How to pick a pick for a ukulele

You’ve heard it many times: “It’s not in good form to use a pick for a ukulele.” Well, here’s my awful disclosure: I use a pick. And you know why? Because it does sound better, as least for a beginner like myself. It allows me to strum loud, fast, and consistent. If you look at YouTube videos, you’ll see that a lot of semipros also use picks. I haven’t asked them, but I presume it is also because it does sound better. Picks are pretty much a must for steel strings, and they are quite helpful on plastic strings. But you’ve got to pick the right pick.

You may want to start with a guitar pick, just for kicks. I bet you won’t like it, because guitar picks are much too stiff so it will be hard to achieve the soft brush over the strings that is needed for a mellow strum over a ukulele. This the way a rather thin celluloid pick sounds on my soprano uke when doing a C-G7-F-C chord progression with fast strumming:

Then you may want to try exactly the opposite. Take a felt pad of the kind that get placed under chair legs so they don’t scratch the floor, and remove any glue it may had with a knife or scraper. The result is soft and works pretty well on a ukulele. Here is the same chord progression on the same uke:

You know what? Now it’s too soft. The sounds of the different strings blend together so they lose their individuality. Mellower, for sure, but also too soft and kind of mushy. What I need is something in-between: not so hard that it clicks on the strings and wears them out, and not so soft that the sound is weak and mushy. The happy medium, many people will tell you, is to use a pick made of felt or rubber.

But here again your mileage may vary. Most felt picks are rather thick, which makes them unwieldy. They also are of the stiff side. Rubber picks are softer, but they stick to the strings as you strum, which is disconcerting and makes for a bad sound. I’ve experimented with several brands and constructions, and in the end I have my favorites. Here they are:

  1. Mick’s Picks Uke-1 Triad. These are made of a felt mixed with some kind of rubber. A little sticky when new, until the outer rubber layer wears out and the pure felt is exposed, making for a noiseless contact with the strings. I recommend the triad shape over the standard shape because you get at least two usable points of very different stiffness. The pointy one is the soft one in this case, but never too soft. Here’s a link on MusiciansFriend. And here’s me doing the progression once again:
  2. Jim Dunlop 8012 (8012p for the 3-pack). Made from compressed cotton and wool. They are very stiff out of the package, so you want to bend them a few times so they flex as they should. Less mellow than the uke-1 ones, they work great for banjoleles, which are supposed to be rather punchy, and for steel-stringed ukes. Here’s a link for them.  And here’s the sample sound:

Of course it comes down to taste, but I hope I have impressed on you that your pick of pick does make a significant difference on the sound, possibly more that changing the size of the instrument, and for a much smaller investment.

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