Guitar Pick Thickness and Pick Guidelines

Updated: 7 hours ago

Eventually, every guitarist gets to learn the importance of their guitar pick. So here are a few guidelines to help you choose which type of guitar pick thickness is best for your style of play.

Both the tone and playability of any given guitar pick depends on these factors:

  • Thickness

  • Hardness

  • Texture

  • Size/Shape

  • Material

For a well rounded guitar pick, we definitely recommend this dunlop pick to start out.

1. Thickness

What Guitar Pick Thickness Should I Use?

The thickness of the guitar pick you use will depend on what you are playing and how you intend on playing it. Most guitar picks come in one of these four general gauges: thin, medium, heavy, and extra heavy. However, their sizes in mm vary considerably depending on the manufacturer.

Typically, thin picks are good when playing:

  • Cheerful or happier tones: thin picks heighten high frequencies when striking a surface

  • A dynamic and tighter range: the flexibility of thin picks limits the volume that can be achieved, which works well especially in a studio set up.

  • Acoustic Guitar Strumming: this is in part due to the dynamic and tighter range as well as an addition of clarity in the chords individual notes.

Thick picks are good when playing:

  • Mellower tunes: this is because the thick pick’s rounded edges and the weight lessen the treble while accentuating the bass.  

  • Broader Dynamic Range – because they offer greater control over volume and attack.

  • Distorted and heavy sounds – this is because they produce clearer tones intervals for separated notes.  

  • Lead electric guitar- this allows for more accuracy and speed when playing fast solos.

However, if it so happens that heavier picks suit your playing style best, it may come as a disadvantage given that these kinds of picks necessitate dexterity and more finger strength to control. As such, consider this when selecting your gauge.

Does Guitar Pick Thickness make a difference?

Yes, the thickness of a guitar pick makes a huge difference in both tone and playability. Any guitar podcast will tell you that. Even the smallest of changes when it comes to guitar pick thickness can be noticed. As such, this goes to show that except trying the varying ranges of pick thicknesses, you may be using the wrong pick for the style you want to play.

The more thick the pick is, the stiffer it is. Although thick nylon picks are more or less flexible, Derlin thick picks are not as flexible.

How do different pick thicknesses affect tone and playability?

Thin Guitar Picks:

These picks are more or less below 0.60mm in thickness and as such categorized as thin. Because of their density, thin picks are extremely flexible and more so nylon picks and produce less bass and a higher and lighter tone. 

This dunlop pick is a good example of a quality thin pick.

To get a good idea of what using thin picks sounds like when playing, consider an acoustic guitar gently getting strummed. How the pick brushes against the strings are quite significant in the mellow tone produced. A huge number of acoustic guitarists play using nylon picks while for solo acoustic parts they use thicker picks.

Many players consider thin guitar picks as vintage due to the tone they produce. That kind of tone was common in music during the 1950s and 1960s.

Medium Guitar Picks:

These picks are more or less between 0.60mm and 0.80mm in thickness and as such categorized as medium. Because they are denser, picks around this range tend to be stiffer, which affects the way they brush against guitar strings. The notes produced are louder in volume and the bass higher.

Rhythm guitarists prefer medium picks due to the stiffness, which makes them good for playing rhythms and riffs.

Like these planet waves medium picks. They're perfect for beginners, intermediates, and full on rockers.

Thick Guitar Picks:

These picks are more 0.80mm in thickness and as such categorized as thick. Because they are denser than the other picks, their base tone tends to be much higher and deeper.

The classic example here is the Fender 351 heavy. Used by pros all over the world.

Aggressive and heavy music guitar players and especially lead guitarists prefer using thick picks. Considering their pace in music, thick picks are a good match for their styles as it makes it easier and more comfortable for them.

What size guitar pick should a beginner use?

Beginner guitarists should start by choosing any of these three picks depending on the three main playing styles:

  • Electric riffs/solos – 1.0mm

  • Chord picking – 0.75mm

  • Strumming – 0.46mm

Alternatively, to find the right guitar pick thickness as a beginner, you can start with the Dunlop Tortex picks that may help you in figuring out what suits you best. Based on their thickness, the picks are color-coded making it easier for you to differentiate pick thicknesses while maintaining the same kind of material.

You can also go for a Dunlop Tortex variety pack or any other brand for that matter but be sure to buy at least one or more of each guitar pick thickness. Take your time with each of the picks and as time passes you will come to realize the kind of difference the thickness of a pick plays while playing.

Although most of the other brands that make guitar picks are good, the Tortex pack as earlier recommended comes with the same material and shape for all different pick thicknesses. As a result, this helps you have an easier time comparing different thicknesses without considering other guitar pick factors.

Upon deciding the kind of pick thickness that works best for you and for the kind of music you intend on playing, then you can proceed to look at various shapes and materials of guitar picks and discover the thickness you like better.

2. Hardness

As far as the hardness of a pick, it does not matter whether thin or thick—one thing is for sure—if they are made from a harder material, the additional stiffness brings out performance characteristics that are similar to thicker picks and vice versa.

Softer picks that are thick characteristically have similar performance qualities to thinner picks, therefore affecting the thickness and playability significantly.

3. Texture

Texture also plays an important role when choosing a pick. A pick with more texture to its surface has more friction between your fingers and the pick, which makes it even easier for sweaty fingers to grip. This also applies to softer picks. To help bypass this struggle, many pick manufactures came up with rubber guitar picks to help players keep a strong grip.

However, a pick’s texture affects the way it rolls off the guitar strings. You will find that smooth and slippery picks produce a tone that is clearer and natural while rough picks produce a similar tone but with an added color and grit to it.

Smooth and round-edged picks have a purer and warmer tone, whereas the sharp-edged ones have a brighter and stronger sound.

4. Size and Shape

The size and shape of a pick is another important factor when choosing the right pick thickness. Smaller picks mean there is a lesser distance between the guitar strings and your hands, which makes it easier to integrate different hand techniques like fingerpicking or palm muting.

Since the term ‘small’ is relative, it would be good to find a pick that fits your hands just right.

As for shape, there are many and different pick shapes. However, it would be a good idea to go for the usual triangular teardrop shape. The shape variation you select mainly depends on the sharpness of the striking surface. The difference is:

Rounder points: are especially good for soloing since they have a brighter tone and stronger attack.

Sharper points: are especially good for strumming since they have a more mellow tone and softer attack.

5. Materials

The material of a pick is the most important factor among all of the others, considering it eventually determines the texture, stiffness, and general performance.

Although there are very many different materials that have been used throughout history, which you can also see alongside most guitar pics online, these three are the most common:

  • Nylon picks: is appropriate for lightweight flexible picks since it is softer and has a textured grip.

  • Celluloid picks: compared to nylon, this is stiffer with a slicker and smoother texture.

  • Acetal/Delrin/Dupont/Tortex picks: has a textured grittiness similar to a tortoiseshell.

Other less common materials include bronze, steel, wood, felt, leather, and rubber. Although the history of guitar picks show many different materials that have been used.

Guitar pick thickness is an essential aspect that can help in enhancing performance as well as the production sound. Every guitarist—be it a beginner or a pro—has to use a pick for faster and smoother strumming, and it all depends on your style of play.

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