A guitar pick is a plectrum used for guitars. Pick are generally made of one uniform material—such as some kind of plastic (nylon, Delrin, celluloid), rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, wood, metal, glass, tagua, or stone. They are often shaped in an acute isosceles triangle with the two equal corners rounded and the third corner less rounded.
In this article, I’ll explain what a guitar pick is, how it’s used, and why it’s so important to have one on you at all times.
The Essential Guide to Understanding Guitar Picks
A guitar pick is a small, flat tool used to pluck or strum the strings of a guitar. It is an essential accessory for any guitar player, whether they play acoustic or electric. Picks are typically made of materials such as nylon, plastic, or even metal, and come in a range of thicknesses and shapes.
Why are Guitar Picks Important?
The type of pick a guitarist uses can greatly affect the sound and playability of their instrument. Here are some reasons why guitar picks are important:
- They allow for greater control and precision when picking or strumming.
- They produce a range of tones and clarity in notes that fingers alone cannot achieve.
- They offer a uniform and equal sound across all strings.
- They work as a tool to create natural grit or a smoother sound depending on the material and shape used.
What are the Different Types of Guitar Picks?
Guitar picks come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Here are some of the most common types:
- Standard picks: These are the most commonly used picks and are typically made of nylon or plastic. They come in a range of thicknesses, from thin to heavy, and are suitable for a variety of genres and playing styles.
- Jazz picks: These picks are smaller and have a sharper point, making them ideal for fast and precise playing techniques.
- Rounded picks: These picks have a more rounded shape and are great for producing warmer tones and providing greater control for beginners.
- Heavy picks: These picks are thicker and provide greater precision and control, making them ideal for bass players or studio work.
- Alternate material picks: Some guitarists choose to use picks made of metal, plain steel, or even wood for a unique sound or feel.
How to Choose the Right Guitar Pick?
Choosing the right guitar pick ultimately depends on the player’s personal preference and playing style. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a pick:
- Material: Different materials offer different tones and levels of grip, so it’s important to choose one that feels comfortable and suits the player’s playing style.
- Shape: The shape of the pick can affect the sound and playability of the instrument, so it’s important to choose one that works well for the player’s technique.
- Thickness: The thickness of the pick, or gauge, can affect the sound and control of the instrument. Thin picks are great for strumming, while medium to heavy picks are better for precision and control.
- Genre: Different genres of music may require different types of picks. For example, jazz players may prefer smaller, sharper picks, while heavy metal players may prefer thicker, heavier picks.
The Evolution of Guitar Picks: Tracing the Roots of a Cultural Icon
- The use of picks or plectra to play stringed instruments dates back to ancient times.
- Early picks were made from natural materials such as wood, bone, and tortoise shell.
- In the early 1900s, companies began producing picks made from celluloid and shellac, which offered greater flexibility and durability.
- The banjo, a popular instrument at the time, played a significant role in the development of modern guitar picks.
- Jazz and country musicians were among the first to adopt the use of picks, and they quickly became a staple for guitarists of all styles.
The Rise of Standardized Picks: Materials and Designs
- As guitar playing became more popular, the demand for picks grew, and manufacturers began producing a wide variety of designs and materials.
- Celluloid and nylon became the most commonly used materials for picks due to their durability and tonal qualities.
- Rounded picks with a pointed tip became the main design, providing a good balance between picking and strumming.
- In the 1960s, innovations such as the introduction of the thumb pick and the use of textured surfaces for better grip provided guitarists with even more options.
The Controversy Surrounding Tortoise Shell Picks
- For many years, tortoise shell was the preferred material for guitar picks due to its tonal qualities and natural feel.
- However, as the demand for picks grew, the use of tortoise shell became unsustainable, and the material was added to the list of endangered species.
- Today, many musicians still seek out vintage tortoise shell picks, but they are no longer produced or sold legally.
The Future of Guitar Picks: New Materials and Innovations
- In recent years, companies have begun producing picks made from alternative materials such as stone, metal, and even recycled plastic.
- These new materials offer a wide range of tonal and playing options, and they are often more environmentally friendly than traditional materials.
- As guitar playing continues to evolve, it’s likely that new designs and materials will come to the forefront, providing players with even more options for finding the ideal pick for their style and sound.
How the Right Guitar Pick Can Affect Your Sound
When it comes to guitar picks, size and style are two of the most important things to consider. The size of the pick can affect the way you play, and the style can affect the tone and sound you produce. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Different sizes and styles of picks offer a variety of tones and sounds.
- Some players prefer larger picks for a fuller sound, while others prefer smaller picks for more control.
- Electric guitar players may prefer picks with a sharper edge for a brighter sound, while acoustic players may prefer picks with a more rounded edge for a warmer tone.
- Fingerstyle and classical players may prefer thinner picks for more control, while flamenco players may prefer thicker picks for a more percussive sound.
Materials and Finish
The materials and finish of a guitar pick can also affect the sound you produce. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Different materials can produce different tones and sounds. For example, a pick made of nylon may produce a brighter sound compared to a pick made of celluloid.
- The finish of a pick can also affect the sound. A glossy finish may produce a brighter sound compared to a matte finish.
- Some players prefer picks with a textured surface to reduce slipping and improve grip.
Techniques and Skills
The way you use a guitar pick can also affect the sound you produce. Here are some techniques and skills to consider:
- The angle at which you hold the pick can affect the brightness or warmth of the sound.
- Rotating the pick can produce different tones and sounds.
- Experimenting with different thicknesses can yield different results.
- Plucking closer to the bridge can produce a brighter sound compared to plucking closer to the neck.
- Using the edge of the pick instead of the tip can produce a sharper sound.
Protecting Your Equipment
Using a guitar pick can also help protect your equipment. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Using a pick can help eliminate the risk of scratching the pickguard or the guitar’s finish.
- Be aware of the contact between the pick and the strings. Sandy or wound strings can scratch the pick.
- Using a pick can also reduce the noise produced by finger plucking during concerts.
Discovering Your Sound
Ultimately, finding the right guitar pick for you involves trying different styles, sizes, materials, and techniques. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with different picks to find the one that produces the sound you’re looking for.
- Consider the style of music you play and the tone you’re trying to achieve.
- Explore the founder’s site to discover a broad variety of picks and equipment.
- Let your skills and playing style guide you in finding the best pick for you.
Thickness: Finding the Perfect Pick for Your Playing Style
Pick thickness refers to the width of the pick, measured in millimeters. The thickness of a pick can greatly affect the sound produced by the guitar and the control the player has over the strings. It is an important factor to consider when choosing a pick that best suits your playing style.
How does pick thickness affect sound?
- Thicker picks tend to produce a warmer, darker tone, while thinner picks provide a brighter, more shimmering sound.
- Heavier picks are generally used for strumming and rhythm playing, while lighter picks are preferred for lead solos.
- The thickness of a pick can also affect the attack and sustain of the strings, as well as the amount of control the player has over the sound produced.
What are the different thickness options?
- Picks can range from super thin (around 0.38mm) to super thick (up to 3.00mm).
- The most popular thickness range for guitarists is between 0.60mm and 1.14mm, with medium picks (around 0.73mm) being the most commonly used.
- Beginners may want to start with a thinner pick to help with delicate work, while players looking for a heavier sound may opt for a thicker pick.
What are some popular picks and what thickness are they?
- The Fender Medium Pick (0.73mm) is a popular choice for rock and country players.
- The Dunlop Jazz III Pick (1.38mm) is a favorite among jazz and extreme metal guitarists.
- The Gibson Heavy Pick (1.50mm) is known for its ability to provide a mellow, warm tone.
- The Gravity Picks Classic Standard (1.5mm) is a fan favorite for its defined attack and retaining of the guitar’s clean tone.
How can you measure pick thickness?
- Picks are usually measured in millimeters, with the thickness printed on the pick itself.
- If the thickness is not printed, you can use a micrometer or caliper to measure it.
What’s the story behind pick thickness?
- Picks have been made from a variety of materials throughout history, including bone, tortoise shell, and even nickels stacked together.
- The use of plastic picks became popular in the mid-20th century, and with it came the ability to produce picks of different thicknesses to cater to different playing styles and sound preferences.
Exploring the Different Materials Used for Guitar Picks
Wooden guitar picks are a traditional and popular choice among guitarists. They come in a variety of woods, each with its own unique qualities that can greatly affect the sound produced. Some common types of wood used for guitar picks include:
- Sheesham: This soft wood offers a warm tone and is great for playing acoustic music.
- Lignum Vitae: This harder wood produces a brighter, jangly sound and is preferred by many electric guitarists.
While wooden picks offer a satisfying weight and feeling, they do have downsides. They can wear down quickly and cause significant damage to the strings if not used carefully.
Metal picks are a heavier option that can produce a distinct sound. They are generally known for their hard and bright tone, making them a popular choice for playing bass or hard rock music. Some popular metals used for guitar picks include:
- Coin: Shining coins can be used as makeshift guitar picks, but they tend to wear down quickly.
- Horn: Horn picks offer a warmer tone and are more durable than coin picks.
However, metal picks can also cause significant damage to the strings and are not recommended for use on softer instruments.
Stone picks are a less conventional option that can offer exclusive qualities to a player’s sound. Depending on the specific type of stone used, they can produce a warm, bluesy tone or a bright, jangly sound. Some popular stones used for guitar picks include:
- Bone: Bone picks are a traditional choice that offer a warm tone and are great for playing acoustic music.
- Synthetic: Synthetic stone picks are a more durable option that can produce a bright, jangly sound.
While stone picks are generally harder and more durable than other materials, they can also cause significant damage to the strings if not used carefully.
Plastic picks are the most widely available and commonly used type of guitar pick. They come in a variety of thicknesses and shapes, and can produce a range of tones depending on the specific material used. Some popular types of plastic used for guitar picks include:
- Celluloid: Celluloid picks are a softer option that can produce a warm tone.
- Nylon: Nylon picks are a more durable option that can produce a bright, jangly sound.
While plastic picks are generally softer and less likely to cause damage to the strings, they tend to wear down quickly and may not offer the same satisfying weight and feeling as other materials.
The Different Shapes of Guitar Picks
The standard shape of a guitar pick is usually a rounded triangle with a pointed tip. This shape is the most popular among guitarists and is great for playing chords and picking individual notes. The size of the pick can vary depending on the player’s preference, but a larger pick allows for greater control and a smaller pick allows for faster playing.
Sharp and Pointed Shapes
For guitarists who prefer a sharper attack and greater precision, a pick with a sharper point is a good choice. This type of pick is great for playing fast and complicated styles of music, such as jazz or alternate picking. However, it may take some time to get used to the feel of a sharper pick, and it can be awkward to play with at first.
A rounded pick is a great choice for acoustic guitar players who want to produce a smoother sound. This type of pick allows for a little more give, which can create a softer attack on the strings. It’s also a good choice for bass players who want to create a tighter sound.
Some guitarists prefer to experiment with different shapes to find the one that works best for their playing style. Some examples of different shapes include picks with a slightly sharpened edge or picks that combine the standard shape with a rounded edge. These types of picks can be great for advanced players who want to create a certain sound or style.
For guitarists who want to increase their attack and produce a stronger sound, a heavier pick is a good choice. This type of pick allows for greater control and is usually referred to as a “III” pick. However, it may take some time to get used to the feel of a heavier pick, and it can be difficult to perform certain techniques with it.
There are also picks that have a completely different form than the standard shape. These picks can include shapes like triangles, circles, or even animal shapes. While they may not be as functional as regular picks, they can be a fun addition to a guitarist’s collection.
Mastering the Art of Guitar Picking: Tips and Techniques
When it comes to using a guitar pick, proper technique is key. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Hold the pick between your thumb and index finger, with the pointed end facing the strings.
- Make sure the pick is held firmly, but not too tight. You want to be able to rotate it slightly between your fingers as you play.
- Position your hand so that the pick is at a slight angle to the strings, with the body of the pick resting against your index finger.
- For a steady grip, try holding the pick closer to the body. For more flexibility, hold it closer to the tip.
Choosing the Right Pick
With so many different picks to choose from, it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some things to consider when selecting a pick:
- For beginners, a lighter pick (around .60mm) is typically easier to learn with, while more experienced players may prefer a medium pick (around .73mm).
- Acoustic players may want to try a thinner pick to achieve a brighter sound, while electric players may prefer a thicker pick for added control.
- When testing out picks, try playing a single note and listen for the highest possible sound. This will give you an idea of the pick’s precision.
- Don’t worry too much about finding the “perfect” pick- different picks can be used for different playing styles and genres of music.
Mastering Picking Techniques
Once you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to start practicing different picking techniques. Here are some to try:
- Alternate picking: This involves picking each string in a steady up-and-down motion, using both your upstroke and downstroke.
- Economy picking: This technique involves using the same pick stroke for two or more consecutive strings, allowing for faster playing.
- Hybrid picking: This involves using both your pick and your fingers to pluck the strings, allowing for added versatility.
- Sweep picking: This technique involves using a continuous motion to play multiple notes on different strings, creating a smooth, flowing sound.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
While learning to use a guitar pick can be a fun and rewarding experience, it’s important to avoid some common mistakes that can hinder your progress:
- Don’t hold the pick too tightly- this can lead to improper technique and a bad sound.
- Make sure you’re picking the strings in the correct way- picking too close to the bridge or too far away can result in a weak or muffled sound.
- Don’t rotate the pick too much- this can cause the pick to catch on the strings and disrupt your playing.
- Make sure your hand is in the correct position- improper hand placement can lead to discomfort and bad technique.
Tips for Practicing
As with any new skill, practice is key to mastering guitar picking. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your practice sessions:
- Start slow and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable with the technique.
- Practice with a metronome to help you keep a steady rhythm.
- Try playing different chords and scales to get a feel for how the pick works with different parts of the guitar.
- Take breaks when you need to- practicing for hours on end can lead to fatigue and frustration.
- Store your picks in a case or drop them in a designated spot so you don’t lose them.
Remember, learning to use a guitar pick takes time and patience. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right away- with practice and dedication, you’ll soon be able to add this essential tool to your guitar playing arsenal.
So there you have it- everything you need to know about guitar picks.
They’re not just a tool for guitar players, but a cultural icon.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different picks and find the one that’s just right for you.
I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.
Check me out on Youtube where I try out all of this gear:Subscribe