Saturday, September 13, 2014

How choose the right pick for your guitar or bass (a guide for dummies)

Hello and welcome to this week's article! Today we're talking about guitar and bass Picks!
Also known as Plectrum, the pick is a small piece of plastic or nylon (or other material) that helps us picking the strings instead of using our fingertips or our nails, and it also gives the tone a hard, clean attack, letting us go much faster on the alternate picking technique and palm muting; for some genres, such as folk, country rock or some type of classic rock (for example Eric Clapton and Mark Knopfler often don't use one) the pick can be considered just an option, while for others (heavy metal, blues etc...), the pick it's completely impossible to avoid.
Speaking of bass, instead, picks are used by much fewer musicians, usually only when they require a strongly percussive sound, and it can be found usually in hard rock, punk or metal bands.
The pick's characteristics and the way we strum will mix with all the other rings of our signal chain and it will change dramatically the final result; let's take a look to how the various pick types affect the tone.

Size and shape: Pick size can vary from being quite large to very small, leaving just a tiny part of it outside the grip of our fingers.
The rule of thumb is that wider picks are suggested for playing open chords, while the smaller ones, that gives us more control and speed, are more suited for faster music and solos.
The shape can be equilateral (used especially from beginner players since they can use the pick on any angle), to the classic "drop shape", up to some more uncommon designs such as the "sharkfin shape", for example.
Each design offers a different playing experience, and only by trying them out we can find the right one for us.

Material: In the beginning of string instruments people used to strum with bird feathers, wooden shards or animal bone pieces (ivory, parts of tortoise shell...), then in the 20th century there has been a large production of plastic and nylon picks, and today (in addiction to all the previous types) manufacturers are experimenting also with metal, carbon fiber and stone.
The idea is that the harder the material is, the harder will be the attack on the strings, therefore the sound will become more loud and bright, while using softer materials the sound will be more sweet and mellow.

Thin or Thick: The thinner a pick is, the more is flexible and it will bend while strumming, the thicker it is and the more it will mantain its shape, making more resistance on the strings and therefore making them sound louder.

Now that we've seen how the different specs of a pick will affect the final sound we can choose the combination of features that suits to our playing style, but the only way to really find the right pick is to go to a shop and try some of them on our guitar or bass.
For bass obviously there will be less choice: the strings are so thick that we're going to need thick, wide picks made of a very resistent material.

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