A guitar pick is typically not on the forefront of most guitarist's minds. We obsess over our amps, guitars, and pedals, and rarely give much thought to the first piece to our puzzle of sound. I've seen friends with thousands of dollars worth of gear use a quarter as a guitar pick on stage! Contrary to popular belief, your pick makes a difference. There are hundreds of different sizes, shapes, materials, and thicknesses to experiment with to shape your favourite sound. Some picks are best suited for specific genre's or playing styles. Picks were first being used way back during the Egyptian empire. The are drawings of musicians playing stringed instruments with quills and other sorts of plectrums on the walls of the pyramids. Some of the earliest picks were made from turtle shell, bone, ivory, and stone. These days they are mostly made of plastic, and stay away from the endangered species list! You can still find exotic pics made from things as crazy as bits of space rock! SIZE MATTERS Image courtesy of Pick Punch The typical guitar pick is slightly more than an inch-and-a-quarter long and an inch-and-a-quarter wide, but they run as small as the size of a fingertip and as large as more than two inches across. Les Paul used the latter, in a triangle shape, for the last decades of his career. The big picks were easier for his arthritic fingers to grasp. Jazz players often prefer smaller picks, which promote string contact with the fingers. That creates a warmer more muted tone. Most rock, country and blues players go for the standard-sized pick, which is large enough to grip solidly, avoid accidental finger contact with the strings and can be turned or palmed easily to grind the strings or to allow a quick switch to finger-picking. MATERIAL ISSUES Image courtesy of Etsy Today picks are typically made of plastic: nylon, polyethylene, celluloid and other varieties. Derek Bailey, the late great British improviser, made his own picks out of dental material used for making crowns and caps. Shell picks are rare but still available, and picks are also made in bronze and steel. In general, the harder the pick material the brighter and more biting the tone produced. A problem with metal picks, with the exception of fingerpicks, is that they tend to chew up the surface of pick guards, guitar tops and fretboards. SKINNY OR WIDE Generally speaking, thin picks are great for strumming acoustic guitars while thicker picks, usually identified as medium gauge and heavy or extra heavy, are appropriate for electric instruments. Using a thin pick to play with a super distorted sound helps turn tone to mud, for example, but thin picks can accent the ringing individual notes of chords on acoustic guitars. Thinner picks tend to rip and tear more often, and wear out faster. A bout of power strumming can wear the tip off a thin pick mid-song, which subsequently interferes with picking accuracy, tone and attack. [...]
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