Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Picks 101

I did a search on this forum for information on picks for mandolins. I found it interesting, but not a lot of information I could use, so I apologize if this has been discussed before. I am at a beginner level so I don’t have much experience. I was at a festival this weekend and heard for the first time that there are picks that are actually better for mandolins as opposed to ones for guitars. I always bought a variety of picks and tried out different shapes and stiffness. Some one gave me a tortoise shell pick years ago that have I have been using now that I am playing. There was a guy from Seattle at the festival who makes tortoise shell picks from old cigarette cases, hair combs…etc. He sold me one that is 1.48mm. It is a LOT stiffer than my other one. I tried it on my mandolin, which is on the lower end of the price scale, a 1980s Jethro Burns Washburn. I wanted it to sound woodier, and this thicker pick seems to do this. However, it takes a lot more effort with my right hand to play the notes. There is like almost no flex to it. I will play with it more to get used to the difference. I guess my question is, what thickness picks, do most of you more experienced players used. How do you chose a pick and what type of material? I did see that there was a pick that cost $35, a Blue Chip. What is that thickness of that pick and what makes it worth $35? Just curious. Like to hear any suggestions on pick selection. I had no idea a pick could make a big difference in sound, but now I know better. :slight_smile:

Hello Super 55,

A good pick is just as important as the instrument you’re playing & there are thousands of different picks out there that will change the tone as well as volume of your mandolin.
If you have a real tortoise pick at 1.48 mm & it has a good shape & point to it, you may already have the ultimate pick for mandolin or guitar.
I’ve spent years trying different picks as probably most other players have & had alot of fun doing it & I’m still always looking for something different or new.
As far as thickness goes for mandolin, I think most players prefer in the 1.0mm to 1.5mm thickness with a more rounded point. I personally don’t care for a rounded point, I like a little sharper point, but that’s just me.
As your playing gets better, I believe you’ll prefer a thicker pick without the flex, so my advice would be to stick with what you have or something similar. Also, find out what your favorite musicians are using, as I mentioned earlier, most pros are using 1.0mm to 1.5mm tortoise or Blue Chips. There are exceptions though: Steve Kauffman uses a .73 mm cheap yellow pick on guitar which to me is ridiculous but works for him, but he also plays right over the soundhole & achieves a thick tone which you normally wouldn’t get from such a thin pick. Maybe it’s how he records, not sure.
Speaking of Blue Chip picks. You can get them in about any shape, size or thickness you want & I would highly recommend them. No they’re not worth $35.00 & I don’t believe the material they’re made from is so special that it makes them cost that much. But, I’ve never had a better pick & I even prefer it over my tortoise. So someday I’m sure I’ll buy another one or two. I use an STP 45. It’s a small triangle pick with three different points & is 1.14 mm thick. (in between a 40 at 1.0mm & 50 at 1.25mm. 60 would be 1.5mm). He’ ll make anything you want. Adam Steffey uses an STP 50 last I heard anyway.
These are all just my opinions from what I’ve learned & found over the years. I hope others reply with their own findings from their experience. No one’s right or wrong, it comes down to what works best for you.
You may also want check out Wegen, Red-Bear & V-Picks or Dunlop Ultex - all great picks. Golden Gate would be another good one. I’m not sure, but I think I remember a post where Larry mentioned he uses this pick. Could be wrong though.
Hope this helps…J.W.

I think J.W. covered it pretty well. I’ll add a few things from my personal experience. I agree that tortoise is widely accepted as one of the better pick materials in terms of tone and feel. The downside is that it does wear (aside from it being illegal to harvest, manufacture etc.). As far as a woodier tone, the tortoise is great for that. Mine is .053" (about 1.3 mm) and I don’t notice it flexing when I play.

I have a TPR 50 blue chip (.050" and that’s about 1.25 mm). The tone of tortoise is slightly different than the BC but it is about as close as I have heard. It has rounded corners and it’s a bit darker than the tortoise I have. I would characterize the tone as very woody. The rounded corners change both the feel (easier to get through the strings) and the tone (darker). I don’t regret buying a blue chip and I’ll buy more in the future. The downside is that they are not widely available to try out. What I’ll probably do on my next order is order the ones I am interested in and return the ones that don’t make the cut. I am fairly sure that if I told BC what I would be doing, they would be absolutely fine with it. They offer a 30 day exchange.

I do prefer rounded tip picks for mando. I think it matches up with the string tension better. I also like playing guitar with rounded picks, but I am more picky about pick shape with the mando.

On the thickness: I am not hung up on a given thickness, but rather I look for a certain rigidity. For me, if a pick flexes much, it gets more difficult to stay as accurate in timing. A pick with more flex gets through the strings easier and has a different, weaker tone. I play different styles and occasionally go back to a pick with a little give for a particular type of playing, but for flatpicking bluegrass, I prefer a stiff pick.

Thanks for the replies. I am just amazed how much difference the picks make. Your answers were very helpful in that it confirms what the fellow was telling me. I was a little concerned about the tortoise shell, knowing it can’t be harvested, but he assured me it was antique tortoise. His name is Gary Wagner. I am sure he wouldn’t mind me passing on the email from his business card if anyone is interested. gary.wagner(at) He lives in Burien WA. He sells all over. The picks are a little dear at $45, and he has various shapes, sizes and thicknesses. Would do a custom no doubt, I didn’t ask him. Again thanks for the info. I am really enjoying this site and learning lots in my old age. Cheers.

I got my first Blue chip last year at Reno Fest, actually tried it out on a friends Mandolin at the Blue chip Table. I bought the Chris Thile or “CT”-55, I could not believe the difference in the Volume versus other picks. I also like The V-pick brand pick which I use on my Guitars, V-pick makes what is called the “Tremelo” pick line which is a great pick in its own right if you prefer a lightweight pick . It comes in a Round point and Sharp point version, The great thing about the V-pick is how easy it is to hang on to. Best pick for you if you have trouble holding on to your pick. Not at all expensive either.

Hey Kagey, nice “pick.” I am going to order a CT-55. I’ve heard nothing but good things. I fully expect to play like Chris Thile when I get it.

I might do an audio track of some various picks I have here, kind of a blind taste test. Maybe do a short guitar part and a short mando part with each pick.

That’s a great idea!!!

It looks like I won’t need to record the picks for mando. I ordered an armrest and came across this nice pick comparison on mando. Doug has 11 picks he compares:

Dang, doesn’t play on a Mac.

Just bought my first BC TPR60 and I can’t wait for it to get here! I have been using a Heavy Fender pick for years and am never that impressed, so I hope these picks are all that they are cracked up to be. Just starting on Mandolin, so I wanted to start off right. I will post later after I have played around with it to give my opinion, but based on this forum, I can’t be anything but awed as I have never used a good pick in over 30 years of playing guitar so I guess it’s time for a change. Thanks for the advice and info guys.

OK…I got my new pick and it is pretty awesome. The cool thing everyone has failed to mention as far as I’ve seen is it can be played on any of the 3 sides and flipped front ways or back ways because they have the right speed bevel machined on all three corners and no matter how you grab it, it is exactly the same which is really cool. Kind of like some David Copperfield trick…ha ha ha. Anyways, just wanted to report that it is really a nice pick and plays really well and is very comfortable and seems to be easier to hit the strings with and I won’t know much on the volume it produces until my new Loar gets here tomorrow to try it out. Hope this helps someone that is on the fence about this pick. My wife thinks I am retarded and got scammed by spending this much for a pick, but I can’t get her to understand the difference it makes and why I needed my name engraved on it. Well, it is not vanity, but for my safety if there is ever a dispute on who’s pick it is! :confused: Well, you guys have a great week and we’ll talk to you all later.


New pick and new mando… sounds like a good week!

No Marv you’re not retarded…your guitarded! I’m a Blue chip user and recommender also.

Hey Mike thanks for posting that link to the pick test. That was pretty good.

Yeah Mike,

Good week and practicing like crazy. I love that shirt Bulldog. Maybe that is what they call it…ha ha. Now she walks by while I’m practicing and says, “Wow…listen to how good that sounds with that $50 pick”! I remind her that it was $44.57 with the engraving and S&H and to not make it worse than it is!!! Nothing like a wife with such an honest opinion and full of cynicism!!! Can’t help but love her though because she always keeps my coffee cup full while I’m practicing so I know she still cares…I guess it’s the little things??? :open_mouth:

“It’s the little things” Now, that’s a song that makes me laugh out loud (thank you Robert Earl Keen):

It’s the way you stroke my hair while I am sleepin’
It’s the way you tell me things I don’t know
It’s the way you remember I came home late for dinner
Eleven months and fourteen days ago

It’s the note that you leave on the breakfast table
With a list of things to help me plan my day
It’s the way you say we could have If you’d done the things you should have
It’s the little things Darlin that make me feel this way

It’s the little things the little bitty things
Like the way that you remind me I’ve been growin soft
It’s the little things the itty bitty things
It’s the little things
That piss me off

I want royalties since he’s evidently writing about my wife. :laughing: