A video version of this article can be found on the Ricky Molina YouTube channel by clicking on this link.
Please Subscribe and click on the Thumbs Up if you like this video! Thank you.
Your find find a great variety pack of Fender guitar picks by clicking on this link.
In this music instructional video, we discuss the importance of choosing the right guitar pick to get the type of sound that you're looking for.
· What types of guitar picks are available?
· Which are better for strumming and comping?
· Which are better for playing solos?
· Which picks are best for particular styles of music?
One of the guitar icons that I’ll mention in this article is Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who used a combination of picking with a plectrum and finger-picking. This is especially the case on acoustic numbers like The Rain Song or Goin' to California.
Jimmy Page live Unledded 1994 tour
Jimmy Page's pick of choice...
Page holds the pick between his thumb and index finger, and arpeggiates a chord by picking with down-strokes and finger-pick with up-strokes. Strumming chords would of course entail down and up-strokes with a pick. I demonstrate how he does this in the video (see the link above). Page uses a regular sized pick made by Herco, the Herco Nylon Flex 75, which is a flexible yet durable nylon pick with an anti-slip grip.
Choosing a pick really comes down to two issues: size and thickness. I would say that thickness is more important than size, and in general, thicker guitar picks are more suitable for thicker guitar strings. Meanwhile, thin guitar picks are better for strumming in my opinion. You get a nice percussive sound as you sweep across the strings with a thin pick. That's not to say that you couldn't use a medium to hard thickness for strumming, it's just that I prefer the flexibility and the sound of thin picks for strumming. Indeed, just as is the case for guitar strings, you get more sustain and projection from thicker picks - but you lose the flexibility of that sweeping sound for strumming.
Certainly for bass guitar, if you choose to use a pick, as Chris Squire from Yes or Paul McCartney from The Beatles did, you would use a thick and somewhat larger guitar pick. Jazz soloists who play flatwounds with thicker bass strings fall into this category as well.
Melissa Eat a Peach
Two great examples of strummed guitar songs that I recommend getting familar with are Melissa by The Allman Brothers Band from the Eat A Peach album and Give a Little Bit by Supertramp (cover version by the Goo Goo Dolls). For strumming, once again, I would recommend using thin picks (regular size) as these are more flexible and have a nice sound at higher frequencies in the recording studio. You can always tone down the higher end frequencies using an EQ plugin in the mixing processs - but you wouldn't be able to add it in if you started out by using the lower frequency tone of a medium or hard pick.
In the jazz world, it's notable that Wes Montgomery did not use a pick (he used the fleshy part of his right thumb), while George Benson uses a Fender medium pick. Joe Pass preferred smaller teardrop-sized picks (medium thickness). Joe Pass also liked finger-style picking for chord-melody arrangements, and once said that if he does use a pick it would have to be small. Larger picks, Pass felt, are that much more removed from the body, implying that the closer the guitar is to the body, the more soul you could convey through his music.
As far as fast picking is concerned, look to no other than Al DiMeola for direction and inspiration. DiMeola is from New Jersey and attended the Berklee College of Music. He is noted for being one of the faster jazz-fusion guitarists around, with a Spanish flair in his scales and chord progressions (think Phrygian mode), often blended with harmonic minor, melodic minor, diminished, major and dorian scale tones. DiMeola uses a medium thickness pick, usually regular size, and will rub the rounder end of the pick against the strings with rapid up and down strokes to achieve faster speeds. For slower melodic runs, DiMeola prefers to use downward picking strokes - this provides stronger attacks and a louder, more enduring resonance. DiMeola says that it's critical to tap your foot while playing anything, so you get the beat soldered into your brain while playing - this is what enables you to play off-beat (syncopated) with the ability to come back into the prevailing groove. Picking with and off the beat is more important than anything you do with the left (i.e. the fingering) hand, in DiMeola's opinion.
Another picking approach that DiMeola is noted for is muting the strings while picking. He does this by resting the right edge of his right palm just in front of the bridge (please see my video demo of this), while picking. This works especially well with acoustic steel and nylon string guitars.
To appreciate DiMeola's style of playing, I would suggest listening to the Casino album, as well as the classic must-have album for all serious guitarists - Friday Night in San Francisco with Al DiMeola, McLaughlin and Pac DeLucia. In particular, have a listen to the Fantasia Suite track - which will absolutely blow your mind if you're into fast runs. The melodic Spanish progression (this time in a major key!) is also unforgettable. I also like the studio version of this song on the Casino album very much.
In sum, the best thing to do as far as picking technique is concerned, is to (a) listen to great guitarists and (b) to acquire a variety pack of guitar picks - large, medium and small - heavy, medium and thins. Try them all out across different styles and different guitars. Try playing high up the neck, over the rosetta, and down close to the bridge. Generally speaking, the thicker the guitar strings, the thicker the pick should be. For strumming, I highly recommend using thin picks (medium size) to get that sweet, soft percussive sweep across the strings. Soloing will require medium thickness - either teardrop or medium size will do. Bass guitarists will need bigger, heavy picks, unless fingerstyle is preferred.
Fender Guitar Picks Variety Pack
Finally, don't forget the beauty of finger-picking - where you're fingernails provide the most natural sound possible. This will be the subject of another blog post. So stay tuned.
N.B. I'd like to hear your comments, feedback and suggestions about this and other articles on my web site. Thanks for reading and sharing this post with your friends!