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Thread: Light strings and thin picks

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    Default Light strings and thin picks

    A trend in my circle is to switch to thin picks. I tried my friend's mandolin, which has light strings because it has no truss rod. The combo of light strings and a very thin pick was amazing. Oddly, I really think that a heavy pick is quieter than a thin pick. Next time I re-string I'm going to try light strings. I think that I will be able to press them better against the frets (I usually get some mighty hand cramps -- and I'm not weak) and I think that they will twang all the greater being lighter. Will be a while because I have to use up my heavy strings.

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I use light gauge strings all the time. Whatever I might be losing in sound I'm happy to trade for playability. I disagree about thin picks, though. Going to the Primetone 1.3 was a big game changer for me both in terms of volume and tone. But, if you're getting what you want with thinner picks, more power to you.
    Steve

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I find I can have the action lower with heavier strings and it plays very easy. Lighter strings are easy, but the action has to be higher as they vibrate more. I have light strings on another and honestly unless I am bending it's hard to tell the difference. Keeping a light action is more work, keeping it where you want and dealing with changes of temp and humidity, but well worth it.
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I use light gauge strings on my Flatiron 1N and Martin Style A, but my arch tops sound better with J75 gauge strings. I agree that you can set the action just a little lower with heavier strings, and I think tuning is more stable with heavier strings as well. But use what you and your mandolin(s) like best.

    As for picks, Wegen TF 120 and BC TAD 40 are the lightest picks I’ll use on guitar. On mando, I’m 1.4 or 1.5mm. Even on guitar I’ll often go heavier. Just can’t use light and flimsy anymore. My younger brother, however, loves .8mm Nylon picks. To each his own...
    Chuck

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    Worlds ok-ist mando playr Zach Wilson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I have used light gauge strings and find they work and sound ok. I don't think they feel any easier to play though. I prefer med gauge.

    1mm is the lightest I'll use on my mandolins and even that feels slim and floppy. On guitar... .73 feels just about right for softer music and up to a 1mm for loud circles.

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    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I haven’t been able to find my blue chip pick since I moved so I just used the Dunlop ultex .60 triangle that I use with my tenor guitars. I love the tone I’m getting on my Beavertail pancake with this combination. Med light GHS A-260 strings are what came on it, and I haven’t changed them. I’m set with these picks for everything I have.

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    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    For me - It really depends on your mandolin. Some mandolins simply won't respond to light strings. A UK Cafe member friend of mine owns a superb Heiden "A" style on which he installed Thomastik strings - the heaviest set i think,but they were still too light to 'drive' the top. The mandolin sounded very weak toned. He changed to what are now EJ74s & it sounded better,but when he changed to DR MD11's it just came to life.

    Also,the music you play might affect your choice of string gauge. For some genres of music,light strings may be fine,but if you're playing with a Bluegrass band,they probably won't cut through the other instruments = ''horses for courses'' as folk say.

    Going back 18 months or so,i tried a thin pick on my mandolins & being truthful,it sounded fine - but - i couldn't get the 'punch' that i like,so i went back to my 1.5mm Primetone teardrop shaped ''grippy'' pick & all was well ,
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I agree with the OP about thin picks - they really do ring out and in my experience are louder. But louder = better is entirely subjective; and as Ivan pointed out, you'll likely miss the "punch." I use different picks at times, but usually end up going back to a Fender heavy, my standard.
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    Registered User Manfred Hacker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    There is an instructional video by the late John McGann called Sound Fundamentals. In this video he demonstrates the difference in tone and volume of picks. He says:
    "My belief is that thicker picks make acoustic instruments do what they NEED to do to project the best tone- RESONATE. The thin pick deflects off the string, and the string does not take the full energy of the pick attack. A thick pick delivers all the energy to the string, which vibrates fully, making the bridge and top resonate, creating the sound waves that bounce around in the box and pour out of the soundhole(s). With a thin pick, the string plays the pick as much as the pick plays the string!

    It is my opinion the thicker picks allow you to maximize tone production and volume."

    I believe he was right.
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Some instruments prefer light strings and some heavy. Similarly, some picks sound better with some instruments and others with others. I use whatever pick sounds and feels best on whichever instrument I'm playing so it's difficult to come up with a hard and fast rule.

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    formerly Philphool Phil Goodson's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I don't know what you define as "light strings". I use 11-40s for the most part, occasionally using a 39 G, and get the tone I want and the strings feel good and not tight and hard like I feel with J75s. But whatever sounds & feels good makes sense to me.

    I gravitated to thicker picks for a few years and most of the time used a BC60. Lately I find myself preferring a 0.050" thickness better (just hand comfort) AS LONG AS it's STIFF. A flexible pick loses energy as someone noted above.
    It's surprising to me how I change my preferences periodically for no apparent reason.
    (Surely I'm not changing or getting older!)
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    mandolin slinger Steve Ostrander's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    One of the first things I learned about mandolins was: throw away your guitar picks and use a thicker pick. I use 1.4 JD Tortex or Rhinos. And I never use any strings lighter than J74s.
    Living’ in the Mitten

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    For me the heaviest pick I use is 1mm. It is heavy enough to not flex, light enough to retain some high's so the G string is not dead, and drives the mandolin. I do have mandolins that the heaviest string I can put on is 10-36 and I tried a thinner pick using the rounded edge, but went back to my rounded Wegen, it sounded good and is a good feel. Rarely do I use the pointy part of the pick for mandolin. Mostly my strings are 11-16-27-41.
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I also like rounded picks and found a web site that offered Prime Tone rounded ones at 1.25 with free shipping I have let others try them and found that they aren`t for every one or every mandolin, however I do use them at every gig that my band plays, I constantly go back and forth with other picks when I am just sitting at home and trying new tunes etc...It takes time to match a pick with the proper strings and mandolin, probably biggest cause of MAS, I have four mandolins and am thinking of buying another one, (as soon as my wife goes out of town to visit someone)...Try as many picks and gauges of strings as you can and be open minded about how they sound...Some of us hear what we want to hear...

    Willie

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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I think it depends on the instrument and the type of music you play. I use medium strings -- except on my bowlback, which uses ultra light, and my bandolims, which use light. And since I don't play either bluegrass or chords, I need a pick with a point -- not floppy, but stiff -- and thin. My current favorite is a jazz pick for my gigging instruments, a john pearse for the snake and a BC jazz for my Eastman, which has a bridge mike, because I did a pick challenge and those were the picks that sounded best with those instruments with the music that I play. So, yeah, YMMV.
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    Registered User peterleyenaar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    The Primetone 1.3 are great picks, I can't tell the difference in sound between them and same size Bluechip pick

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    This is an old debate. Thick or thin strings? Thick or thin picks?

    The fact is that the vast majority of the top players who play (non-classical style) mandolin tend to favor thicker picks (45 to 80 thou) and medium-to-heavy gauge strings (e.g., J-74, J-75, or equivalent gauges).

    Particularly when you're still learning, it is tempting to many players to opt for thinner strings, which are a bit easier to push around, and also thinner picks, which have less tendency to get hung up in the strings, by bending out of the way. But this does not lead to the best tone production. Furthermore, it does not necessarily lead to faster or cleaner playing -- especially in the long run.

    The underlying physics of the situation is pretty clear, however: a heavier gauge string carries greater mass, and therefore, for a given initial deflection, it carries more vibrational energy. All else being equal (which it may not be; read on), a heavier string will always sound louder. Not softer! The catch is that this applies to strings that are given the same initial deflection. If, for some reason, you're not able to push through a heavier string with the flatpick, then you will not achieve an equivalent initial deflection. Folks who write that they manage to get louder sounds with thinner gauge strings are basically saying that they cannot flex the thicker strings as much with their pick strokes. This might well be because they they're using too thin a pick, which bends away and releases the string at a smaller deflection. Or, it might be associated their right-hand technique (and power). Or, it might be due to the greater string tension. There could be lots of reasons. But thinner strings are not intrinsically louder.

    As others have already pointed out, thinner strings are looser strings. You need to set the action higher for them not to buzz. And thinner picks are softer picks. They may flex excessively, causing a loss of tone, loss of speed, or a greater need to get them positioned just right (they are less tolerant of small changes in angle than thicker picks). As you get better and better, you may find that a stiffer pick (at least up to a point) offers more speed. But note that a good deal of the pick flexion comes from the hand and fingers, and not merely the pick bend, so it's quite possible to play fast with a flatpick that is, in effect, infinitely stiff! Indeed, some players (e.g., Gypsy jazz) prefer incredibly thick picks (80 to 1000 thou or more) that don't bend one iota.

    Obviously, this is a personal compromise. To get the best combination of volume and tone, need to use the thickest strings that still allow for decent playing speed, appropriate action, and can be handled by your finger dexterity and strength. And you have to use strings that your mandolin can handle: note that bowlbacks and many flattops can't handle heavier gauge strings. Also, you need to use a pick that develops the best tone from these strings, given your personal ergonomics. It's literally a case of different strokes for different folks!

    That said, the fact that so many of the great players I know use medium-to-heavy gauge strings with a fairly thick pick tells me a lot.

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I just wanna have fun playing

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    I lost the last of my Wegens this weekend, and while I await delivery of replacements, I am using some inferior substitutes. However, I did try some of my sons thin guitar picks yesterday and found a much louder click on the string from the pick. It may be that the click is undetectable when the note from the string is louder, but whatever the cause, I found the thin pick very unsatisfactory in both sound and tremolo- too much flexibility.

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Ostrander View Post
    One of the first things I learned about mandolins was: throw away your guitar picks and use a thicker pick. I use 1.4 JD Tortex or Rhinos. And I never use any strings lighter than J74s.
    One perspective.

    I find the .72 "Spike" picks stiff enough, sharp enough, and tough enough to keep up with any of the really thick picks.

    It's personal taste, not an absolute.

    Or your comments are specific for certain types of mandolins.

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    This is an old debate. Thick or thin strings? Thick or thin picks?

    The fact is that the vast majority of the top players who play (non-classical style) mandolin tend to favor thicker picks (45 to 80 thou) and medium-to-heavy gauge strings (e.g., J-74, J-75, or equivalent gauges).

    ....
    That said, the fact that so many of the great players I know use medium-to-heavy gauge strings with a fairly thick pick tells me a lot.
    I bet your "great players" are not classical (admittedly!) , jazz, Klezmer, choro or Russian mandolinists.
    Or, you are only referring to certain styles of music and certain types of mandolin.

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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Evan Marshall gets a pretty good sound with thin picks.

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  28. #22
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    ...I bet your "great players" are not classical (admittedly!) , jazz, Klezmer, choro or Russian mandolinists.
    Or, you are only referring to certain styles of music and certain types of mandolin.
    Yes, and I thought I was being quite clear about that in my earlier comments, when I explicitly pointed out that this doesn't apply to classical mandolin players. Alas, I cannot speak to any Russian- or Klezmer-style players (unless you count Andy Statman as Klezmer), but then again, most of the choro and jazz mandolin players whom I know tend to go for thicker -- not thinner! -- picks. Of course, those who play amplified instruments also go for thinner picks and strings, for what should be obvious reasons.

    The "great players" I mentioned are the ones whom we tend to read about most frequently here on the MC. These are the folks who tend to record a lot, and draw the widest audiences in performances here in the U.S. That would include, for example, mandolin heroes like Chris Thile, David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Adam Steffey, Sam Bush, Jethro Burns, Ricky Scaggs, Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, Andy Statman, Johnny Staats, ... the list goes on and on. And let's not leave out ol' Bill Monroe! These folks are not all bluegrass musicians, of course, but a good many of them came out of a bluegrass/oldtime/folk tradition and have moved in new directions since then. And what I wrote earlier about strings and picks holds for just about every one of them, to the best of my knowledge: they go for stiffer picks and medium-to-heavy strings.

    As you know, traditional bowlback mandolins (i.e., Neopolitan and German styles, based on 19th-century designs) were never built to handle the strain of today's medium or heavy steel strings. They MUST be strung with lighter strings for architectural reasons -- otherwise, they'd break! No choice. And with the thinner strings, a thinner pick will do just fine, because it will be subjected to less flexing force during the pickstroke.

    As I wrote before, it's a case of different strokes for different folks. In truth, bowlback players like yourself have, in essence, little choice other than to play with thinner gauges of strings, so almost all of this discussion is moot for you.

    In my opinion, however, modern carved-top/back mandolins (e.g., those following in the Gibson A- and F-model tradition) are instruments with truss rods in the neck that are built to handle the strain of medium-to-heavy gauge strings. As a rule, these instruments will sound better -- and louder -- with these strings. And for such strings, a somewhat thicker pick is also more appropriate, to coax the best possible tone.

  29. #23

    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Well, I had been using medium/heavy strings for about a year now, so once this last set is ready to be changed, I look forward to trying the lighter strings. I think this last set is one that I bought that has lighter bottom strings (.40 not .41 on the G string, for example) and medium A and E strings. Already I think the lower strings sound a lot better, but that just might be because they're new. I don't change the strings very often. So it'll be interesting someday to try the lighter ones and see what it's like. I wish it was easier to change strings. At this rate it's a slow experiment.

    I never did quite get over the buzzing of the heavier strings before. The buzzing is caused by me not being able to press hard enough. I don't think I am a weak person, but I guess I am. Been playing for 12-15 years, as an amateur and usually I just play and don't pay too much attention to this sort of stuff.

    I do like the primetone picks. I have lots of them. I don't find them to have an appreciable positive affect on volume, but I do like the size and the points and how they are easy to hold.

  30. #24
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The "great players" I mentioned are the ones whom we tend to read about most frequently here on the MC. These are the folks who tend to record a lot, and draw the widest audiences in performances here in the U.S. That would include, for example, mandolin heroes like Chris Thile, David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Adam Steffey, Sam Bush, Jethro Burns, Ricky Scaggs, Sarah Jarosz, Sierra Hull, Andy Statman, Johnny Staats, ... the list goes on and on. And let's not leave out ol' Bill Monroe! These folks are not all bluegrass musicians, of course, but a good many of them came out of a bluegrass/oldtime/folk tradition and have moved in new directions since then...
    Isn't this a tautology. These are the folks who like heavier picks. This is the kind of music that is typically made with heavier picks. Noticing that says not a lot about mandolin in general.

    Or perhaps I am missing that this is the type of musical tastes the OP is aiming for. I might have missed that part.
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    Registered User mee's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light strings and thin picks

    J74's for my gibson f9, I tried something lighter and hated the sound and immediately switched back. And I love thick rounded picks.

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