On the theory of speed and pick stiffness - an opinion piece

#1

I assume most of us grew up with the idea that shredding requires a stiff pick.

I blindly followed this idea until recently, after I heard that both Gilbert and Andy James play (or played) quite thin and bendy picks. AJ in particular mentioned that he picks quite heavy, so he benefits from a thinner pick (his new pick, however, is a 2.0mm).

Well since I’m also a heavy picker I wanted to give this idea a shot and played .73s for a few days - I have the impression they actually made my picking easier and faster!

Today I decided to try an extreme and grabbed a 0.58 gator pick - super bendy. I could “easily” play some one-way pickslanting licks at my top speed (about 200bpm 16th notes, for a short time). By easily I mean that it felt easier than the same lick played with a stiffer pick. Also, the pick seems to be slipping away much less, and it goes without saying that strumming becomes easier as well.

TRLD: if like me you like to pick hard and use a lot of pick on the string, you may give a shot to thinner picks, you may be surprised!

Obviously there are physical limitations to a bendy pick - but it seems to me they don’t really show up at “normal” shred speeds. Also, you obviously have a limit to the attack and volume, but this can be compensated by using more edge picking and/or picking deeper.

Let me know your opinions/experiences!

2 Likes
#2

EVH is another famous example of a thin pick user.
I purposely switched to the tortex jazz iii’s so that I could get that jazz shape I love in a wide variety of guages. While I usually use the .73 or the .88, it can be really fun to drop down to the .50 because it feels like I can effortlessly shred for days. I just don’t like the thin tone it produces. But if you’re amplified with gain you don’t notice it so much.

3 Likes
#3

I don’t think pick thickness matters that much and that it’s just what you’re comfortable with.

As you say, Paul Gilbert uses thin picks, he’s using .50mm Tortex these days, and he is one of the fastest. Before this he used .60mm and .73mm Tortex for a long time.

Bruce Bouillet has, in the past, used .88mm and 1mm Nylon picks, during the G3 Tour, and was able to double some of Paul’s lines using these.

Chris Poland uses .50mm Clayton picks too. He says that the sound he likes the fact they don’t have much attack when he picks a note.

2 Likes
#4

The Dunlop nylons in .73 or .83 don’t even feel ‘thin’ to me, as in so thin they make the flappy EVH-style sound. A number of the videos we filmed early on were done with these since I had them laying around at the time.

I haven’t used the flappy (that’s a technical term) thin picks probably since the '80s when we thought the lightest possible strings and pick meant you could play faster. At least that’s what I thought. Maybe it’s worth revisiting…

4 Likes
#5

I’d certainly be interested to know, and I’m sure other would, your opinions on how you find thinner picks if you ever decide to revisit them.

1 Like
#6

I almost never have strong feelings about picks when it comes to technique. I’ve used them all, they all seem to work more or less. Sound and feel differ, sure. But as I’ve said before my favorite pick is whatever one I happened to have gotten used to most recently. And most of the time, that’s just whatever one is laying around.

The only really strong preference I have is red. It’s the best instructional color!

4 Likes
#7

I think that has a lot to do with the amount of attack is used.
If you play with a 90° angle the pick just isn’t thin anymore and depending on the curvuture of the tip can behave like fat and round.
AJ, PG and Troy all play with a lot of attack and if you do so it’s not holding you back and even more when removing attack you get even more sound options, because a thick pick sill is thick when not angled.

I like that almost legato sound of thick round picks with a clean sound, with gain to me it’s boring. Actually I deal with that with a lose grip when needed which can produce similar sounds but has its limitations.

I just ordered some twisted picks, I’m totally not used to play around with angles, but I’m thinking of using different picks for accoustic and electric, and get thinner on electric.

1 Like
#8

I think it depends on how you play. I agree that bendy picks can sound great Especially if you are a lite, finesse picker, they can give you a bit more attack. But if you prefer the ‘Eric Johnson’ sound… where there the pick really makes a strong connection with the string, its good to have some stiffness.

I’ve gone back and forth. But with my current mechanics… its almost impossible for me to use a thin pick and play fast, since I’m hitting the string way to hard.

1 Like
#9

Also, Nuno Bettencourt and Paul Gilbert are thin floppy pick users.

1 Like
#10

Early on, I got used to the idea of being able to play with whatever common picks were around. That meant a fender pick, either light, medium, or heavey (or extra heavy).

Imagine, only four picks in the entire universe to choose from!

Imagine showing up to a gig and only being able to use a high tech, Jazz XVVI pick, yet you forgot your picks! Best be able to play with whatever is in the vicinity.

I’ve tried other picks, but what is most important to me is the “adherance” to my fingers. Does it slide around or stay in place? The Fender picks, seem to work the best in this regard. I believe they are celluloid.(?)

The biggest difference is in tone. The mediums, heavy, and extra heavy all work, but the medium has a sharper attack, and the xtra heavy has a dull attack. I find that the heavy is the best all around for mixing with legato and other techniques. Don’t want the light twang, neither do I want a muted jazz attack of the xtra heavy. Medium or heavy both work fine.

Also, Fender picks and all their variants are the cheapest. You can throw them out into the audience without feeling like you are throwing money away!

#11

I think there is a happy medium. Stuff above 1.5mm always sounds chirpy to me.
Anyone ever try using one of these for shreddy stuff?
SY355
I use them when I want to sing and strum on my dreadnaught since I don’t have a mic. Trying to shred with one though it sounds like a playing card in a bicycle spoke, granted this doesn’t sound through the pickup. I’d be curious to try one in a jazz shape.

2 Likes
#12

This is a great point. I play acoustic and I’m in the process of figuring out the strings/pick combination to get the sound I want. My skills are still very basic, but I haven’t noticed a major difference from a technique perspective with viz pick thickness. Light strings and thin picks tend to be a bit rubbery, but I’ve been a strummer until late so it’s probably time to move to heavier strings too.

#13

They’re not as hard to shred with as you’d think. You have to pick a bit lighter to make up for its bendiness. Robert Conti recommends those and includes some with his precision technique picking book. Check him out shredding on Cherokee at around 1:12

1 Like
#14

I’m still trying to understand picks, and while I have standardized to 2.0mm picks (for somewhat arbitrary reasons, honestly), I think that the lighter ones have a big potential advantage, in that the flexibility of the pick might act like a “shock absorber” and enable a more uniform movement for the hand. In other words, let’s say that I have some error and dig too deep into a string: With a rigid pick the string will fight me directly, but a more flexible pick might be more forgiving and comfortable.

But I don’t have a problem giving up such potential advantages, and that is because I always hit with the edge, and my particular picks (Dunlop Flow 2.0mm) have a curve that seems to be quite resistant to accidental variation in my pick height (due to broad “shouders”). The real way to know about this would be with an accelerometer on my pick, but I am too lazy to attempt such a measurement.