An Essential Guide To Guitar Pick Thickness

Guitar pick thickness plays a huge role in our guitar’s tone and how we play – let’s discuss with the help of a pick craftsman!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How guitar pick thickness affects your playing
  • What pick feel is
  • Why tapered picks are a happy medium
  • Why this tip of your pick is so important

Let’s Talk About Guitar Pick Thickness

It’s easy to grab the first bag of guitar picks that you see at the music store when you first start playing guitar.

You may realize very quickly, however that guitar pick thickness plays a big role in the tone of your guitar as well as the overall tone of your playing.

  • For some of us, finding the right guitar pick can take years of experimentation.
  • This is not uncommon for guitarists. Many of us find ourselves latching on to one type of guitar pick early on, and then never deviating from it or trying anything new.

You never know what’s out there until you experiment, and it’s important to see what works best for you at various points in your guitar journey. Your needs will change over time with growth and experience.

Guitar-Pick-Thickness

This was the case with us and one of our writers at the National Guitar Academy until we sat down with Brett Bailey of Bailey Instrumental (Hamilton, Canada) to discuss the fine details of guitar pick thickness, as well as the different materials used in guitar picks.

Brett Bailey is a vendor and manufacturer of custom boutique-style guitar picks (or ‘plectrums’), and is an expert on guitar pick thickness and why it matters most.

You’ll encounter plenty of his wisdom throughout both of these lessons.

Now, let’s dive in!

Guitar-Pick-Thickness

Why Does Guitar Pick Thickness Matter?

The thickness of your guitar pick has a lot to do with how much strength and attack you can put into hitting the strings.

When asked about guitar pick thickness, Brett provided us with a fantastic example on the pros of both thin and thick guitar picks.

“…The thickness of the pick is very overlooked and far more important than just stiffness, as the note will only make sound once the pick has moved past the string.

The problem with thinner picks is that even though your hand may have pushed the majority of the pick past the string, the flexibility of the tip causes the player to exert more movement before it fully pushes through the string.

The long story short is that the thicker the pick, the less movement required to pick a note. Economy of motion is a big plus for anyone performing any sort of articulate runs on guitar…”

Guitar-Pick-Thickness

  • This is not to say that thin guitar picks are bad and not to be used – quite the opposite, actually!
  • Each style of guitar pick thickness offers its own character traits that you may enjoy.

“Take two picks of the same material and shape with the only variable being thickness.

You’ll notice that the thicker pick is richer in low-mid boom and body than that of its thinner counterpart, which will have more clarity and openness.”

This is where we can start to look at hybrid options for guitar pick thickness.

Enter the tapered guitar pick.

Guitar-Pick-Thickness

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What Are Tapered Guitar Picks?

Tapered guitar picks offer a unique option for guitarists who don’t want an exclusively thin pick, but want the benefit of a thin tip.

On the other hand, tapered guitar picks are also fantastic for the guitarist who loves the feel of a thicker pick, but doesn’t care for the chunkier attack that comes with it.

As tapered guitar picks are a specialty of Mr. Bailey’s, we naturally picked his brain about them:

“The tapering of the pick gives us the ergonomic and tonal benefits of the added mass, while still maintaining the clarity and openness of a thinner pick.

We couple this with the attack and wear resistance of a stiffer material, and bevel it for smoothness for a comfortable and smooth guitar pick.”

Guitar-Pick-Width

Pro Tip: It’s important to experiment with different thicknesses and tapers in your pick selection, but it is also important to play with different pick materials to determine what sound you like the best.

Oh, you though picks were just made of plastic? Keep reading, friend. There’s so much to learn.

Guitar-Pick-Size

Guitar Pick Materials & Why They Matter

Guitar picks can be made from a variety of different materials, all with their own characteristics and sounds to offer your strings.

  • Different materials will interact differently with your strings, producing new tones you might not have previously thought possible.
  • Wood, bone, ertolyte, and even stone are just a few of the available materials to craft plectrums from.

Obviously, the guitar pick thickness for picks made of these more dense materials will be significantly heavier, even for the thinnest of picks.

  • Although nylon and tortex are some of the most marketed materials for guitar picks, acrylic is an amazing alternative that has a bold voice on the strings of your guitar.
  • Acrylic sounds confident against the strings, and adds a lovely level of definition to our chords and solos.

Pictured below: Bailey Instrumental 2mm-1mm Acrylic Taper plectrums.

Best-pick-for-beginners

Finding The Right Guitar Pick Thickness For You

Experimentation is extremely important! Many guitar shops will let you try out different picks in store, and some will even let you put together a mixed bag of picks to purchase and take home.

We recommend starting out with a 1mm tipped pick (or a 1mm pick overall) to hear the clarity that it brings.

From there, either move up to a larger guitar pick thickness, or scale back to something thinner.

Pro Tip: The size of your pick matters too! Many guitarists are partial to the ‘Jazz III’ style guitar pick, made famous by Dunlop Picks.

  • These picks are smaller in size but offer great flexibility coupled with great tone.
  • These picks aren’t for everyone, however, so try as many as you can to see what’s right for you!

Pictured: Bailey Instrumental Acrylic 1mm and Jim Dunlop Nylon 1mm guitar picks.

guitar-plectrum-thickness

Don’t Commit To Just One Style Of Guitar Pick Thickness & Material!

Variety is the spice of life, and you will never find yourself in a situation where one style of guitar pick will last you the rest of your days as a guitarist.

Do yourself a favour and get a guitar pick container, then fill it with a variety of different picks.

Don’t get it twisted – you should have one go-to style of guitar pick, but some musical situations may call for a different style of voice on the guitar.

For those moments, it helps to have a selection on hand for when you need a specific guitar pick thickness.

Check out this diagram of tone colour based on guitar pick material below:

Guitar-plectrum-size

  • Your local music store will no doubt have a wide variety of picks to choose from, but don’t hesitate to check and see what you can find online too!
  • Many online vendors offer a wide selection of boutique-style picks at variable prices. Some even offer tester packs so you can see what you like and dislike

Pro Tip: Guitar pick thickness isn’t the only factor to consider with the ideal pick.

Every inch of your pick matters, from size to shape and material all the way down to the tip and how that itself is shaped.

Let’s elaborate on the tip of your guitar pick and why it’s important, while we’re at it.

Guitar-plectrum-Width

Guitar Pick Thickness: The Significance Of The Tip Of The Pick

The shape of the tip of your pick has a lot to do with the tone it produces.

Some guitar pick companies offer a variety of different styles of picks with different tip shapes.

  • The Dunlop Primetone plectrums even feature two separate pick tips so you have options while you play!
  • Depending upon how soft or sharp the tip of your pick is, your strings will either have a softer or harsher response when struck. It all depends on what you want from your guitar tone!

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For a bit more on the character that the tip of the pick brings, we’ll turn it back over to Brett:

“The tip of the pick is a substantial part of your tone, with two main variables; the sharpness, and the bevel.

The sharpness is responsible for the attack and brightness of the pick, while the bevel aids in anti abrasion, helping the pick glide across the strings.

The sharper your pick, the more attack your notes will have as the more precise tip grabs the strings, causing more of a ‘snap’ and ‘spank’ sound. This gives the player more articulation than that of a rounded pick.

This helps notes during faster lead passages stand out more and sound less like a flurry of smooth-sounding, yet unintelligible notes.”

Guitar-lessons

“This is also extremely helpful in enhancing the rhythmic element making note groupings far more obvious and evident when playing genres with a strong emphasis on rhythms.

The sharper tip has a much smaller point of contact as it passes each string, so while the attack is much louder, it’s also much shorter.

As a result, we spend more time hearing the note, and less time hearing the attack on the note.“

Pro Tip: For a more muted and subdued sound, try a rounded guitar pick like the Dunlop Americana. If you’re interested in a sharper, edgier sound, try the Dunlop Tortex Sharp Tip.

Best-guitar-pick

Figure Out What Works & When

You will find that different picks work well with different styles of guitar.

  • In our experience, thicker and tapered picks work extremely well with thicker guitar strings on acoustic guitars.
  • Thinner and mid-thickness picks work well on acoustics as well, but also give great voice to electric guitars.
  • Try not to make too much use of flimsy guitar picks, as you will have to exert more effort to get a good tone out of it.

0.8mm is a great range to stay around if you want to play with expression and confidence. Try and build your pick collection up from that guitar pick thickness.

Best-guitar-plectrum

Pro Tip: The force of our hand is something to be considered when trying to find the right guitar pick thickness. As we’ve mentioned, thinner picks will cause us to exert more force, while thicker picks take care of the force for us.

If you want a good benchmark to measure guitar pick thickness against, pick up four guitar picks in the following measurements:

  • 0.8mm
  • 1mm
  • 1.5mm
  • 2mm

Test these picks against one another and see what you like best about each of them. From there, you can determine what works for you and what you don’t need in a guitar pick.

Put the time in and do the research, it will get you closer to maximum comfort and the perfect guitar tone.

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With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

Look Beyond The Music Store Shelf!

There are so many options to choose from when it comes to guitar picks and guitar pick thickness, and we should never limit ourselves to what is on the shelf at the local music store.

Developing pick feel is super important.

What is ‘pick feel’?

  • Pick feel is knowing your guitar pick inside and out to the point where you don’t know that it’s there when you’re playing. Our ideal guitar pick will sit so comfortably in our hand that it will feel like an extension of our fingers to the guitar.
  • You should be comfortable with the picks that you use to the point where they feel like a second skin.

Although you don’t need to stick to one style of guitar pick thickness, we highly recommend you become extremely comfortable with one primary style of guitar pick.

  • In 2019, there are a wide variety of online guitar pick companies who make top-quality guitar picks for every type of guitarist.
  • Although you’ll have a wide variety to select from at your local shop, we recommend checking out what some of the independent pick builders of the internet have to offer you.

A special thank you to Brett Bailey of Bailey Instrumental in Hamilton, Canada for his insight and expertise.

If you’d like to try one of Brett’s boutique-style acrylic guitar picks (or another one of his designs), click here to visit his website and place an order of your own, or follow him on Instagram at @baileyinstrumental and contact via DM.

Where Do I Go From Here?

If you want to know more about guitar pick thickness, start trying a variety of picks for yourself.

Hang out in the guitar shop for a few hours and see what different makes and models they have to offer.

Talk to your guitar teacher as well, if you have one. Guitar teachers often experiment with different styles of picks to give their students a multitude of different options.

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