The Complete Guitar Picks & Plectrum Buying Guide
Dear reader. My goal for you is that you shall never worry about a guitar pick choice again and finally find the perfect pick for your needs as a guitar player. That’s why I created the complete buying guide to guitar picks and plectrums.
At a certain time in our career as a guitarist, be it a bedroom career or actual stage career, we have the basics under our fingers and slowly start putting attention on the actual sound of the notes we are playing. At first we’ll check out the obvious: the Guitar, amp or strings, but later we come to realise that also the pick is an important cornerstone in the development of our unique individual sound.
Mastery follows awareness, meaning that in order to fix the plectrum puzzle piece of your perfect sound you need to understand it more thoroughly. That’s our mission for today. First, let’s wind back the time and start with a short history lesson before we dive into the fascinating world of guitar picks as it exists today.
For thousands of years, musicians used some form of plectrum to pluck their instrument’s strings. Initially, mainly natural material like sea shells and feather quills were used. The first artificial material used for picks appeared in the early 20th century: Celluloid, a form of cheap flexible plastic which is still the go to material today. The biggest issue in the early days of picking was the slipperiness of the material. Many solutions were experimented with, like adding a layer of cork on top of the plastic or drilling holes into it. You’ll find these ideas still floating around today. Nowadays, the advancement of manufacturing and material science offer a wide variety of materials, shapes, textures, thicknesses and more for any need. And the picks lived happily ever after without ever slipping out of it’s players fingers again! (We all know that’s a lie but we’re working on it.)
History lesson over, back to today. See this article as glossary of what’s on the guitar pick market. We’ll look at picks from different angles and hopefully answer the question, “which pick is the right one for your needs and style of playing?” The angles of approach are:
Before we go into the nitty-gritty of guitar picks buying let’s have a look at the bestselling plectrums on the market. Through that we learn what the average pick looks like as a reference for other more extravagant versions. Maybe the common good is what you are looking for anyway.
Dunlop is the most famous pick brand and the Dunlop Tortex Standard 0.60 mm is the most sold dunlop pick. It’s 0.60 mm in thickness so a little lighter than medium and has the standard shape. The texture is matt and thus sticky.
The Dunlop 471R3C Max-Grip is made out of carbon fiber. The “Max Grip” stands for the high relief texture and non-slipperiness of this pick. The shape is a jazz style but of course you can use it for any genre you like.
The Planet Waves Black Ice Guitar Picks Heavy is not as heavily sold on amazon as our other bestsellers. It’s heavy in thickness but it’s quite well known throughout the scene.
The Classic Pearl Celluloid Medium is a good average reference for guitar picks. Medium thickness, average shape and most common material. A good allrounder!
We all love Fender! It screams value and high quality. So, why not celebrate that with a perfect pick? Look how shiny it is. 351 is a shape form, you’ll learn more about that later.
The Dunlop Ultex Sharp is the new kid on the blog. If you read the reviews on amazon you’ll see why it earned it’s place in this bestseller list.
The thickness or gauge of a guitar pick has a significant influence on the overall sound of your playing. Especially the attack sound (see image), which is the sound created between the first contact of pick and string and the loudest part, is shaped by the thickness. Commonly, thicknesses are classified into 5 categories: Extra light, light, medium, heavy and extra heavy. Each category has it’s strength and weaknesses and is used for particular playing styles, more on that below. In the end best is to experiment and find out which pick suits your needs.
Everything below 0.45 millimetre is considered extra light. Extra light and light picks are used for strumming as the bendable thin material creates the bright and crispy sound that we all know to well from the acoustic steel string guitar. The flappy sound is even more pronounced with picks under 0.45 mm. If you look for that property, extra light is your choice.
|Sound||light, bright, high frequencies, thin|
|Properties||low durability, lacks bottom, flappy, low resistance|
Picks between 0.45 mm and 0.69 mm are in the light category. Similar to the extra light variant the light category suits itself well for strumming. Compared to extra light, light guitar picks are slightly louder and less flappy. For passages where you mainly strum and partly pick single strings, this thickness is probably the best.
|Sound||bright, light, high frequencies, flappy|
|Style||strumming, acoustic steel string guitars|
|Properties||low durability, low resistance|
Medium picks, 0.70mm – 0.84mm, are good hybrids that can be used for strumming as well as picking. Medium picks are a good choice for live situations, where you play different songs in different playing styles and don’t want to switch in between.
|Sound||more body, thicker sound, higher dynamic range|
|Style||strumming, rock rhythm, solo and hybrid|
|Properties||medium durability, flexible yet still stiffer than light picks, most popular choice|
Everything in between 0.85mm – 1.20 mm is called heavy. Heavy guitar picks suit themselves for heavy playing like rock rhythm guitar, lead solos and bass. Heavy picks provide loudness and oomph but lack the flexibility for strumming.
|Sound||loud, full sound, oomph|
|Style||rock rhythm, lead solo, bass|
|Properties||high durability, stiff|
Extra heavy picks >1.20mm are not only used for heavy metal but more commonly for big body jazz solos. In combination with a smooth texture extra heavy picks are well suited for very fast jazz licks.
|Sound||bottom heavy, clean, loud, warm|
|Style||jazz, bass, heavy metal|
People mostly don’t spend much time thinking about guitar pick shapes but hey, that’s what we are here for. Actually, it is an important factor to sound and handling of your guitar pick.
The shape of the pick body has an impact on the grip and your ability to move and handle the pick. For instance, playing fast licks, you don’t want a bulky pick, do you?
The shape of the tip is a factor to the sound of the attack of each note you are playing. A rounder tip will generate a rounder, smoother attack and a pointed tip causes a sharper click sound.
Here a the most conventional guitar pick shapes and their properties.
“Aight, just give me a pick already!” If you think along those lines you probably just want a normal good old standard “351” shape. The most produced guitar pick shape in the house and that is so for a reason!
|Properties||firm grip, round tip|
Standard body plus sharp tip, that is the next shape in our list. It holds the same properties than our 351 but the pointy tip creates a sharper, clickier attack sound.
|Sound||sharp, clicky, bright, bite|
|Style||allround, picking, less well suited for strumming|
|Properties||firm grip, good control for picking|
The Jazz III is a shape that originates from the jazz scene but is now also very popular under advanced players of all styles. The reason being that it’s smaller body lends itself ideally for fast picking and it’s sharp tip provides great control.
|Properties||often comes in heavy thickness, smaller than 351, sharp tip|
The teardrop shape is a variation of the standard shape but has a rounder tip. The warm attack caused by the roundness of the tip and the ergonomic shape makes it a great choice for fast jazz licks.
|Properties||low grip, suited for precision playing, ergonomic|
The triangular pick is easy to grip and suits itself well for strumming as well as medium paced solos. Often all three edges can be used, which increases the durability of the pick.
|Sound||depending on tip and thickness|
|Style||strumming, medium paced lead, bluegrass|
|Properties||multiple tips, high durability, good grip|
The last shape for today is the cool shark fin. The unique shape of the shark fin offers some interesting features. It can be used for normal picking with the lower tip and for multi contact playing the multi-point edge on the side. The multi-point edge also lends itself for sliding down the strings to create a sound effect that is often used in punk-rock songs.
|Style||punk rock, multi-attack strumming|
“Choose your guitar pick material wisely young Padawan! May the sound be with you.” The material of a guitar pick has a direct correlation to a variety of properties and should therefore be considered wisely. The properties it influences are:
Sound: Each material has a unique sound. Experimenting with different materials over the years will teach you which one you personally like the most.
Durability: Some materials are easily breakable but have a unique sound to them. Here it’s important to choose which one of the two is more important to you.
Flexibility: More flexible materials lend themselves better for thinner picks and strumming. Others are stiff but create a louder sound.
Grip: Some plastics are more slippery than others. Depending on the natural slipperiness of your fingers and your style of playing, more or less firm grips are important to you.
Friction: The friction of a material has an influence on the sound. Smoother material creates a smoother sound and a material with a raw surface a richer sound.
Price: How much are you willing to pay for something so small?
As plastic is the most common material I divided the chosen picks into the categories plastics and others.
Vintage tone, first plastic ever used, very common
Popular, smooth & slick, often high friction coating, flexible, thin
Highly durable, low friction, low pick noise, round tone
Stiff, bright tone, popular among mandolin players
Glass like, glossy, hard, not durable, thick, high friction
Tough, light, clear, sticky, full harmonics
bright/sharp tone, loud, durable, strong attack
natural, durable, wide variety of tones depending on material & production
Natural, less high frequencies “no brassy sound”
Smooth sound, low friction
Soft, fluffy, used for ukulele, no clicking sound (soft attack)
Thick, low friction, natural
The texture in guitar pick is mainly an influencer of how firm the grip is. For additional sturdiness raised letter, holes or concave shapes are added. Furthermore, the texture increases or decreases the friction of the surface and thereby the sound of the attack. Here is a short guide to the different texture types of guitar picks.
Every now and then a guitar style comes to birth that asks for it’s own unique guitar pick. Here are five example of guitar picks that are closely related to a particular style of instrument.
Round, perfect for solos and fast picking, crispy sound
Fingerstyle guitar nail substitution
Fingerstyle guitar thumb only
Soft attack, perfect for ukulele strings
Flexible, perfect for strumming
Even though while playing not much of the pick is seen many people like their unique design. Maybe because they spend so much time looking for their pick they want it to look good when they finally find it. Or maybe your hobby is collecting different guitar picks? Or you want to impress the ladies? Anyway all is fine with me! Here are my guitar pick design finds.
Dragon Heart Pick
Thick, multiple edges for different attack sounds
Handmade ceramic guitar pick series
Life warranty, made in UK, glass
Stainless steal, different phrases
Famous Art Print
Celluloid medium, famous art pictures, 12 pieces
American flag, what more do you need?
Print your own design on a pick
Beatles guitar pick box
Boring generic prints 😉
There is something profoundly satisfying to buying guitar picks in bulk, don’t you think? In order to meet that need I collected the cheapest of the cheapest bulk guitar pick offers I could find on amazon for you. Guitar pick shower!
Wow you are still here! Therefore, I’d like to reward you with these guitar pick alternatives that make every guitar lovers heart beat faster. Check out videos on Youtube or the Amazon page to preview the sound it produces.
And the last category for today: Guitar pick accessories. If you are looking for a present for guitar fanatic friend, one of these or the ones in the category above will probably do the trick.
I hope you enjoyed this guitar pick and plectrum buying guide. Before you go please share your favorite guitar pick with us in the comment section below.