by Carlos Diez Macia
Tone, timbre, ring, and sound, are some of the terms that are usually used to refer to the sound waves produced by your guitar and amp.
Music doesn’t understand restrictions. So, one way for you as a guitarist of expanding your repertoire of guitar sounds is by asking yourself simple questions:
We will cover these aspects and discuss some specific examples of guitar picks and guitar techniques and tones.
As a guitarist, you should not only reflect on your practice and skill improvements but also look for ways of increasing the amount of totally different sounds your guitar (in your hands!) is able to produce.
Imagine the wide palette of different sounds and effects that you would need to learn 30 songs from different genres.
The advantages of mastering ways to change the sound of your guitar playing are countless:
In other words, you will be a better guitar player.
Think about the “chain” of connected elements that is present when you play guitar. I like to reverse it and start from the sound source:
It starts with your guitar amp and amp settings and continues through the cable (from a specific brand and specs) and your particular effect pedals. After another couple of cables, your guitar pick-ups, circuitry, wood type, and guitar strings will play a role in the tone too. What comes after that? The guitar pick and your picking hand. Note, that also your fretting hand will have an influence on sound (string pressure).
If you replace just one element, the sound will change.
The good thing here is that this is 100% measurable by recording the guitar. So everyone at home with a mid-class microphone can start noticing the differences. Of course, then, the microphone and audio interface will play a role on tone too!
Now you know what to “adjust” to allow you to make the same guitar passages sound differently.
Go again through the complete sound chain. From all the mentioned elements, guitar picks have three main advantages when your goal is changing the tone:
Sure, using another guitar or replacing one of your pedals will have a much higher impact on tone! Nevertheless, something as simple as using another guitar pick can create appreciable differences that you will hear and enjoy.
Guitar picks can be reduced to 4 main qualities: Material, Thickness, Shape, and Size.
These qualities define the “personality” of the guitar picks to at least 80% and they affect how guitar strings vibrate. In consequence, the different guitar string vibration patterns are different.
Some materials like Nylon produce warmer, mellower tones. Others like Tortex, create brighter sounds.
The material can also influence grip and flexibility.
Pointy guitar picks have more attack and produce brighter tones. Rounded guitar picks are especially useful for soft release and warmer tones. In techniques like strumming, rounded picks will produce less pick noise.
Thin picks and some medium picks are very flexible. This quality can produce a very characteristic “snappy attack” that is not possible with very thick picks.
Of course, everything is interconnected: Flexibility also depends on the material and shape! Thickness affects grip and guitar pick noise too.
The larger the pick, the more “mass” it has. Picks with high mass will produce warmer, darker, and fuller tones. Small picks tend to be much less flexible and have a more aggressive attack.
As you can see, you have to consider all factors together. A Tortex pick is able to produce warm tones, it needs to have the right shape, thickness, and size. On the other hand, the same happens to Nylon picks: A very pointy medium-sized Nylon pick can produce brighter sounds than the average less pointy Tortex guitar pick.
Let’s compile three ideal examples:
An ideal guitar pick for thick, full, and dark overdrive or distortion sound could be made of Nylon. It should have a sharp tip for note control and at least 1.5 mm thickness. The larger the pick, the thicker and fuller the tone.
One specific example of this could be Jazz iii XL or Rombo Diamond. The last one uses variable thickness along its body to increase its total mass and create even fuller tones with high bass in the background.
Strumming is especially easy to perform when the tip of the guitar pick is rounded. To achieve even warmer tones the ideal strumming pick should have enough mass. The material Nylon, in combination with a medium thickness and the already mentioned rounded tip, will help reduce the pick noise.
Depending on your preferences you can use medium thickness or heavy thickness. The last one is more difficult to master but will reduce the pick noise substantially.
Clear and defined guitar tones are produced by pointy pick tips. Ideally, the surface of the tip is polished and has a beveled edge.
Most guitarists prefer small picks for these kinds of tones. Sweep picking, alternate picking, pinch harmonics, and other advanced lead guitar techniques are much easier to perform with such picks.
Depending on your preferences you can then choose different materials: Tortex will increase the attack and create very bright peaks, while Nylon will produce a fuller sound with more bass. Other materials (celluloid, carbon, wood,...) will behave differently.
Rombo Jade is the perfect candidate for speed, control, and attack.
Do picks change your guitar tone? Definitely yes!
Not only the tone is affected but other aspects like flexibility, grip, pick noise, attack, or control will be affected by the guitar pick too.
Sound changes will remain as a way of adding some color and dynamic to your music and guitar picks can help you here. With a very low budget and little time, you can experiment and add some fresh input to your daily guitar practice.
The most convenient way of trying many different guitar picks in just one session is by trying a variety pack containing many different guitar picks. Here you can find ours!
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by Carlos Diez Macia