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Thread: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

  1. #1

    Default Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Just wanted to get some feedback from other players as far as what feels, sounds, and plays well when deciding on what plectrum to use. I realize this is mostly based on personal preference, but I watched a video where someone switched to heavy picks and offered an explanation which seemed to make sense at the time. He said lighter picks have less resistance which causes them to bend or curve after the tip makes contact with the string. For example, you play a low string on a down stroke. As you're approaching the next adjacent string for your 2nd pick strike (this can be down or up stroke, doesn't matter), if there's too much bend on the pick, this will prolong the response time when the pick makes contact with the next string because it still hasn't "cleared" the first string yet. But if you use heavier picks, there's less bend, therefore the tip can pass over the string quicker.

    At the end of the day, I'm sure most of us aren't contemplating the laws of physics behind plectrums and strings, but as with some things, even the most minute details can be relevant. I'm using 10-34 gauge strings on my mandolin.

  2. #2
    Peace. Love. Mandolin. Gelsenbury's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Many bluegrass players will give you that argument in favour of thick picks. Yet there's a reason why not everyone uses thick picks. Some classical or Celtic players find that they can move more nimbly with thinner picks, and some like the feel or the little snap you get from a somewhat flexible pick.

    There are real differences worth exploring, but ultimately it's personal preference as you say.

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  4. #3
    Registered User bruce.b's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    I think that’s a ridiculous argument. It’s all about what tone and feel you prefer.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    This article really explains how pick choice makes a difference. http://jazzmando.com/tips/archives/000718.shtml

    I use three or four picks regularly. Which one I use depends on the venue or playing circumstances, the type of music, and the mandolin I am playing at the time.

    For folkie and grassy stuff I prefer picks that are about 1.4mm. Then its a choice between wonderful wonderful tone or certain punch I need for a crowded jam, where the tone quality goes largely unappreciated.

    Blue Chip TAD60, or a RedBear Heavy, or a Primetone 1.4 mm or a Wegen 1.4 mmm

    For classical I like a pick about 0.75mm and pointy, to get some of that brilliant scintillation the mandolin is so good at. I like the thin pickboys, which if I recall are about 0.73mm but have recently really liked the Dogal picks, at 0.76 mm

    One of the really fun things, IMO, about mandolin is that it is so responsive to differences in picks, and so there is no reason to stay with one. One can change to accommodate circumstances or to achieve a particular sound, or to facilitate a faster picking needed on a particular tune.

    In my experience, guitar seems much less responsive to different types of picks, so the trick there is to chose what you are comfortable with. I use a horn pick I purchased from Dugain, very thick, and an ergonomic thumb depression that I like.

    It allows a guitarist to keep a pick in the wallet. I always wonder which pick to keep in the wallet, and the guitarist can answer, "the pick i use." Not as easy for a mandolinner to answer I think.

    Come to think of it, I suspect that this whole favorite pick things is a kind of guitarry arguement, carried by those who come to mandolin from the guitar. I came to mandolin from clarinet and bassoon, (way back in the way back) and so I have had a different set of prejudices to overcome.


    I am not much of a guitar player, at all, (which might be obvious) and so I leave it to others to counter my assertions more authoritatively with respect to guitar.
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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by bruce.b View Post
    I think that’s a ridiculous argument. It’s all about what tone and feel you prefer.
    Yes and no. I think with the mandolin there is an opportunity to "prefer" several different tones, in which case some kind of thinking about the physics and some experience is needed to guide the decision of which pick to achieve which effect.


    But... more than a few people have called me a nerd, hell bent on complicating things with intricate details. Guilty as charged. But I don't think I am wrong because of it. Just exasperating.
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    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    The material is important too. Thin doesn't necessarily equate with flexible (though it might).

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  11. #7

    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    As I have progressed, I have moved to heavier picks on both guitar and mandolin. 1.2 for guitar and I'm currently using 1.4 for mandolin. I think they come off the strings quicker. Thinner picks sound better when strumming a 12 string guitar though.
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  12. #8

    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    I find I have about 6-8 picks I cycle thru depending on instrument, strings, mood, time of day...they range from the BC40 to 80, a Red Bear, and some Dunlopís. The shapes are mostly large triangle. I do not like the rounded corners as I donít seem to be able to get much sound out of them. For awhile I had Thomastik strings on my Northfield and I felt that the Red Bear pick I have sounded great, I changed strings to the ones sold by Northfield and now Iím using a Dunlop 1.5 large triangle.
    Northfield F5M #268, AT02 #7

  13. #9
    but that's just me Bertram Henze's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    I have originally started on thin picks with mandolin, TB and eventually OM.

    Then I felt like being talked into thicker ones here on the Cafe, and even had a bulky Wegen.

    But then reality dawned on me, telling me that
    - flexibility of the pick should match that of the strings to achieve control, and my longer instruments were too soft-stringed for pebbles,
    - I like a bright brassy sound from the wound strings (as opposed to the wooden thud favored by your average BG mandolinist), and thick picks swallow those brilliant overtones and digest them into you know what.

    Therefore, I'm back to thin and spikey.
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    I use a Dunlop 88 for mandolin and tenor banjo, and a White Sharkfin on guitar and octave mandolin.
    I'm afraid I can't really get along with thick picks - in fact I find anything more than .88 too heavy and I can't really use them.
    I have long since realised that my approach must be quite different from bluegrass players.
    David A. Gordon

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    Registered User DavidKOS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by Cobalt View Post
    The material is important too. Thin doesn't necessarily equate with flexible (though it might).
    Exactly. I use app.73mm Ultex or Ultem sharp picks and they are quite stiff.

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  19. #12
    Registered User Cobalt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by Bertram Henze View Post
    - I like a bright brassy sound from the wound strings (as opposed to the wooden thud favored by your average BG mandolinist), and thick picks swallow those brilliant overtones and digest them into you know what.
    When I first started playing, (sometime in the 1960s) we played folk-tunes, and it occurred to me once that out of our entire repertoire, only one tune made use of the G-string (I think it was a middle-C in Silent Night). It seemed a terrible neglect of such a beautiful sound.

    Ever since then, I've been determined to play melody and harmony on the wound strings a great deal. As you say, it does require a suitable plectrum to draw out all the tones from those strings.

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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by The Big Loubowski View Post
    Just wanted to get some feedback from other players as far as what feels, sounds, and plays well when deciding on what plectrum to use. I realize this is mostly based on personal preference, but I watched a video where someone switched to heavy picks and offered an explanation which seemed to make sense at the time. He said lighter picks have less resistance which causes them to bend or curve after the tip makes contact with the string. For example, you play a low string on a down stroke. As you're approaching the next adjacent string for your 2nd pick strike (this can be down or up stroke, doesn't matter), if there's too much bend on the pick, this will prolong the response time when the pick makes contact with the next string because it still hasn't "cleared" the first string yet. But if you use heavier picks, there's less bend, therefore the tip can pass over the string quicker.

    At the end of the day, I'm sure most of us aren't contemplating the laws of physics behind plectrums and strings, but as with some things, even the most minute details can be relevant. I'm using 10-34 gauge strings on my mandolin.
    You will get MANY opinions ! Only way to answer your question is for you to try out many different picks !
    My two favorite pastimes are drinking wine and playing the mandolin but most of my friends would rather hear me drink wine! Adapted from quote by Mark Twain------supposedly !

  21. #14

    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Quote Originally Posted by bruce.b View Post
    I think thatís a ridiculous argument. Itís all about what tone and feel you prefer.
    I'm with Bruce and Jeff. Fat, heavy strings give me a warm, mellow sound. Thinner, lighter picks sound brighter and more sparkly. So the choice depends on you're taste, the tune you're playing, and who else is playing what.

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  23. #15
    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Light vs. Medium vs. Heavy Picks

    Just me, but have been moving more towards lighter picks for mandolin (and guitar). And sometimes different picks for different instruments. A Ultex .73 sounds too scratchy to my ears on my Collings. On the Strad-O-Lin, it's fine and a good match. The Collings likes a Blue Chip TP35. That's dull and plastic sounding on the Kalamazoo that likes a Wegen Bluegrass 1.0 (which is the heaviest I use these days).

    FWIW, my mentor and bandmade uses a Dunlop nylon heavy. And another friend, who is a very fine player still uses the Wegen mandolin picks that are their version of the Dawg picks. Both sound great. Oh, and another master player uses Tortex .88 and makes his LaPLant sound great.
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