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FAQs – Picks and Strings

Picks

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I’ve been on a journey with picks over the years. I used to use really thin picks (0.5mm or so), and as I’ve progressed as a player, I tend to favor heavier picks. I feel like you can get more dynamics and ‘feel’ out of a heavier pick, but for beginners who haven’t learned the art of nuance, they can make things sound really harsh and muddy, especially on electric guitar.

In the image above, I’ve highlighted three of the picks I like to use often.

Herdim Picks (the red one):

The red pick is a Herdim picks pick, and it’s by far my favorite. Herdim picks are famous because The Edge of U2 uses (or at least has used) them. If you turn the pick around and play with the textured edge, you can grab the string and get a different sounding attack. Bradford Mitchell, who is a regular contributor here at Worship Tutorials, describes this sound as ripping velcro, and it’s pretty accurate. If you just ahead to about 5:00 into the video you can hear me demonstrate this effect. I use these for electric guitar.

Dunlop Max Grip picks

Dunlop makes several nylon picks with a textured grip. This max grip pick is just one that I had handy, but they all kind of give you the same effect. You can get a similar string grab sound as the Herdim, but for some reason the Herdim picks just do it better. The Dunlops are kind of my back-up as they are a lot easier to find locally, and they do come in more thickness ratings. I like anything from 0.88 to 1.14mm.

Dunlop Tortex Picks

The Tortex line from Dunlop do not have a textured edge, and I use them on acoustic. I find playing with a textured edge on acoustic isn’t as nice as on electric. The tortex picks are a sort of matte/satin finish, which makes them feel a bit sticky, so they stay put in your fingers.

Strings

My favorite strings have always been Elixir, especially on acoustic. They are coated strings, so they resist rust and corrosion. I find they last significantly longer than non-coated strings, and personally I don’t hear a tone difference with them compared to non-coated strings.

For acoustic, I prefer the Polyweb 80/20 strings in light (12s). For electric, I use 10’s. I also like Elixir strings on electric, but because I have so many more electric guitars than acoustic, I will also tend to use the D’Addario 3-packs (also 10’s) just because they are so much cheaper. Three sets of strings for $10 is a pretty good deal.

19 Responses to FAQs – Picks and Strings

  1. Bill Havens Sep 23, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    I have tried a number of picks as well. I have ended up using COOL brand picks. They have a number of different types but the “Area 52” 0.6 and 0.8 have been my preferred. They have a tacky grip and wouldn’t work as well playing backward but on Acoustic they sound great and have less click coming off of the strings in my opinion. I will need to try the Herdim picks. Thanks for the advice. Love the site, especially the tutorials. It has been a blessing for me and learning songs.

    In regards to the strings. Have you tried Martin Retros and any thoughts on how they compare to the Elixirs in regards to sound. I currently use Martin Acoustic SP uncoated and have tried the Retro’s. I thought they sounded good. I have not yet tried elixirs on my martin, but have on an older Epiphone Texan.

    • Joe Krol Sep 23, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

      On the acoustic I use Tusq picks exclusively, 68mm deep and warm both. They have a great sound and fantastic control. They also don’t have the string slap that nylon and plastic picks can have. They do wear a bit more quickly but they are worth every penny. On the electric I use a pick shaped English Penny that I purchased off ebay. It gives me fantastic tone and feel and I can even get some really cool sounds by just tapping it against the strings like a hammer. When I want a softer sound I go to a polished agate stone.

      Acoustic Strings…I have been a Martin SP Custom Light user for about 15 years or so. I have tried Elixirs and the D’Addario coated strings and the Martin Coated strings. Frankly I’m not impressed by any of them. I find them to sound dead out of the box, but they do last longer than the standard Martin SP’s but not long enough to justify the added cost. Unless you get them on sale they are generally twice to three times the price on the Martin SP’s. Nano webs are $13.95 a set, Martin Lifespans are $9.95, D’Addario EXP are $9.99 too. Martin SP’s (Phosphor Bronze) are $5.49. None of these strings last twice as long not even close.

      I have just put the Martin Retro strings on my Martin. They sound great and play wonderfully, I just put them on so longevity is still an open question. The custom lights can be a bit hard to find but Musicians Friend has them (on ebay only $5.00 free shipping). They are less bright than the SP’s but don’t sound dead. They did take some of the bass out of my guitar (a good thing) my guitar is a limited edition 1935 remake D-28. It’s over 20 years old and the sound board is VERY responsive so the bass really comes through. The retro strings tamed the base and sound very good. They also seem to vibrate more easily than the SP’s in the same gauge. This past weekend we had to turn the sound down on the guitar so it would not feed back. Hope that helps with the Retro question.

      On the electric on my Les Paul I use Ernie Ball Customs they are like a 9 and a half set in that they are common gauges for 9’s on the treble strings (EBG) and common 10 gauge strings on the BASS side (EAD). So you get great lead sounds and solid rhythm chunk on the low end…

      On my Telecaster I use either Ernie Ball 8’s or 9’s.

      Joe

      • Bill H. Sep 25, 2015 at 11:19 am #

        Thanks for the input. I tried the retro strings and found them to be quite nice as well. They were nice and warm on my Martin DCPA4R. I still have several sets of the Martin Acoustic SP strings and when they are gone I will probably buy the retros. I bought the acoustic SP’s at sweetwater during gearfest for $33 for a 10 pack, could beat the price. I didn’t like the lifespan’s from martin either. I have just not tried Elixir strings on it for fear of the sound being too muddy.

        • Brian Oct 16, 2015 at 10:43 am #

          Thanks Bill – a lot of Martin Retro string users – maybe I will have to try these out…

      • Brian Oct 16, 2015 at 10:40 am #

        Thanks for the tips Joe! I’d like to try a Tusq pick. Using different materials can have drastic impacts on the tone. Interested to see how that would sound.

    • Brian Oct 16, 2015 at 10:38 am #

      Thanks for the suggestion Bill! I’ve not tried the Retros, but I’ve been so turned off by Martin strings in the past that they’d have to be pretty awesome to sway me, ha 🙂

  2. Scott L Sep 23, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    I agree on the COOL picks! I have the opposite problem as Brian in that my fingers are dry, so the grip helps me hold on to them. I tend toward thinner picks: 0.75-0.8 on my acoustic & 1.00’s on electric. I find that I have to get them through the web; Elderly Instruments (elderly.com) has them for under a dollar while every place I’ve seen in stores (or online) are well over $1 (buy them when you order strings to save on shipping; Elderly has good prices on strings too).

    I tried a V-Pick on my acoustic, & generally liked it, but the 0.75 I had split on the tip & a piece broke off of it. A $4+ pick should last longer!

    • Brian Oct 16, 2015 at 10:39 am #

      Thanks Scott – I’ll check out the COOL picks.

  3. Ziaul Haque Oct 29, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

    Many thanks for that recommendation Expenses! I’ve not really attempted the actual Retros, however I’ve already been therefore switched off through Martin guitar strings previously which they’d need to be fairly amazing in order to swing me personally,

  4. Jonathan Nov 2, 2015 at 4:50 am #

    I just recently went on a string hunt for my Martin which actually ended on the 2nd set I tried. The first set was a set of Martin 80/20’s, I wish I could say exactly what they were but I disliked them so much that after 3 weeks I replaced them. Per the recommendation of the local music shop I tried out Pyramid strings. Much like your favorite pick, they are German. More pricey as they were $16.95 but they sound amazing. I found them on juststrings.com for under $12 as well. http://www.juststrings.com/pyr-a328.html

    Also, I got the mediums as I prefer them, they do have lights and extra lights.

    As for picks, I’ve loved the Fender lights. The purple ones though. Oddly enough the different colors have different thicknesses, even though they are labeled as lights, mediums, heavy etc. I’ve tried the light blue, too thin, dark blue, too thin. White, too thin. Purple, just right. The mediums are too thick for strumming fast, like on Lay Me Down or Build Your Kingdom Here. Fender doesn’t list the thicknesses anywhere so it’s a guessing game. I’ve been breaking the lights lately though, and just like you, as my playing has matured I’m favoring a thicker pick more and more. I think I’ll give the Dunlop .73mm a chance next as I know the .88mm is too thick for me.

    For my electrics I found my favorite guitar picks were a set of novelty picks I found at Hot Topic or some similar store. Hear me out, they’re made by Washburn so that should stand for something. Anyway, they were a set of picks with The Simpsons on them. Never broke one, they did wear out with heavy use. I ended up losing them all. Looks like Amazon still has them though! Washburn LSGP1.

    Oh and for electric strings… Ernie Ball skinny tops, heavy bottoms for my Epiphone Les Paul, and Ernie Ball customs for my Strat. Ernie Ball Super Slinkys for my bass too!

    • Brian Nov 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

      ThankS Jonathan – I’ll have to check those strings/picks out.

  5. Tyler Branham Jul 7, 2016 at 1:13 pm #

    Currently using Elixir Nanos on my D28. They take away some of the bass but provide a very balanced tone that other strings don’t have. I also like their tension and the fact that they last around 3 months for me. I play mediums. I’ve tried D’addario, Martin SP, and GHS coated and uncoated and find the Elixirs to outperform them all.

    As for picks, I’ve spent way too much money and I’ve tried everything from Bluechip, Wegen, Fender, Tortex, Americana, Herco, Gibson, Everly Star, Clayton, Gator grip, nylon, ultex, and tortoise shell. I was obsessing over who used what gear etc, etc and got tired of it. I settled on a few different ones: Tortex yellow, orange, green and Herco flex 75 for church and ultex 1.14 for bluegrass.

    • Brian Jul 7, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      Thanks Tyler. Yes – I feel you on the obsession too much over who uses what (when it comes to famous guitar players). It feels good to find your own style and the stuff you prefer and just go with it.

  6. Richard Aug 2, 2016 at 11:38 pm #

    Hey there, I just started playing again after about 40 years of “other interest” like the military, family, travel, and so on.. I was having a hard time with keeping my fender hot rod acoustic / electric in tune, thought it was just a poorly made guitar, and I bought an Epiephone Dot, semi hollow body, electric.. Love the guitar but had the same issue.. So a friend who has played for many years, told me about “SIT’s”, also know as Stay In Tune’s… I play the light, 10 ga. and they do stay in tune longer, and re-tune much easier, with very little fade off… or note sliding.. I also use the D’Addario light, phos-wound on my Acoustic/Electric, Fender… I like both of these.. As for picks..
    Well I tend to play softly.. and I lean more toward the slower, softer sounding songs, so I have good results with thin picks… However, having said that, in my old guitar case, I found a Gibson “Heavy”..! It had to be a left over, from my rock -n- Roll Days… You know, the ” I’m 17, I know everything, and my long hair is fine..” days…! I think all of us my age, that ever thought we could play, had a time in our past like that.. I still remember my father coming home from work and yelling “Turn that thing DOWN..!” { Now my wife says it.! } Oh well, that’s guitar playing..! By the way, I’m near sixty, and still like it loud.. But that might be due to hearing loss..
    Thanks for the lessons.. It a lot of review for me, but I need that sometimes… And I’m always up for learning to play new songs..!

    • Brian Aug 22, 2016 at 10:56 pm #

      Thanks Richard! I’ll have to check out those SIT strings for sure. And guitars are meant to be played loud, my friend 🙂

  7. Cory Schibler Sep 16, 2016 at 11:56 pm #

    I’ve taken a liking to Dunlop Prime Tone picks, which are only available in an odd root beer color or in the Animals as Leaders tin, but they sound great on my Ibanez V70CE Acoustic. I’ve been using my Peavey Marvel Villains picks on my electric because, well, I have them and they look cool. They are mediums. I use Ernie Ball Earthwood medium lights on my acoustic. They feel as good as Elixirs to me, but they are only $5 at GC. I use D’Addario XL 10’s for my electric.

  8. Dan Oct 10, 2017 at 2:28 pm #

    Do you find that the textured picks remove the coating from your elixirs when you have them on your electric?

    • Brian Oct 20, 2017 at 7:31 pm #

      Hey Dan – yeah they do a bit, but nothing too bad. I think any pick would do that over time.

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