The Best Guitar Picks (A Guitar Pick Guide)
A guitar pick is a necessity for most guitar players. It’s small, affordable, yet it hugely affects the tone and technique of the guitarist. Which is why it’s important to pick out the best guitar picks you can get for your style of playing.
While a guitar pick will not dramatically effect your tone like say, plugging in a fuzz pedal, a reverb pedal and a chorus pedal. But it will effect the tone enough for you to be concerned about the type of pick you are using!
Not all picks are created equal and each one has its own musical purpose that will make your music come off different each time. If you’re looking for the type of pick to use during your next jam, we’re here to help you decide the best fit. In this article we’ll discuss the types of guitar picks in the market including the materials they are made of, as well as the shape and thickness of picks and how they influence the sound that is created.
Guitar Pick Types and Materials
It is no question that guitar picks span far back in guitar history. Some of the earliest picks were made out of some cool materials to say the least. If you are able to find some of these kinds old school picks, consider yourself lucky!
1. Tortoise Shell
These picks are considered old school and not all guitarists have had the pleasure to get the feel of it. The reproduction of these picks were subjected to a ban in the 1970’s so their very hard to find.
According to those who have had the privilege to experience their natural feel, these produce warm tones and could last for years and years due durability. They can also be reshaped easily through filing or sanding.
These picks have small yet strong following due to their unique resonant qualities. They provide easy grip and produce mid to upper range harmonics with little to no effort. Stone picks help players achieve potentially richer sounds as they don't absorb as many harmonics during the initial string attack but these babies can be quite pricey. They are also pretty rare, so you won’t be finding them at your local guitar shop unless it’s a really unique shop.
These picks feel similar to original tortoise shell and also produce a slightly similar tone. These picks are characterized by good attack, well-rounded tone, and generally a nice feel. The material fades with time making it harder to grip or hold on to. Dunlop develops these picks and they are very easy to find.
These picks produce balanced tones with crisp, bright attacks. Their exceedingly typical in today's market despite the fact that celluloid is being produced less and less as the material is highly flammable and decomposes easily.
Ultex picks are the ultimate combination of flexibility and monstrous attack. These picks are lightweight and quite durable. They grant guitar players with the widest dynamic range out of all the picks in the market. Manufactured by Dunlop, they are also easy to find at most guitar shops.
Think, Gene Simmons and Jimmy Page. These picks are a crowd favorite played by legends. Nylon picks come in textured grip formats and produce very bright sounds. These also boast unparalleled flexibility that literally adds some springs when you play.
Metal picks have extremely crisp attacks. These include Bronze, Brass, Copper, and Stainless Steel picks. Brass are fairly soft with good grip and warm tones, Stainless Steel being the most durable, Copper is the softest while bronze picks are thicker and can sound more on the jazzy side.
Jimmy Hendrix was a big fan of metal picks. Dunlop actually makes a pick that is based off what he played with. I’ve had the chance to play with a metal pick and can honestly say I like it. It takes a bit of getting used to but overall is solid!
Made from natural material, these picks produce very warm tones and have a natural feel. Some people make their own wood picks out of African Blackwood, Rosewood, Cocobolo, Cherry, Maple, Mahogany, Zebrawood, Walnut, and more. If you’re not into DIY picks, you can purchase wood picks at most music stores for a fair price.
This is the most uncommon type of pick and material used by guitarists due to their weak attack. In some cases, these picks tend to add a unique feel that can bring focus to lower-range sounds. Bass and ukulele players are the most common people who use these picks.
Pick Shapes and Sizes
Most picks come in different triangular shapes – the wider portion allows a firmer grip while the narrow point is used for picking and strumming.
These are the most common shape. The point tends to slide off the string when used for picking, giving a mellow tone.
These picks are easy to hold as there is no right or wrong rim to grip. These picks tend to last longer as you can use each edge interchangeably so it doesn’t wear out quickly.
Teardrop and Jazz guitar picks
These tend to be firmer than Standard picks of the same thickness. Players love them for their fast response and bright tone, especially for picking. When strumming, or looking for more mellow tone, simply slide your fingers back slightly and relax your grip.
Shark Fin Guitar Picks
These picks can be used two ways – as a standard pick, or rotated to use the multi-point edge to create multiple contacts during each strum. Some like the multi-contact tone produced by the multi-point edge. Dunlop manufactures these mainly and I would say they are a bit of a novelty but can be cool.
Finger and Thumb Picks
These guitar picks are quite useful for picking individual strings. Some guitarists use artificial fingernails in place of picks. These are available in various shapes, sizes, materials, and thickness.
Thickness of Your Guitar Pick Matters
A pick’s thickness is also important when choosing one for yourself and you can take a look at the best fit for your playing style and needs here.
Extra Light (under 0.40 mm)
This tends to be floppy and produces audible clicks with each strum that tends to be undesirable for most guitarists. But it can help most acoustic guitarists subtly achieve “even” sounds when strumming. All in all, it is not the most popular thickness, well for me at least.
Light (0.40 mm - 0.63 mm)
This thickness is perfect for acoustic guitars and strummed parts. A lot of pro guitarists love them as they tend to be non-restrictive and produce fluttery sounds.
Medium (0.63 mm - 0.85 mm)
This thickness is the perfect place that beginners can start exploring. It’s great for acoustic guitar picking and strumming, as it’s a mix of control, warmth, and durability.
Heavy (0.85 mm - 1.22 mm)
Heavy picks provide extracontrol and volume to the sound produced by your guitar. They help improve your dynamic range due to the higher picking force to string vibration ratio (the flex of lighter-gauge picks spread out some of the force of your picking, resulting in less volume).
Not all guitarists find them ideal to use as they can feel blocky as well as these can produce dull sounding music compared to medium picks. But others like them because they provide unparalleled control.
Extra Heavy (1.22 mm and above)
This picks go as thick as 2.0 mm. These are great for bass and jazzy music. Their designed to give the ultimate transfer of picking force to volume and provide great precision and control over each note.
These picks might take some guitarist some time to get used to. Once comfort kicks in, these picks can greatly improve the kind of music that comes off those strings.
So there you have it, a crash course in guitar picks. As mentioned they are not the most interesting part of your gear bag but they are sure an important part of it. All and all they are a necessity for most guitarists and provide some interesting tones depending on the type of pick you use!