PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- April 26, 2017
- Guitar Accessories
The world of guitar picks is a colorful and diverse subject. You might say a pick is a pick, but don’t say that in a room with more than one guitar player. Any real guitar player carries picks in his pocket. Don’t ask to borrow one unless you are prepared to get that look. You know, that look that says, “Really?” If he or she has to loan you a pick, they will look through the handful they pull out and give you one that isn’t very used. You see, the ones with the worn edges are the bomb. After playing a few hours, a pick forms these smooth edges that are just perfect. You’re not getting one of those. Wear down your own. So what kind of guitar pick should you use then?
The All-Arounder Guitar Pick
Most guitarists probably use a medium gauge flat pick. Everybody from Fender to Planet Waves makes them. Generally .060 to .080, a medium pick gets you somewhere in between the heavier thick picks and the super flimsy thin ones. A good medium pick can help you achieve the speeds you desire without abusing the strings. Too thick and it’s a rigid sound and playing experience, but too thin and you lack attack and the pluck sounds very clicky. Medium picks wear nice and smooth around the edge. You have something to hold onto and still you get that clean sound of a smooth edge.
You can also get medium gauge picks with grips. You can get them in teardrop shapes and triangle and they come in all kinds of colors and materials. There’s plastic picks, wood picks, stone picks, steel picks and more. Why does material matter? Well, it seems everyone is looking for the perfect tone. Just between us, the tone has as much to do with your fingers as it does the pick or any other variable. Why does the shape of the pick matter? It’s mostly about feel and grip. Some guys like those big triangle picks, others like the tiny teardrop shaped picks. To each his or her own, you’ll have to experiment to find what you like and don’t be afraid to try new things.
The Skinny Pick
A thin guitar pick is 0.46 - 0.70. Don’t forget, there’s also extra thin which is 0.45 or under. The thinner the pick, the less rigid against the string and the faster you can play, or so they say. However, there are plenty of metal speedsters who use extremely heavy picks and play very fast. It has a lot to do with what gauge of string you play. The heavier gauged strings don’t react very well to thin picks, so a heavy gauge pick may well be required to get any real tone from the string. Tone is a huge part of the combination of picks, strings and hands. Bluegrassers will use a thin pick for speed, but with medium gauge strings on a Martin acoustic with high action, for volume, many will use a heavy pick. What kind of pick should you use? You’re gonna need to play around a bit to find the perfect one.
The Bold and Thick Pickers
Rockers tend to use medium gauge strings these days. Not the shredders from the 80’s, but the power chord rockers who detune and get the low end stuff. The thicker the pick, the thicker the chunk or distorted 8th notes. Tuned as low as a C, these in-your-face power chords have real meat and speak with anger. A good heavy gauge pick, which is anything about 0.70, (and yes there’s even extra heavy picks) gives the player a sick attack. Some have even used a quarter for a pick. Can you imagine? It is a very meaty sound with the right string and high gain amp. Of course the pickup matters too. There are actually several factors that help you to accomplish a certain sound. The kind of guitar pick you use is just one of them.
The Finger Pickers
Many guitarists play with their fingertips and many have long nails to help them get that fingerstyle sound. Some wear acrylic nails they got at the the local nail salon. That should get you some looks. Other guitarists use steel or plastic fingerpicks, a thumbpick and two or three picks that slide on your fingers so they can roll the strings like a banjo. These also come in different shapes and gauges. What kind of guitar pick should you use? As you can see, it’s as diverse as any mechanic's toolset. There are just so many options. You also have customized picks too, which you can even get your face and name printed on if you like. Fingerpicking is a different sound and style all together and you can do both. In fact, many guitarists use a flatpick and fingers 3, 4, and 5 to do the rolling or fingerpicking.
The Pick Masters
A versatile studio musician may use all of the above. His or her fanny pack will have fingerpicks, thumbpicks, thin picks, medium picks and even heavy picks. If the style calls for it or they want to play a certain thing, it may require a specific pick. No pick is too weird. Some have cut them out of milk jugs and, as previously mentioned, others have used quarters. Check out the video below for one variation on this. No matter what your choice of pick or picks, you have to know what it is you’re going for. What style of music are you playing? Do you use your wrist properly? The art of playing guitar is a two handed craft. Between the techniques of pulling off, hammering on, and picking, you can get an endless variety of sounds and dazzling effects.
If you’re just getting started, go buy yourself a variety of guitar picks. After a while, you’ll settle on one or the other and maybe even have a few favorites. There’s no crime in having all of the above in your pocket. What kind of guitar pick should you use? It’s gonna take some trial and error. Start with something medium and work it out from there.
These and other tidbits are just a few of the reasons why you should consider taking guitar lessons from someone more experienced than yourself. Even if you like being somewhat self-taught, it’s nice to get another opinion every now and then. With Pro Lessons, you can learn guitar online at your own pace and from experienced teachers who know a thing or two. Find out more about our affordable lesson plans by clicking below.