One of the first things I discuss in my mandolin lessons with students is what type of pick to use. There are hundreds of different picks to choose from. While what works for some might not work for others, if we arm ourselves with some basic information you will be able to purchase picks with more confidence. In this blog we will look at the three main variables in picks: size/shape, thickness and material. I will also discuss some popular brand picks amongst mandolinist.
Teardrop-(upper left)The teardrop shaped pick is a widely popular pick amongst guitar players both electric and acoustic. You will be able to find this type of pick at any music store. It is not extremely popular for the mandolin but due to there wide availability and inexpensive cost you should give them a try.
Rounded-(upper middle)The rounded corner pick is very popular amongst mandolin players. The pick pictured is also sold as the Dawg pick after David Grisman. Some believe this style pick aides in tremolo playing. If you find that the tip of the teardrop or tri corner pick feels like it is getting “stuck” in the string while you play you should give this type of pick a try.
Tri Corner Pick-(upper right & bottom left & right) These are extremely popular picks amongst mandolinist and as you can tell the type I prefer. These picks are larger in size compared to the Teardrop and Rounded so for some they are easier to grip. You can also find variations of these picks with one to three rounded corners which gives you rounded and Tri Corner all in one.
Other-Beyond these three basic styles you will find variations or combinations of the above types. If you look at the pick at the bottom middle position of the picture you can see it is a hybrid of the rounded pick.
Amongst these various shapes you will find variations in size amongst each shape from company to company. If you compare the three tri corner picks size to the quarter you see that each brand has a slight variation. Bluechip Picks(discussed later) has the same shaped pick in small, medium, and large sizes.
One can find picks ranging in size from the thinnest at .50mm to the thickest at 4mm. The majority of mandolinist I know use a pick some where between 1mm and 2.5mm. To thin of a pick and the material will bend while you are trying to play passages causing inaccuracy in your right hand. To thick of a pick can slow your right hand down due to the added weight and thickness your hand is having to move through the string. My personal preference is a pick between 1mm-1.25mm.
Originally guitar and mandolin picks were made of tortoise shell. The process for collecting such material is horrible for the animal and has since been for the most part eliminated. The majority of picks on the market today are made out of different types of plastics. However one can find picks made of wood, bone, stone, metal and proprietary material. Though one should be weary of wood and bone picks with the mandolin due to the double strings you will be surprised how quickly you will be able to where down these types of picks.
The following are some popular manufactures of picks, the main difference between them is the proprietary material they use to construct the picks. Which gives each brand a distinct sound as well as feel in the hand and across the string.
Wegen-Upper right in the photo. These picks are available in various thickness and all the shapes discussed above. The holes in the pick help some people keep a grip of the pick. This is a very hard material. I had a friend who lost one of these picks and found it months later inside his oven and the pick was fine.
Bluechip Picks-Bottom left and bottom middle in the photo. These are an extremely popular pick amongst mandolinist. Again they come in all the shapes discussed above. Their number system for thickness is unique to these picks but well explained on there website. One can also order custom thickness’s as well. Though these picks are pricey $35 a piece they will last for a long time. I have only ever had to replace one that I somehow managed to lose and trust me I learned my lesson.
Djangojazz Picks-Bottom Right in the photo. This brand out of Europe is a newcomer on the bluegrass scene though popular amongst Gypsy Guitarist. Again they offer all the shapes mentioned above. The one caveat is the thinnest pick they can make is 1.25mm due to the nature of the material they use. They offer picks in the tortoise, bone and ivory replica as well as cotton fibre material which is what is pictured and would recommend.
So now hopefully you have better understanding of the various picks that are available. I encourage my students to go out and buy some different shapes and thickness(even of the same pick) of some of the more affordable picks to get a feel for what works best for them. Once you find a pick that you feel comfortable with you can always upgrade to a “luxury pick”. Though you don’t have to. Most claim that the tone and longevity of these pick’s are worth the cost. I personally go through phases of which pick I am enjoying on any giving day, though most of my favorite picks are the same thickness and relatively the same size the. Good luck on your pick quest and happy pickin’
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