A Lazy Sequence

String tension and pick thickness

I rarely see people mentioning pick thickness when they are talking about string gauges with guitar1. One of the key features of string thickness, and its more general cousin tension, is how much effort is required to make the string resonate. One way this is manifested is in overall loudness. Another, and more interesting here, is the ratio of attack to sustain of the note. We experience attack as a bright high frequency tone at the start of the note. Increasing the ratio of attack to sustain therefore increases the brightness we hear, particularly when strumming.

You can think of the attack as that initial blast of the note when the string is pulled far out its resting position by the pick, so it makes sense that how easily the pick can pull the string without giving way is directly related to how much attack is present. A more rigid pick will therefore generate more attack than a softer pick. The softer pick will give way to the string more easily.

Based on this, and you can back it up with a bit of experimentation, if you change your string tension – by changing string gauges, the scale length of the guitar (e.g. moving from a Les Paul to a Strat), or tuning scheme – it’s worth experimenting with some different picks at the same time to find what works best. I know some players, such as my friend Stephen, who are happy just compensating with their playing style, but I’ve found I need the more material change as well.

  1. As an example That Pedal Show – String Gauge & Tone.