As a self-proclaimed gear nerd and tone chaser, as I’m sure many of us are, we often obsess over the major components of our guitar rig while we are on the quest for that perfect slice of tone we hear in our head. Whether it’s a vintage or modern guitar or amp, one off pedals or mass-produced pedals – we are all guilty of going to our favorite music store and playing them all to try and find “the tone”. However, we often times don’t think about the smallest and cheapest component of our rig… the lowly plectrum!
The plectrum, or pick, comes in a variety of different materials, shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. While there is no hard and fast rule to what pick will be the most comfortable in your hands- there are a couple things to think about as far as thickness and material of a pick; and how they can shape your sound.
Material is often something we don’t think about when it comes to choosing a pick. Different materials that picks are made of will help produce different tones and dynamics. Some common mass produced picks are made of tortex, polyurethane (plastic), nylon, celluloid, and acrylic. But the list doesn’t stop at just those materials. Some traditional picks are made of wood, felt, and tortoise shell. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top swears that the secret to his tone is a metal Peso that he uses as a pick.
Nylon, poly/ acrylic, ultem, and celluloid type picks can help brighten up darker tones. The interaction between this pick material and the metal strings of your guitar – can produce higher frequencies that some darker rigs might be lacking. Picks made out of tortex, delrex, and similar materials can often have the opposite effect and give your rig a darker or a more mid-scooped response. These types of picks can often help tame bright sounding guitars and amps.
Pick thicknesses are often times just as broad as the materials that they are made out of. On average – pick thicknesses range from extra thin (usually around .44mm or less) to extra thick (usually around 1.50mm or higher). Thinner picks can often times help with strumming patterns and players that want to play sweeping style movements. Thicker picks will help with individual note definition and produce a heavy, more robust, and often times louder sound.
My personal “pick” has traditionally been of the celluloid variety in a heavier gauge. Lately however, I have been playing a heavy gauge acrylic pick from the guys at Gravity Picks. My note to note definition sounds better than ever. I typically have a darker tone and celluloid or acrylic style picks help give me some of the higher tones that my rig sometimes lacks.
Ultimately, you are the creator of your own music and the pick that you are most comfortable using at the end of the day is all that matters. No one but you can decide which pick to choose or what thickness to use. So get out there and try a couple different brands, thicknesses, and materials and find the one that will never leave your pocket – except to play your guitar.
– Max Jeffrey (Wampler associate)