For many guitarists, the choice of pick is almost as personal as the choice of guitar. While there are many factors that go into finding the right pick for you, one of the most important is thickness. The thickness of your guitar pick can have a significant impact on your tone, playability, and technique. In this article, we’ll break down how guitar pick thickness affects your overall sound and playing style.
What is Guitar Pick Thickness?
Guitar pick thickness refers to the measurement of how thick or thin a pick is. It’s typically measured in millimeters (mm). Thinner picks tend to be flexible and measure around 0.46-0.71mm. Medium picks range from 0.71-1.0mm and are moderately flexible. Thick picks are rigid and measure 1.0mm and above. The thickness you choose depends on your musical genre, guitar, and personal preference.
Different Kinds of Materials and How they affect Guitar Pick sound:
This material derived from cellulose is the most widely used. It provides a traditional, familiar feel and sound. Celluloid picks come in various colors and thicknesses. The downside is they can wear down over time.
Picks made of acrylic plastic create a very smooth surface and bright, crisp tone. Acrylic naturally repels moisture and oils from your hands, keeping a like-new feel. Brands like Clayton offer acrylic picks.
Delrin is an extremely durable plastic known for its high strength and rigidity. It produces a bright tone with precise attack. Popular brands like Dunlop and Fender use Delrin to make premium picks.
Nylon guitar picks have a slightly softer, more flexible feel than other plastics, which creates a smooth, mellow, warm tone. They also absorb moisture well. Jazz players often favor nylon.
Picks cut from various woods have a unique, natural look and feel. Tones tend to be rounder, softer, and bassier than plastic. Woods like ebony, rosewood and koa are commonly used.
For an extremely rigid option, stone and metal create an articulate tone with strong highs and lows. However, the slick surfaces can cause slipping. Brands like Chicken Picks and Gravity Picks offer stone/metal.
Unique Materials –
Some brands offer picks made from alternative materials like leather, felt, or even glass for unique textures and tonal effects. Great for sound experimentation.
Guitar Pick Thickness
Thin (0.46mm – 0.71mm) –
Thin picks in this range have a very flexible feel. The lack of stiffness allows for effortless speed during lead playing. Tones are brighter and more articulate. Jazz players often prefer thin picks.
Medium (0.71mm – 1.0mm) –
Medium is considered the standard thickness. These picks offer a balanced feel – not too stiff or too flimsy. They work well for both rhythm and lead playing. The tone is balanced and clear. A go-to choice for many guitarists.
Heavy/Thick (1.0mm+) –
Once you go over 1.0mm, picks start to become categorically thick and heavy. The extra rigidity provides volume and warmth by accentuating the low end. Great for aggressive strumming though leads can be more challenging.
Extra Heavy (2.0mm+) –
At 2.0mm and above, we enter the realm of extremely thick picks. These feel very stiff and inflexible, producing a muted, mellow tone with relaxed highs and lows. Mostly used by jazz, blues and fingerstyle players.
Guitar Pick Shape
Standard – This classic triangular shape with slightly rounded corners is the most common. It offers familiar and comfortable playing. Good for both rhythm and lead in most genres.
Jazz – Jazz picks have an exaggerated rounded triangle shape. The curved edges provide a smooth feel for comping rhythms. The smaller tip allows for precision in melodic playing.
Teardrop – With a pointed tip and full rounded body, teardrop picks offer dexterity and volume. The sharp tip aids in quick, articulate leads while the wide lower area helps make full-bodied chords ring out.
Sharkfin – This unique shape has a wide base that angles up into a rounded point. Made popular by Brian May, sharkfins provide grip and control for vigorous strumming styles.
Offset – Offset or offset contour picks have an angled tip that displaces string noise for cleaner articulation. Players who do a lot of pick slides favor this shape.
Guitar Pick Textures
Smooth – Picks with an ultra smooth surface glide effortlessly off the strings. Fast, fluid playing feels almost effortless, ideal for speed riffs and solos. The downside is losing grip with sweaty hands.
Textured – Whether it’s cross-hatches, bumps, ribs or grains, textured surfaces help to grip and control the pick. Great for aggressive rhythms where pick slipping needs to be avoided. Can slow up fast lead playing.
Patterned – Lots of picks have stylized graphical designs and patterns etched into their surface. Beyond aesthetics, these create varying textures for playing dynamics.
Etched – Laser etching can cut patterns like multi-directional lines and hatchings to provide specialized grip. Etched picks tailored to a player’s style can optimize handling.
Coated – Brands use rubberized and powder coatings to create a tactile, slip-resistant pick surface. Powder coating can reduce pick squeak while rubber coatings absorb sweat and humidity.CopyRetry
How Pick Thickness Affects Tone
A guitar pick’s thickness has a direct impact on the tone you produce. Thinner picks tend to produce a brighter, sharper tone with more treble and articulation. The flexibility of thin picks allows more vibration to transfer from the strings to the guitar body, accentuating the treble frequencies. Players who want to produce clean, articulate lead lines often favor thinner picks for this reason.
Thicker picks produce a warmer, rounder tone with more bass and less treble. Their rigidity means less vibration passes to the guitar body, reducing brightness in favor of a smoother sound. Thick picks paired with overdriven or distorted tones can help tame harsh treble frequencies. For rhythm playing, many guitarists use thicker picks to achieve a fatter chordal sound.
So in summary, thin picks = bright, articulate tone while thick picks = warm, smooth tone. Pick thickness gives you an easy way to adjust your tonal balance.
Effects on Playability and Technique
Beyond just tone, the thickness of your guitar pick also affects how comfortable and responsive it feels to play. Thinner, more flexible picks offer effortless speed for fast alternate picking and lead lines. Their flexibility allows them to glide off the strings with ease. However, very thin picks can feel flimsy and lack grip.
Thicker picks provide a firm, solid feel for more control. Their rigidity allows for consistent resistance on each pick stroke, helping translate every nuance of your picking technique. But extremely thick picks can also feel stiff and awkward, requiring more effort to play.
For strumming, many players prefer a medium thickness pick around .8-1.0mm. These provide a good balance of flexibility for comfortable rhythmic playing while still having enough grip and stiffness to effectively strum chords. The ideal thickness comes down to your picking style and what feels best in your hand.
Tips for Choosing the Right Thickness
When selecting a new guitar pick, keep these tips in mind:
- Try out different thicknesses and materials to hear their impact on your tone. Look for brighter or warmer sounds.
- For fast lead playing, start with a thinner pick around .60mm and increase thickness if you need more grip.
- For strumming and rhythm, try medium picks in the .80-1.0mm range to balance flexibility and stiffness.
- Match thicker picks with higher gain settings for smoothing out distorted tones.
- Consider the texture of the pick along with thickness. Textured surfaces provide extra grip.
- Give each pick ample playing time to determine if it truly feels comfortable and responsive to you.
- Carry picks of different thicknesses to switch between for various songs and tones.
Q: How do I know what thickness to start with as a beginner?
A: As a general rule, starting with a medium thickness pick around 0.8-1.0mm allows you to strum and pick comfortably as a beginner. This thickness is thin enough to offer some flexibility while still being rigid enough for good grip and control.
Q: Should I use a thicker pick for electric guitar and a thinner pick for acoustic?
A: This is a common convention. Thinner picks bring out the bright articulate tones of electric guitars. For softer, mellower acoustics, thicker picks help compensate for the missing overdrive and distortion of an amp. But personal preference trumps conventions.
Q: Do thicker picks produce higher or lower volume?
A: Thicker picks with more mass actually produce louder, stronger playing. The stiffness projects the vibrations powerfully to the guitar body. So heavy picks can help compensate for lighter picking strokes.
Q: Is it bad technique to play with a very thick pick?
A: Not necessarily. While thick picks take more effort to control, they build finger strength. Gripping firmly to control a heavy pick can improve consistency. But modulate thickness for faster passages.
Q: Should I use different picks for strumming vs. lead playing?
A: You can tailor your pick thickness to different techniques. Many players use a heavier pick for rhythms and chords and a thinner pick for solos and single-note lines. But find the thickness that suits your personal style rather than adhering strictly to conventions.
Q: What thickness is best for fast playing?
A: Thinner, more flexible picks in the .46mm-.71mm range make it easier to achieve fast alternate picking and scale runs. Their flexibility enhances speed. But go too thin and the pick can lack the stiffness for precision.
The thickness of your guitar pick has a big influence over your musical sound. Taking the time to experiment with different thicknesses will help you discover the picks that best complement your personal playing style and guitar tones. Let your ears and hands guide you to the right fit. With so many picks to choose from, you’re bound to find your perfect match.