Guitar picks are available in all different shapes and sizes. One of the most important aspects to consider when selecting a plectrum is the thickness, as this has an impact on the tone of the guitar, and how it feels to pluck and strum the strings.
The thickness of a guitar pick is measured in millimetres. Guitar picks are typically between 0.4 mm and 1.5 mm thick, although some can be as thick as 6 mm.
Pick thicknesses are categorised into four main groups:
|Extra Heavy||Over 1.2 mm|
Thicker guitar picks sound louder and warmer and produce more sustain compared to thinner picks. Thinner picks feel more flexible which is great for strumming, whereas thicker picks feel stiffer which is ideal for single-note lead playing.
|Thin Guitar Pick||Thick Guitar Pick|
|More flexible (good for strumming)||Stiffer feeling (good for lead playing)|
|Strings sound quieter and brighter||Strings sound louder and warmer|
|Can be harder to grip||Feels more comfortable to grip|
|Less durable||More durable|
|Won’t wear out the string as fast||Can wear out the strings more quickly|
Pick Thickness and Tone
One of the first things guitarists wonder when discussing anything to do with their rig, is does it affect the tone of the guitar?
The thickness of the guitar pick does affect the tone of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. Thicker guitar picks create a louder, darker and warmer sound in comparison to thinner picks which sound quieter and brighter.
Thicker, and hence stiffer, guitar picks have a stronger attack which causes the string to vibrate for longer. This creates more sustain (the note rings out for longer) and a warmer sound with more bass and mid-range frequencies.
Thinner picks on the other hand will not produce as much sustain as there is not as much force applied to the string, so it won’t vibrate for as long. The treble frequencies are also favoured making the guitar sound brighter and thinner in comparison.
I also find that the actual pick noise is reduced with a thicker pick, whereas thinner picks create a more noticeable pick sound as they are a bit more “flappy”.
Although the thickness of the pick affects the tone of both acoustic and electric guitars, it’s more of a factor to consider with an acoustic guitar. With an electric guitar you have more options to adjust the EQ balance and volume on your amp.
Check out this YouTube video to listen to how the thickness of the pick affects the tone of the guitar..
Feels and Playability
The thickness of a guitar pick affects how it feels when you pluck the strings. The thicker a guitar pick is, the more stiff it will feel. In comparison, thin guitar picks are much more flexible.
I personally prefer the feeling of a “heavy” pick because it feels more direct and precise. To me, medium and thin picks feel too flimsy, and extra heavy picks feel too clunky.
With that said, I primarily play lead. If I’m playing rhythm, I actually prefer a medium pick as it feels a bit nicer for strumming where that flexibility is useful. Hence, you should consider your playing style as well.
The ideal pick thickness also depends on the strings you’re using.
If you have thicker 10-gauge strings, a thicker pick will be more suitable compared to if your guitar has 9-gauge strings. You may well find that you enjoy using a “medium” pick on your current guitar, and then try another guitar with thicker strings and find that a “heavy” pick suits you better.
I’d recommend picking up an assorted set of picks (link to Amazon) so you can figure out which you prefer.
There are two aspects to consider here:
- Pick durability
- String durability
Thicker picks are more durable than thinner picks and will not wear out as quickly. However, thicker picks wear out the strings on the guitar faster compared to thinner picks.
I personally don’t factor this into my decision much when selecting a pick though, as both picks and strings are pretty inexpensive so I just prefer to go with what feels best to me.