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Picking: How to Improve Your Tone & Control

Updated: Mar 28

Playing the guitar is an art, and like any art, it requires the right tools. One of the most important tools for a guitarist is the pick. The pick can greatly influence your tone and control over the instrument. This blog post will guide you through the process of choosing and using a pick to improve your guitar playing. There are a variety of factors to consider including: size, thickness, grip, style, and technique. Let’s explore them together.

1. Choosing the Right Pick for the Job

The thickness of the pick can significantly affect your playing style. A thinner pick is ideal for songs with fast strumming because it glides across the strings more easily, providing a smooth and fluid sound. On the other hand, a thicker pick is preferable for lead parts because it allows you to play with a stronger attack and more dynamic range, giving you more control over the volume and tone of each note. Always choose the pick that best suits the part you are playing. 

2. Angling the Pick

The angle at which the pick hits the strings can also affect the tone of your guitar. By angling the pick so that it doesn’t hit the string directly, you can achieve a smoother tone, especially when strumming. This technique can also reduce the amount of pick noise and make your playing sound more professional. Experiment with the angle the pick hits the strings when practicing. You may find that some playing styles are more suited to different pick angles. Find the position that best suits the style you are playing. The angle you use the pick may also change between songs and playing styles. Once again, it isn’t a “one size fits all” situation.

3. Size Matters

The size of the pick can influence your playing style as well. A smaller pick allows for fast technical playing, giving you more precision and control over each note. A larger pick, on the other hand, is better suited for broad rhythmic playing, allowing you to strum multiple strings at once with ease. I typically use the same sized pick at all times. I hold the pick closer to the point when playing fast leads. I hold the pick one the fatter end when strumming rhythm parts. You can effectively adjust the pick size by changing the position of the pick in your hand. However, some guitarists swear by using tiny guitar picks. I recommend starting with the standard size and experimenting with some other sizes. Choose the size that best compliments your playing technique.

4. Gripping the Pick

How you grip the pick can also affect your tone and control. Holding the pick too tightly can cause it to scrape the strings harshly, resulting in a harsh and brittle sound. Instead, try holding the pick loosely, allowing it to glide across the strings for a smoother and more pleasing tone. You can even vary your grip strength while playing to create accents and dynamics in the music. This type of pick control is what separates a beginner from a professional. It is immediately recognizable in the tone and dynamic of the guitar. It may be beneficial to seek guidance from a teacher to make sure you are playing with the correct technique. That’s why we recommend lessons at The American Guitar Academy. Contact us today to schedule your free trial lesson.

5. Experiment with a Variety of Picks

There are many different types of picks available, each with its own unique characteristics. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different picks to find the one that suits your playing style the best. Remember, the song determines the pick. It isn’t always “one size fits all”. Choose the pick that is appropriate for the guitar style that you are learning. I keep a small container with a variety of picks in my guitar case. I also carry a few different picks in my wallet at all times. Depending on the type of music I am playing, I will pick a pick accordingly! 

6. Explore Alternatives

While traditional picks are the most common, there are many alternatives that you can explore. Some people prefer to use their thumb for both strumming and picking. The thumb creates a warm, soulful tone. Many guitarists use their fingernails as an alternative to a guitar pick. Nails allow us to play fingerstyle patterns that might be impossible with a guitar pick. This is also the preferred technique for classical, flamenco, and many latin styles of guitar playing. A “thumb pick”, or “hybrid-picking” style is also somewhat common. These allow players to use the pick for precision while also employing fingerstyle techniques. However, many people find this style to be uncomfortable and lacking the character that comes from using only a pick or only fingers. Each has its own benefits and can provide a unique tone and feel to your playing.

Choose Your Pick!

There is no right answer when it comes to picking. Every player is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. However, by keeping these points in mind, you can improve your sound and find the right picking style and tone for your playing. Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy playing the guitar and to express yourself through your music. Your pick is there to enhance your playing experience, so give it plenty of consideration and work on your picking during your practice time.

Happy picking!


If you’d like more information on picking, or guidance trying a new style of picking, consider taking a free trial lesson at The American Guitar Academy. Our teachers have professional music backgrounds and can provide specific and detailed advice to help you improve your playing.


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