It’s not something that new ukuleleists tend to think about, until it comes to them wanting to try a pick out. How do you choose one? Surely one pick can do just as well as the next?
Well not quite. Surprisingly, there are a number of different styles of pick, and which you choose will depend on the sound you want, your budget and more.
So today we’ll look into how to choose a ukulele pick that’s right for you.
Types of Ukulele Picks
First, let’s differentiate between the two main types of picks for any acoustic instrument: flat picks and finger picks.
Flat picks are small, triangular pieces of material that fit within a player’s thumb and pointer finger. They go by another name, plectrums. They allow musicians to play without hurting their hands, but certain materials offer differences in sound quality that a player might prefer.
Guitar picks are often plastic, but ukulele picks tend to come from other materials. Rubber, wood, leather, and felt are some examples, each with unique tones.
Flat picks are versatile, making it easy to keep an entire lineup of utensils for the perfect sound at any time. They are also highly customizable, with dedicated ukulele players having designs engraved onto their well-loved picks. However, they are small and easy to lose.
In addition, using a flat pick feels different from strumming. Many ukulele players have to practice using them after familiarizing themselves with finger playing.
Finger picks simulate a much more natural strumming motion that will be familiar to musicians who usually play with their fingers. Each sits on a finger or thumb like a ring, letting the player strum the ukulele strings as if they were playing barehanded.
Finger picks are difficult to drop and lose since they fit snugly on your hands. In addition, the player is free to choose where they wear them and if they want more than one. They are a comfortable option that can protect hands while maintaining the natural feel of finger playing.
The downside of finger picks is that most are made only for guitars. As a result, they might be too large for the average ukulele, needing to be filed down or shaved. They also make it difficult to switch between using your pick and fingers at a moment’s notice. A player must remove them after playing instead of simply stowing a plectrum away.
Lastly, most finger picks are either metal or plastic. You won’t get as many material options with these versus standard plectrums.
Almost if not more critical than pick types are their materials. Depending on what your ukulele strummer is made of, you can enjoy a symphony of different sounds. Let’s briefly check out the most common pick materials and how skilled ukulele players use them.
Leather is the most classic material for ukulele picks. Using one creates a warm, full, natural sound that is docile and relaxing. The material is easy to engrave and embroider with custom designs and soft to hold. Most leather ukulele picks are reinforced with plastic to maintain rigidity, which is essential for playing comfortably.
The downsides of leather are due to its natural composition. It isn’t waterproof and is tedious to clean. When left in the sun or kept wet, leather sometimes smells. Still, a well-maintained leather ukulele pick is the ideal tool for many players.
Felt has its own set of advantages over other materials. The versatility of felt lets the player strum softly or firmly depending on how they hold the plectrum. These picks are easy to clean and come in oval and triangular shapes. Poly-felt is a mixed material that combines the positive qualities of plastic and felt into one tool for a firm, impactful sound.
There are some downsides to consider with felt. First, the material is naturally soft and not rigid. You may have to reinforce a felt pick with extra layers using glue. Second, because of their light materials, felt implements generally have less impact than other materials. It isn’t a great tool for playing loudly or forcefully.
Rubber ukulele picks are a decent all-around choice. Rubber is a material that works well for all acoustic instruments, making them a great tool if you own multiple instruments in the family. They come in many hardness levels and are very durable. It is also dense, giving your ukulele strong and vibrant tones.
Other materials are uncommon for ukulele picks, but they do exist. Wood, plastic, and metal are the most common alternatives to leather or felt.
Wood picks give a warm sound. They are easy to engrave but can chip if you aren’t careful. Wood picks are also vulnerable to water and usually handmade, making them expensive.
Plastic picks are inexpensive, but they tend to negatively impact sound quality. They create clicky strums that can interfere with a ukulele’s natural appeal. However, if you’re on a budget or want to learn to play, plastic is a fantastic non-committal option for learning the ropes.
Metal is a rare ukulele pick material. Only use these picks for instruments with metal strings. Some concert ukuleles and custom instruments may have steel strings, so a hard iron pick produces a loud, forceful sound.
Does Pick Thickness Matter?
Yes, ukulele pick thickness matters. A thin pick is easy to use with little force, but a thicker one takes more strength to strum. However, thin plectrums make a clicking sound when hitting the strings that thick ones don’t. Fortunately, many ukulele plectrums come in variety packs with varying degrees of thickness for you to try.
Do You Need a Pick To Play the Ukulele?
While you do not need a pick to play the ukulele, there are advantages to using one.
First, while finger strumming provides an authentic sound for a guitar or ukulele, it isn’t necessarily good for your health. Using picks helps reduce the chance of arthritis and prevent calluses from forming. Long-term finger strumming can cause lasting damage to the blood flow in your wrist, joints, and fingers.
Second, while you can get a lovely acoustic sound from a ukulele using your fingers, picks allow you to customize that sound if you prefer. Depending on the type and material of the tools you use, you can alter the tune of your ukulele to sound smoother, starker, quieter, or louder.
Lastly, picks have history and personality. Many famous players have colorful, custom-made implements with designs or handmade items. Beautiful materials like leather add value to each item you can’t appreciate just by using your fingers.
With so many advantages, it is clear why many ukulele players prefer picks. Now, let’s dive into the specifics of them so that you can figure out which one will suit your playstyle best.
How To Choose A Ukulele Pick, Final Thoughts
Type, material, and thickness all matter when considering how to choose a ukulele pick. Whether you want a particular sound, a durable tool, or one that’s easy to use, there is a type for all player levels. No matter what kind of pick you decide on, they all take practice to master. If you can’t decide, try out variety packs until you find your perfect ukulele sound.