Using a pick (or not) is a choice.
Classical guitar players using soft nylon strings and fingernails gain the benefit of having all of their fingers working. You don't need to use picks on soft nylon strings. If you don't use flat picks, you develop finger-picking skill.
Without fingernails, finger-pickers lose some of the bright top-end sounds. Skin touching the strings dulls the sound down. It can still sound good but it lacks a high range.
Long fingernails or glued on nails for better and brighter tone control isn't an option for many people.
Kids at school running round with long nails.. Ahhhhh.
Men in factories getting nails stuck in machinery... Ahhhh
Food preparation .. Ooops (Why is my cheesecake crunchy?)
Holding a flat pick cuts back some of the ability to play fingerstyle but it's an option many people are going to want to use.
Steel string guitars can shred your fingernails anyway.
Holding a flat-pick with just a little sticking out to pick the strings allows you to smudge out the bottom end to highlight "harmonics." Your picking hand position creates an opportunity to find a harmonic 5,7,9 or 12 frets higher than the fretted note you are playing and smudging out a little of the string vibration lets the higher overtones shine through.
You get more tonal range possibilities using a flatpick than fingers without nails. You can also aggressively attack a string without breaking your nails.
Picks range in price from a few cents to tens of dollars.
In the pic above the white gypsy jazz pick at the bottom is quite thick at 3.5m.m. handmade and hand-shaped piece of acrylic with grip material and ergonomic curves made in Holland by Michel Wegen and it is only $35. It's not the sort of everyday item sold in a music shop but it is surprisingly nice to hold and adds full tonality compared to most run of the mill picks.
Most of the others pictured are flat bits of plastic or nylon at less than a dollar.
There are some thumb-picks too.
So what pick?
World famous Australian picker Tommy Emmanuel says "choose the heaviest pick you can".
Why? Because it produces the fullest and loudest tone. I agree but nahh, not for me.
I am not especially impressed by loud. Fuller tone isn't necessarily on my must have list either.
Great tone is and that doesn't always require a brick to pick with.
All recorded music is processed so it becomes electric. Tone can be adjusted with added bass, middle or treble and volume can be as loud as you want.
A heavy pick has no flex and is unforgiving. A total pro like Tommy can manage it fine but many people would benefit from choosing a medium flexible material pick with some grip material in the holding area. The pick won't snag as it has a bit of bounce. You'll make less mistakes. It won't slip out of your hand with the grip material helping. Try medium size and medium thickness. The famous brand nylon ones never break. I can break most of the other picks pictured in an hour of playing an acoustic guitar. The flexibility of the flat pick means you can thread it through the strings when you aren't playing and you won't lose it.
Don't go for the hugest pick, you aren't going sailing.
Don't go for a small one, less to grab means you have to hang on tighter creating stress in your finger joints.
Thumb-picks are favoured by some players too. Many great pickers use or have used them.
Chet Atkins, Jerry Reid and Tommy Emmanuel are amongst great players who have influenced many others with "Travis" picking styles. Merle Travis was an influential American picker who
maintained a steady bass line with his thumb picking while playing the harmony notes, even solo
parts with the other free fingers.
I have several thumb-picks but in truth I have never found one that feels like it isn't strangling the blood from my thumb.
If you have access to a large music shop with a large selection, you might find a good fit. Try them. Buy a few and see how you like them. Everyone is an individual. I teach music so I look at people's fingers all the time. Some people's fingers are fatter than my thumbs. Finding finger picks to fit you is a personal thing and you will have to search far and wide to find something that feels like you.
You may even want to file and shape the product.
There are similar products available for fingers too, some in steel. I tried those too but nothing feels like part of your body like fingers and nails to me, but I do like to use picks with steel strings. They give a great range of sound and are particularly good for rhythmic playing and clear definition.
I often use a flat pick combined with my ring and middle fingers.
|The "pick of destiny" was Jack Black's Holy Grail to fantastic guitar playing. |
Don't watch that movie with your kids. (bad language warning)
There are many fun items to pick from. They aren't necessarily good tools.