If you play with a pick, you will generally be able to play both the bass and guitar to some extent. However, picking the strings of the instruments feels vastly different. Thus, it needs to be asked, are bass and guitar picks the same?
The average bass pick is 0.046″, or 1.17mm thick, while the average guitar pick is 0.035″, or 0.89mm. Bass picks are also generally bigger and blunter than guitar picks. Guitar picks provide better control over thin strings with short spacing, while bass picks give better control over thick strings with wide spacing.
Playing bass with a guitar pick, or vice versa, is not the same as playing with the intended type of pick.
But what happens if you try? Will it be hard to play, and how is it going to affect the tone? As I`ve tried using bass picks on guitar and guitar picks on bass several times throughout my career, I decided to share what I’ve learned.
Can I use guitar picks for playing the bass?
Guitar picks can be used for playing the bass. However, as guitar picks are smaller and thinner than bass picks sound and playability will be affected. In general, using a guitar pick will result in less control when plucking the strings and thus produce a thinner bass sound.
When plucking a bass string, thin guitar picks will bend a good bit, which can result in diminished control over the plucking hand.
This will be especially noticeable on the E and A strings due to their thickness. Below is an example of how a guitar pick bends significantly more than a bass pick when pushed against the E string of a bass.
Thicker guitar picks are more suited for the bass than thin ones. These picks will bend less than thinner ones, and you might experience very thick guitar picks barely bending at all. In my experience, as long as the guitar pick is thick enough and not too small in size, it works almost as well as a bass pick.
Note: Bass strings are thicker and played with more force than guitar strings in the majority of genres. As a result, guitar picks will be worn out significantly faster when they are used to play the bass.
Thus, choose a guitar pick that is on the thicker side if you intend to use it for playing bass. This will result in more control over your playing and a much longer lifespan for the pick.
Furthermore, the thicker the pick, the warmer and thicker the sound will be. While this is a question of preference, I find the thin and metallic sound that thinner guitar picks produce on the bass to be undesirable in most styles of music.
Can I use a bass pick for the guitar?
You can use a bass pick to play the guitar. Due to bass picks being bigger than guitar picks, playing can feel cumbersome and less precise. Using a bass pick will also generally result in a warmer tone and a louder signal.
Guitar picks are generally sharper than bass picks and thus produce a thinner sound. Bass picks that have rounded edges, will produce a softer attack and a fuller sound. This is a reflection of the differences between basses and guitars.
I`ve found that this produces an awkward tone when using bass picks to play the guitar. This is because bass picks can produce a warm sound that would be suitable for slow and emotional songs.
However, they also produce a louder and more powerful tone at the same time which is unfit for a ballad. As a result, the tone ends up lacking a clear role or purpose.
Bass picks vary greatly in size. 0.045″ or 1.15mm picks are common, but it’s not uncommon to see bassists using 0.09″/2mm or even 0.12″/3mm picks.
Some prefer thinner ones that resemble guitar picks in thickness. If you intend to use a bass pick to play guitar, it will generally be easier with a pick that is on the thinner and smaller side.
On average, basses have a much wider string spacing than guitars. Thus, not only are bigger picks not obstructed by the strings, but they also provide better control over them.
When these types of bass picks are used to play guitar, the opposite happens. It becomes harder to play arpeggios, keep strings muted, and control how hard you play.
How do I choose the right pick for bass and guitar?
If you are looking to play both the bass and guitar it is best to get yourself a set of picks.
Any individual pick will have weaknesses on at least one of the instruments. Furthermore, you want to do a good bit of experimenting to find picks that produce a desirable tone and feel comfortable on both instruments.
The best way to go about this is to get a pick sampler set. For this purpose, I recommend this set (available on Amazon). It includes thin, medium, and thick picks, all in a size that is suitable for both the bass and the guitar.
Having a set of many picks is also beneficial in the long term as bass strings will quickly wear out individual guitar picks.
I also recommend doing a lot of experimenting. Whenever you have the chance, borrow and buy picks of different sizes and try them on both the bass and the guitar. This is highly worth it because picks are inexpensive, but finding the right one can be a complete life changer.
Guitar picks and bass picks are not the same, but they can be used interchangeably to some extent.
In general, it is best to stick with a bass pick for bass and a guitar pick for guitar. However, experimenting with pick choice can in some cases lead you towards better control over your instrument and developing a unique tone.
For picks that are suited for both the guitar and bass, start by using thin bass picks as well as thick guitar picks. It’s best to avoid big bass picks as these will feel unfit for the smaller string spacing of the guitar.
If you ever end up in a situation where you have to use an unfit pick, it’s not the end of the world. Chances are that your control will be off, but it’s better than nothing and you will be able to play. In rare cases, it might even feel preferable.
Are you wondering how playing bass will impact your guitar playing? Then continue by reading my 5 reasons why learning bass will make you a better guitarist.