It may be the smallest piece of equipment you use with a guitar but the humble guitar pick can have a huge say on your technique and style of guitar playing.
Although their importance is often overlooked by guitarists, this small piece of plastic has an impact on playability as well as tone.
Finding the right guitar pick for you and your style is crucial. Whether you’re just starting out playing the guitar or are a wizard on the fretboard, finding the right pick can change everything.
It can help you develop your skills tenfold. Pick the wrong pick and your technical abilities and development may become hindered.
When you’re starting off with the guitar, it can seem like a never-ending stream of lessons and things to remember. But, together, all of these help you become a better guitarist.
From memorizing chords to tuning the strings, you need to learn the proper methods of each skill on the guitar. The same goes for choosing and using a pick.
That is why we are here to help you. In today’s article, we will be guiding you through the different thicknesses, shapes, and sizes of guitar picks and how they can impact your technique, style, and playability.
Finding the right piece of plastic will help you improve your control and develop all manner of skills. Read on if you want to become the best guitarist you can possibly be!
Guitar Pick: What Is It?
Okay, before we delve into the world of guitar picks, we should probably clear up what these small pieces of plastic actually are. Also known as ‘plectrums,’ guitar picks are small, thin objects that sport a flat surface.
Usually placed between the thumb and index finger (or middle) of the guitar strumming hand, the pick will strum the strings. However, plectrums are not only used on guitars.
They are often used on all manner of stringed instruments such as mandolins, bass guitars, harpsichords, and ukuleles. We don’t recommend using one on a double bass or cello, however.
Although we have already referred to picks as “small pieces of plastic,” they can come in various materials such as ivory, wood, cardboard, and even tortoiseshells.
They also come in different sizes and thicknesses which can have a significant impact on the final tonal quality of the guitar.
So, whether you want to call them plectrums or picks, it’s up to you. But, for today’s article, we will refer to them as ‘picks.’ All you should know is that using one can change the way you play guitar forever.
Do Different Guitar Picks Really Make Much Difference?
Many guitarists do not believe different picks have much of a bearing on how they play guitar and their sound. Well, we are here to tell you that different sizes, materials, and thicknesses can have huge impacts on tone and playability.
One example is to use a coin. Play some riffs and licks you like to play regularly. Now, use a few other different shaped or sized coins and play the same riffs.
While a coin shouldn’t be used as a pick, it’s a perfect example of how different shaped objects in your hand can feel either comfortable or uncomfortable. One size may sound pretty good while another will sound harsh.
The same goes for picks. Some are so soft that the strings are barely played while others have such a tough build that the guitar sounds louder and, in some cases, harsher. As with most items with musical equipment, it’s a matter of personal taste.
So, Why Should You Use A Guitar Pick?
The number one reason picks are used is because they tend to produce a louder sound. You can exert more pressure into your playing which is needed for certain genres such as metal and rock.
The harder you play, the louder the guitar sound will become. If you pick or strum the guitar with your fingers, you will notice how much softer and delicate the sound is. Also, this can be pretty painful, especially for beginners.
Therefore, using a pick can make your guitar sound stronger, louder, heavier, and all with the added bonus of being pain-free.
Picks also allow you to play at a faster speed. Of course, this takes time and practice as you need to learn different strumming patterns.
Some famous musicians such as 1950s star Buddy Holly played with a downward strumming motion but never strummed back up.
This is quite rare but made for his unique style. All guitarists have their own style but there are specific strumming patterns that can help you play faster and harder.
Moreover, you can do all this without the risk of blisters on your fingers as the impact from playing doesn’t go straight to your poor old digits. Picks are not only for harder and faster playing.
They allow you to play with a more defined technique and tone. All in all, picks help you gain a fuller tone but, as we will discuss below, this depends on the thickness and material of the pick.
By learning to use a pick as a beginner, you will be able to develop your skills more quickly and have better control over your wrist movements while strumming or picking the guitar.
Guitar Pick – Thicknesses
There are five main thickness categories when we consider guitar picks. These are:
- Extra thin
- Fender heavy
- Extra thick/extra heavy
Extra thin picks measure less than 0.44 mm in thickness. This means they are the most flexible of all picks and do not generate such a loud, hard tone.
Most guitarists prefer slightly thicker ones but you never know your preference until you have tried it for yourself.
Thin/light picks measure between 0.45 and 0.69 mm in thickness. Compared to the extra-thin models, these are a little stiffer and sturdier.
Nevertheless, if you want to achieve light tones with your playing, these light picks are more than ideal. Moreover, these provide an additional bass tone and midrange that is not achievable with the extra thin kinds.
Medium picks measure between 0.70 and 0.84 mm in thickness. These are some of the more popular picks with guitarists. Due to their firmer frame, they provide more power as you play and are popular for rhythm guitarists who strum a lot of chords.
Thick/heavy picks measure between 0.85 and 1.2 mm in thickness and are a great deal thicker and stiffer than the medium picks. However, due to their more robust build, they tend to be easier and more comfortable to use.
Whether you’re strumming on a rhythm guitar or playing some solos, these picks work great. Fast or slow speeds can be achieved with ease.
And, if you want loud sounds with bass tones, these are the picks to go for. Metalheads and rock guitarists are keen users of these thick and heavy picks.
Lastly, we have extra thick and extra heavy picks. These measure more than 1.21 mm in thickness and help produce huge bass sounds from your guitar whether it’s a distorted electric model or an acoustic guitar.
For fast notes, extra thick and heavy picks work a treat and are frequently used by metal guitarists around the world.
Sizes Of Guitar Picks
Now we understand the different thicknesses of guitar picks, let’s find out more about their sizes.
In general, picks are categorized into big and small sizes. While these do not make much difference to the overall tonality of a guitar, they do make a difference to the guitarist. How? In how comfortable they feel in the hand.
Some guitarists prefer large picks as they are easier to control between the fingers while smaller picks are easier for some to pick separate strings.
Bigger picks are easier to strum over all of the strings at once but they do not offer as much finger dexterity. That is why you should use larger picks for slower melodies while smaller picks are great for solos or quicker songs that require more accuracy.
Shapes of guitar picks
Did you know that guitar picks come in different shapes as well as sizes? Well, they do! In fact, there is a wide range of shapes available and we’d have to write another article just to cover each one.
Even with such a wide variety out there, the most important part of the pick is its tip. The tip of a pick can be very sharp or rounded. This can be a key factor in how you play the guitar as this is what hits the strings as you play.
Again, it’s a matter of what you prefer. Pointed, sharper tips are best suited to guitarists who possess a more aggressive picking style.
Guitarists who attack the strings harder such as metal or punk guitarists prefer these picks due to the louder, more harsh sound they help to generate.
Many rock guitarists use pointed tipped picks as they help with the accuracy as you play each note. They help you play arpeggios and play each string with accuracy as well as provide added dexterity for your fingers.
If you are a more relaxed guitar player who is looking for a softer sound, picks with rounded tips are the better option.
These are best for acoustic guitars as sharp tips can become too harsh on acoustic strings and the richness of the sound can be lost to the more metallic twang produced.
Think about what type of guitar playing you will be performing. You can switch between the two shapes for different styles. It’s not until you have tried and tested each pick that you can decide what works best for you.
Textures of guitar picks
Once you start playing guitar, you will undoubtedly drop your pick at some point. It happens to all guitarists. They can easily slip out of your fingers as you’re strumming or going for that magic note to top off your world-class solo.
Thankfully, there are different textured picks with some being easier to hold onto than others. These include:
- Polished picks
- Sanded picks
- Raised picks
Polished picks are, you guessed it, smooth with a polished shine like celluloid types. These are easy to grip until you sweat. Then, they can easily slip out of your fingers meaning they are not ideal for rock guitarists.
Sanded picks have a rougher, more sanded texture. This means they are easier to grip onto and harder to lose grip of. Although most of the pick’s body is smooth, they provide a better texture, even for sweaty fingers.
Lastly, raised picks have a bump in the middle section that acts as an additional grip for your fingers.
For live performers, we suggest you stay clear of polished picks and opt for more textured versions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Guitar Pick Size For A Beginner?
If you’re a newbie to guitar playing, you need to consider what size guitar pick will suit you. Generally speaking, this tends to depend on what style you plan to play on the guitar and how you will play it.
For instance, if you want to become a singer-songwriter who strums chords below your singing, then a larger-sized, medium thickness, rounded-tipped pick is your best option.
On the other hand, if you want to become the lead guitarist in a band or ensemble, then a smaller pick with a pointed tip will be more beneficial to you.
We recommend starting with something that feels comfortable to you. Most of the time, this will be a larger pick with a medium thickness. Learn to strum with this type of pick for better control before you move on to busting out solos with smaller, pointed picks.
What Materials Are Guitar Picks Made From?
Today, guitar picks are made from a variety of materials with each one having a distinct impact on the guitarist’s payability and the guitar’s tone.
Most picks you will find on the market are usually made of plastic such as nylon, Delrin, or Celluloid. Nevertheless, other materials are also used including metal, wood, stone, and, until recently, tortoiseshells (actually from turtles).
Thankfully, the latter has now been banned.
The material of a pick has a significant impact on how you play the guitar. As with different sizes and shapes, the different materials are down to personal preference.
The main difference you will find with these materials is the varying textures and stiffness of each one. Therefore, some produce a louder sound while others are a lot softer.
Although tortoiseshells were widely used for guitar picks in the early 1900s through to the 1970s, the use of such a material was banned in 1973. Over the next 40 to 50 years, guitar picks have gone on to differ in quality.
One of the most popular materials is nylon. This is an extremely flexible plastic and has been a favorite of many guitarists for decades.
This is because these picks help you achieve a warmer and more mellow tone, especially when you compare them to stiffer picks.
Moreover, they can also help you produce a brighter tone but this is usually down to the guitar, its strings, and the newness of the strings. Most early rock and blues music used nylon picks hence why many refer to these picks as ‘vintage.’
As with all picks, there are a variety of thicknesses available with nylon picks. However, even the thickest nylon picks are more flexible than most other plastic models.
Another reason why these picks are favored is down to a textured grip on the top part. This allows the guitarist to keep a firm grip on the pick at all times with less chance of it slipping out of their fingers.
Delrin is a form of plastic produced by the American company DuPont. This is a popular plastic used by Dunlop and Ernie Ball, two giants in the guitar industry.
Compared to nylon picks, Delrin models are pretty stiff resulting in a high-end tone. They certainly do not offer as much warmth as nylon but are great for amplifying your guitar sound.
Tortex picks, made by Dunlop, have a powdery texture. This is very comfortable and easy to grip. It also provides great friction against your guitar strings meaning every note is clear and loud.
When tortoiseshell picks were no longer an option, celluloid was deemed the next best alternative. These became widely used thanks to a similar tone and feel to the tortoiseshell models.
Upon comparing celluloid to tortoiseshell picks, you will find that celluloid is far more flexible but still a lot stiffer than its nylon counterparts.
If you want a higher-end tone than nylon and a sharper sound, celluloid is a great option. The texture of these picks is pearl-like, emulating a tortoiseshell.
Therefore, they look and feel great and have the bonus of not being made from an animal (that’s always good!)
That’s right, some picks are made from stone! Although it sounds crazy using stone to play guitar strings, these picks are surprisingly comfortable between your fingers.
Unsurprisingly, they provide a loud, booming sound having perhaps the greatest impact on tonality and playability out of all of the materials.
Depending on the manufacturer, you can choose stone picks made from Jade, Jasper, or Agate. One thing is for sure with these picks, they are beautiful to look at but a little pricier than other materials.
Is It Better To Use A Pick When Learning The Guitar?
This depends on what music and style you want to learn. If you want to learn styles that do not use picks, such as folk or flamenco, then you should not use a pick.
On the other hand, if you want to become a rhythm guitarist and play music that uses a lot of strumming patterns, then, yes, you should learn with a pick.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, finding the right pick as a beginner guitarist is down to personal preference. You need to try out different picks to see what suits your musical style and what feels most comfortable.
By considering the thicknesses, sizes, shapes, and textures that we outlined above, you should be able to find one that suits your unique guitar playing style perfectly. It’s just down to you to pick a pick for yourself!