Stubby can be quite difficult to get used to and can sound harsh if you are inexperienced.
In the next couple of weeks I am going to try various plectrums and see where it leads. So, in a few months I might re-visit this topic my findings.
What’s your choice of plectrum?
Below you can find some information you might find useful.
Shape & Physical Size
Picks come in many different physical shapes. The traditional shaped pick is very neutral and suitable for many different playing styles. Most manufacturers stick to what is considered the normal shape. This shape has been referred to as the 351 shape.
Picks come in various gauges very thin to extremely thick. This produces a different sound. 0.5 to 7.0. Thinner picks are flexible and the thicker ones are rigid.Manufacturers will often make the popular shapes listed above in different thicknesses to appeal to a wide variety of playing applications and playing styles. Whilst pick gauge is often measured in millimetres, some manufacturers will be more generic and ‘describe’ the thickness as opposed to giving an accurate measurement. For example, Ernie Ball describe some of their picks as thin, medium, heavy and extra-heavy, whereas in almost all cases, Jim Dunlop will give an exact measurement. As a rough guide, thin picks usually measure approximately .50mm, mediums are 0.73mm and heavy picks are 1.0mm thick and above. Most picks will usually conform to these approximate measurements, however, depending on the manufacturer, they can vary by a few fractions of a millimetre.
As a general rule of thumb, you may hear people use thinner picks for rhythm guitar and for strumming chords and thicker picks for lead guitar playing. Thinner picks do lend themselves to strumming as they glide across the strings a bit easier whereas a thicker pick will tend to ‘drag’ a bit more. On the other hand, thicker picks are favoured by lead players as they give a greater attack against the strings, better control as they don’t flex and allow for greater speed too. Some players may argue a thicker pick allows them to dig into the strings a bit more creating greater dynamics and better tone too.
However, this should be used as a guide and your choice of pick shouldn’t be governed by what most people use. Choosing which gauge of pick you use should be entirely personal, much like string gauges. There is simply no right or wrong choice and it all boils down to personal taste and personal playing style. Of course, you may not want to limit yourself to using one pick gauge for everything you play either. You may want to use a range of shapes and thicknesses. Plectrums are inexpensive so we would always recommend trying as many out as you can. Only then will you find which one you like the best and bring out the best in your playing. Jim Dunlop handily produce a couple of variety packs which include a range of gauges and pick styles making them an ideal starting point for players on the journey to discover their ultimate pick.
Much like all other aspects of picks, they can be manufactured from a broad range of materials too.
Often, plectrums will be made using some form of plastic but some they can be made from woods and also metals too. Each material has its own distinct tonal characteristics and will also feel slightly different under the fingers too.
Depending on the material used to the make the pick, it’s texture can range from super smooth to something a little rougher to the touch. Whilst ultra-smooth picks will glide across the strings a little easier, they will have less grip so can prove more slippery particularly when your fingers sweat in the heat of playing. Whereas a more textured pick will give a better grip.
Plectrum manufacturers often achieve the combination of smooth feel and enhanced grip by raising their logo or having a dimpled pattern on them. Apart from aesthetic reasons, they mainly do this to add an extra element of grip so there is less likelihood of the pick slipping and spinning around whilst you play which may lead you to drop it. The Jim Dunlop Standard Nylon and Max Grip ranges are a good example of this.
Celluloid is a common material that picks are made from. You may have seen the tortoise shell finish before. This offers a warm tone and nice smooth feel and was designed to emulate the look and feel of the tortoise shell picks of yesteryear whilst remaining ethical (and more economical too). The world famous Jim Dunlop Tortex range was originally designed to be a high quality alternative to the tortoise shell picks.
A pick such as the Jim Dunlop Delrin is completely smooth to the touch. It also has no raised material so doesn’t have as much grip, however, some players prefer this as they feel there is no resistance or scratchiness when the pick glides across the strings. At the other end of the spectrum is the Jim Dunlop Gator Grip range. These have a more ‘matte’ like finish and whilst they offer a better grip than the Delrin range they certainly don’t have the smooth, glass like feel of Delrin.
Certain materials will be softer than others and will be prone to wearing down a little quicker too. Although a harder material will wear a little less ultimately it will be dependent on your playing style and how you use the pick i.e. you may be a more aggressive player or have a lighter touch?