Finding the right pick is almost as important as choosing the guitar itself.
Okay, it’s not.
But all those types, shapes, materials, and thicknesses out there… seriously?
Fear not, strumbud, we’re here to help. Let’s get one thing straight though: the price of a pick does not determine its awesomeness. You can find picks that cost just a few pennies, or you can go all out and splurge $30 and way more on a single pick.
There are a few things to consider before you make your pick (pun intended).
First, we’re talking flat picks for acoustic guitars here. We’re not dealing with the wild world of psychedelic axe-wielding rock gods. So, let’s think about how you actually play your guitar.
Are you a strumming enthusiast? Do you mix in some tasty lead licks? Or are you strictly a shredder on the six strings?
Maybe you’re the type who uses a flat pick between your thumb and pointer when fingerpicking, or dawn those schmancy fingerpicks. Or perhaps you’re a versatile virtuoso who does it all. If that’s the case, you might want to have a pick buffet at your disposal.
Thickness, the eternal dilemma.
Guitar picks come in various thickness categories. Here’s the breakdown:
- Extra Light/Extra Thin: 0.44 MM or under.
- Light/Thin: 0.45–0.69 MM.
- Medium: 0.70–0.84 MM.
- Heavy/Thick: 0.85–1.20 MM.
- Extra Heavy/Extra Thick: 1.2 MM and thicker.
Beginners often encounter two problems when it comes to pick thickness with their acoustic guitars. If the pick is too thin, it’s as fragile as a snowflake and prone to splitting or cracking. On the other hand, too thick and it’s like strumming with a chunk of firewood, and could slip your grip and wind up on the floor.
Let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of different pick thicknesses.
Thin picks are perfect for those who want to strum their way through life. They offer a delicate, quieter sound, and some folks dig the zippy-zip sound the pick makes raking the strings. It’s like a little percussive bonus for your acoustic sound. The downside is that thin picks sacrifice some bass and low-end sounds.
But hey, they bring out the bright, high-end tones. Plus, you can grip them as hard as you want without affecting the sound much. No more pick-dropping disasters for you. If you’re into the feather-light sound and planning to serenade your friends with some “Kumbaya” around the campfire, thin picks are your jam.
However, if you find the constant clicking noise annoying or want to unleash your inner lead guitar hero, thin picks might not be your best bet. They’re pretty pathetic when it comes to playing lead, lacking responsiveness and making your leads sound sloppy. Dynamics? Forget about it, thin picks might not be your perfect match.
Let’s move on to medium thickness picks
They offer a happy middle ground, reducing the clicky noise while providing better picking and a well-rounded playing experience.
They’re like the Goldilocks of picks—just right. Medium picks are versatile and handle rhythm playing like a champ. They’re also thick enough to bust out a riff or two between chords.
So, if you’re into strumming while picking off alternative bass notes or mixing in some tasty lead licks, medium picks are your new best friend.
Now, let’s talk about heavy and extra heavy picks.
If you’re planning to shred the fingerboard and unleash your inner acoustic lead god, then heavy picks might be your ticket. Think jazz-style picks or even thumb picks. They’re thick, responsive, and allow you to rip into a scale like nobody’s business.
But unless you’re on the verge of becoming the next guitar legend, heavy picks can to sound boisterous and clunky when strictly used for strumming.
Let’s move on to the shape of the pick.
Prepare yourself for an exciting world of teardrop and triangular-shaped wonders. From enormous metal equilateral triangles with severe points to small plastic picks with soft rounded curves, the options are endless. Some picks even have ribbing or knurling to help you maintain a good grip.
Jazz-style picks, on the other hand, are smaller and thicker tear-drop or triangle-shaped picks designed for lightning-fast picking.
As a newbie player back in the day, picks spun between my fingers like a frisbee, so I opted for the 1-¼ triangular style pick with a circle of cork glued to it.
Hey, don’t judge me—it worked.
Today, I use a standard-shaped pick, except I play it with the butt end of the pick. Don’t ask. That’s for another time.
To prevent picks from spinning out of control or slipping from your grip, some brands offer knurling, ribbing, or even a layer of cork for a softer, grippy surface.
And hey, let’s not forget about fingertip-style picks—plastic or metal tips that you press or clamp onto your fingertips. There’s even one specifically designed to fit over your thumb, aptly named the thumb pick. These fingertip picks can take some getting used to.
Many players prefer the warm, natural, fleshy sound of plucking strings with their actual fingers. Some even go the extra mile and sport artificial fingernails to mimic that feeling.
Thumb picks can also double as lead picks, providing a solid grip and allowing you to channel your inner guitar virtuoso. Just ask Tommy Emmanuel, he knows what’s up.
So, we’ve covered thickness and shape.
Now it’s time to dive into the realm of materials.
Back in the day, guitarists coveted tortoiseshell picks, which were made from the Hawksbill Sea turtle. Ah, the good old days when we thought nothing of endangering wildlife for the sake of our sound. Thankfully, those picks are now outlawed, and we’ve been on a quest to find suitable alternatives ever since.
There’s a smorgasbord of materials to choose from, including composites, carbon fiber, plastic, celluloid, Tortex, wood laminates, metal, various composites (because one type of composite is never enough), and yes, even stone.
Who knew picks could be so diverse?
But let’s cut to the chase and give you our recommendation.
If you’re a beginner or just starting out on your musical journey, you can’t go wrong with a standard-shaped Dunlop Tortex pick. Aim for either the 0.50 MM or 0.60 MM thickness. The 0.50 MM is on the lighter side, while the 0.60 MM falls into the medium category. The Tortex material has a slightly chalky feel to it, making it less slippery and more reliable in your grip.
I’ve played outdoor gigs in sweltering August heat with sweat pouring down my arm, and these picks have never let me down. They’re as solid as a rock.
Speaking of rocks, they won’t split either, even if you’re a percussive strummer like me.
In fact, as they wear down over time, they develop a unique shape and sound that can add character to your playing. I’ve found that using differently worn picks for different songs enhances my fingerpicking with a flat-pick technique. It’s like having a secret weapon in my arsenal.
So, grab an assortment bag of Dunlop Tortex picks and play around with each thickness, and you’ll eventually find your sweet spot. Remember, as you progress on your guitar journey, your preferences may change. But the Dunlop Tortex picks are a fantastic starting point, and they’ll serve you well for a long time to come.
That said, if you do like a bit of a thicker pick, you can’t go wrong with the Jim Dunlop Primtone Alltex .088- or 1.0-mm picks. These have become a new favorite around here. Such a warm, solid tone. They jump up in price per pick. You won’t be buying a 50 pack of these, but the warmth you get off the strings is worth every cent.
The best thing to do is just keep trying different picks. It’s surprisingly the least expensive way to make the biggest difference in your sound and playing dexterity.