Sometimes it’s all about the little things. When it comes to playing the guitar, there are a multitude of details that, when added up, can make a huge difference in how you play and the sound you produce. Choosing the correct strings and picks are a perfect example of this. As a beginner, you are going to want to make sure that the tools that you use are helping rather than hindering you… and we’re here to help you figure it out. Before taking off to your local music store to hit up the accessories department, check out these tips for finding your perfect picks and strings.
Picking Your Pick
There are literally thousands of choices when it comes to picks. As you build your skills, you’ll find that there may be different picks that work better for the different types of music you want to play, but for now let’s focus on the basics. Here’s a simple checklist of things to look for when you’re shopping for this very important tool.
1. Size Makes A Difference: Picks come in many different sizes and, as a beginner, you want to make sure that you’re not overwhelmed by a pick that is too large, or challenged by a pick that is too small. A good rule of thumb (no pun intended) is to start with a standard-sized pick, which is large enough to grip solidly, while allowing you room to avoid accidental finger contact with the strings.
2. It’s All In the Grip: Obviously, there is no point in buying a pick if you can’t hold on to it while you play! As a rule, thicker, harder, (read: less flexible) picks are typically more difficult to grip and to keep in place. As a beginner, you probably want to opt for a medium pick that is made of softer plastic. This will allow you to get used to playing with a pick without it slipping too much.
3. Wide vs. Skinny: When choosing the width of your pick, a good thing to keep in mind is the kind of guitar you are playing. While thin picks are a great choice for strumming an acoustic guitar, thicker picks (medium to extra heavy gauge) are more appropriate for playing the electric guitar.
4. Material Matters: Most picks are made of some sort of plastic — nylon, polyethylene, celluloid.. you get the picture. What this really affects (besides the grip we discussed earlier) is the tone you want to achieve. In general, it’s as simple as this: the harder the material, the brighter the tone, so think about what sound you are shooting for and choose your pick accordingly.
Odds are you are going to try out several different types of picks before you find exactly what you’re looking for. The important thing is that you start with a pick you can manage, and then adjust to your style and the sound that you want as you progress as a musician.
Picking Your Strings
The strings you choose for your guitar will directly affect the sound that you produce when you are playing. The gauge (string size) and material you choose will depend greatly on what kind of music you want to play, but the most important thing to consider is what kind of guitar you are playing: acoustic or electric.
The first thing to look at, whether you’re playing acoustic or electric, is the type of strings that your guitar came with. Generally, guitars will come with light-gauge strings, which is a common choice for guitarists, because they produce less tension and are easier — especially for beginners — to work with. In many cases, this is a great string to stick with while you get started. Now let’s talk about specific choices for electric vs. acoustic guitars.
Electric Guitar Strings for Beginners
The biggest difference between the strings on an acoustic vs. electric guitar is the materials the strings are made of (the pickups on electric guitars require strings to be made with magnetic alloys). Your electric guitar most likely came with strings that are made of either nickel or stainless steel; here’s the difference:
- Stainless Steel: Stainless steel electric guitar strings feel smooth on your fingers and are ideal for long practice sessions. They reduce the noise your fingers make when moving your fingers up and down the fret board and generally hold out better against corrosion. Stainless steel strings are often used by rock and metal musicians.
- Nickel Strings: Nickel electric guitar strings are nickel-plated and they deliver a clear, captivating sound that is popular with metal, funk and jazz players. (Although some rock musicians favor them as well.
As far as the gauge of your strings (if you decide to deviate from the light-gauge strings), keep in mind that a heavier gauge produces more tension from the guitar, and produces a louder sound and fuller tone — something that is particularly important to rhythm guitarists.
Acoustic Guitar Strings for Beginners
Your acoustic guitar, most likely, came to you with bronze strings that provide a very bright, crisp sound. Other popular options are nylon and brass strings. The tone of your guitar is impacted greatly by the material you choose, so here’s the breakdown that will help you make the most informed decision:
- Nylon Strings: It’s often assumed that nylon strings are the gentlest choice for beginners, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Beginner musicians, regardless of the choice of string material, will experience some level of discomfort, so it’s best to consider the sound that you want to produce rather than assuming that a certain material will be easier to play. The mellow tone and responsiveness that come with nylon strings make them a perfect choice for classical and folk guitarists.
- Brass Strings: Brass strings create a bright, metallic sound that is a bit sharper than bronze strings… they are also more brittle. Both brass and bronze are popular with rock, country and blues guitarists.
Again, the light-gauge strings are probably the best choice for you, as a beginner, however, if you find that you are a heavy strummer that keeps breaking your strings, you might want to go for a heavier gauge to keep yourself from constantly having to replace them!
Remember that learning to play the guitar is a journey and you are going to constantly be adjusting your course as you grow as a musician. As you find your sound, you’ll figure out exactly what strings and picks work best for you, but, in the meantime, enjoy testing things out, seeing what works for you and constantly evolving as you become the guitarist you were born to be.