With the current popularity of rhythmically dense music, having a guitar tone with incredibly clear pick attack has become an essential to help convey the riffing precision and unparalleled aggression these genres are known for.

Getting that articulate and percussive guitar sound is easier than you think… let us give you just a few tips to take your tone from “good” to “insane!”

Start With Technique

Before we look at the more technical and guitar-tone-centric ways of achieving increased pick attack, we have to start by discussing how you’re actually playing.

In short, if you’re picking extremely softly you’re not going to be able to get a loud, snappy pick attack out of your tone no matter how you dial it in. In the words of the metal producer extraordinaire Brian Hood, “if you pick like a b*tch, you’re gonna get a b*tch tone.”

You don’t need to be wailing on the strings to get this sound, but there is a certain amount of force that needs to happen.

A lot of people raise their hands and go “but you can’t play hard and still play fast! Economy of motion!” Ignore them. This has been proven not to be true. This is a massive topic and the most important first step before moving on to our other tips… For more information on the topic of picking hard and speed vs. picking strength, check out our article on why picking harder is better (for aggressive music)!

With that out of the way, let’s look at the things you can do that won’t take weeks of practice…

Choose The Right Pick

Picks have a surprisingly large impact on your tone, but yet it’s often overlooked by guitarists as merely a tool that impacts playability, not tone.

The way a guitar pick impacts your tone is a massive topic, which is why we’ve put together our guide on everything you need to know about guitar picks and how they impact tone and playability.

To give you a brief peek into that article, the sharper the tip of the pick the more pick attack you’ll have. The same goes for thicker picks as well, although they can also add a lot more lower-midrange into your tone, making your guitar sound chunkier or muddier depending on the scenario.

If you’ve been using the same pick for ages because you’ve “never had a reason to change it,” this might be a pretty good reason.

Add Some Treble/Presence

Your pick attack primarily lies in the upper-midrange and treble regions of your guitar tone. Having a really dark guitar tone will make it difficult for pick attack to shine, so try brining out the high end.

You can do this by turning up the treble or presence knobs on your amp, but be careful, we don’t want our guitar tone to be too harsh!

Sometimes turning up the treble doesn’t do the trick, you may instead need to turn down the bass or get rid of some lower-midrange mud to bring back the clarity in your tone. Play around with all of these options and see which ones will deliver the best result.

Overdrive Pedals

An overdrive is a great way to tighten up any mud or grossness in your guitar tone while adding aggression and bite.

Simply run your overdrive in front of your amp with the gain all the way off, the level between 70-100% and the tone to taste. A touch more tone will add more clarity and pick attack like we mentioned earlier.

The idea is not to add gain to your signal, but to hit the preamp section of your amplifier a little harder to tighten up the overall sound and add some upper-midrange aggression, the perfect frequency space for bringing out pick attack!

Any old overdrive would do, but if you want that extra bit of “oomph” in your tone check out the Horizon Devices Precision Drive. It’s designed with the modern metal guitarist in mind and even has an “Attack” knob to dial in the right amount of pick attack and tightness, or fat, sludgy low end.

Use Less Gain

We need distortion to get that aggressive tone that we love, but it’s so easy to go overboard.

Using less gain can clean up so many different tonal issues! It adds clarity, it adds dynamics, it evens out frequency buildups, and yes, it even adds pick attack.

Honestly, if you ever have a problem with your tone, lower the gain before you try anything else. You’d be surprised just how little gain you can get away with.

A Touch of Compression

Compressors are great tools for shaping the dynamics of your guitar signal. Letting the pick attack through just before your compressor kicks in will even out the signal after you pick the note, accenting the pick attack and giving it some more volume.

If you’re not so sure about what compressors do or how to dial them in, don’t sweat it. We’ve put together a guide on this often-misunderstood topic!

Be sure to place the compressor first in your signal chain, or at least close to it. This will minimize noise and really help it work optimally.

Puzzle Pieces

That’s it! With these tips at your disposal it’s incredibly easy to get increased pick attack in your guitar tone. There are many ways to go about getting it and any combination of these will work wonders.

Whether you want your polyrhythms to be countable or you just love the organic articulation it gives your tone, put these tips to the test for yourself and see just how great they really are.

This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor location in Canada.

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