How many different picks did you go through before settling on your current pick preference? I personally used everything from Clayton 1.0 mm picks to Dunlop Stubby Jazz picks (before I got tired of my sweaty fingers losing grip). Rubber picks (cool novelty), nylon, super grippy picks (with embossed/raised textures), extremely slick picks. Super thin, super thick.
Then I finally narrowed in on a brand/material that I liked, Dunlop Tortex. I went through several sizes of Tortex picks (.66mm, .73mm, and .83mm) before settling on the .83mm. Mostly because of the size and tone, but also because it’s green and that’s a festive way to celebrate my Irish ancestry. And the cute turtle doesn’t hurt.
And for years everything was great. Until I watched a video from the band As I Lay Dying. One of the guitarists, Nick Hipa, mentioned that he used the M3 (Jazz III size) version of the .88mm green Tortex because of the picking accuracy of the sharp tip.
And then something really clicked for me. I had been using the picks I used for the tone of the pick, and the grip (or feel) of the pick. What I hadn’t considered until then was the picking accuracy of the pick. I switched and quickly realized that I have a new favorite pick.
For the record, I started using this pick a few years ago and have not turned back.
More than just the material or size, every pick has a different functional use. We’ll go over all of these points, but first, opinions!
Why Are Guitarists So Picky About Picks?
I think guitarists are picky about everything, to be honest. String gauge, string brand (even though almost all of them are made by D’Addario…), tuning machines, fret material, pretty much anything that has an option.
But there’s a good reason for this. Everything we use is a tool for our tone and our playing. Picks are extensions of ourselves. They enable us to play the riffs and licks and chords that inspire us. And create our own.
If you’re anything like me, you like to experiment with different options. That’s why you probably have 5 delays and 10 overdrives after all.
(that’s the excuse we use. Or that they’re all “different tools I need to do [x] job”. But really, we all just have a problem. A wonderful, magical, inspiring, gear hoarding problem)
And when it comes to picks, because they’re so cheap, it’s worth buying a grab bag and seeing what you like best.
What Materials Are Picks Made From
Picks can be made from literally anything, but there are common materials you’ll see most of the time.
Celluloid is the material of those tortoise shell picks you see. They give you a brighter tone because of the material.
Nylon picks like the Dunlop Standard Picks are pretty widely used. The grip texture is sought after by a lot of guitarists.
Acetal is what Tortex and similar picks are made from. I love this material, especially when there’s a powder grip enhancer. This material is pretty durable so your picks will last longer.
Ultem picks are one of the least common picks on this list. They’re very stiff and tend to have a bright tone no matter what thickness you use.
Acrylic picks are clear, dense, and durable. They’re clear and can be tinted to pretty much any color. They’re a slick material so they usually have a textured grip.
Exotic Guitar Picks
The above are the common, or standard picks for guitarists. There are a lot of niche picks out there. Here are some of my favorites.
This pick is super thick and super unique. It’s also huge. It comes in a range from 6mm-9mm, which is insane. The benefit of this is a more ergonomic grip, which means less fatigue on your picking hand.
With a fun (and useful) shape, and a 3mm thickness, the Dragon’s Heart pick boasts a 1000 hour life. The pick gives you the option to use it as a sharp pick, or two variations of a rounded pick.
Chibson Jumbo Guitar Pick
What Are The Differences In Pick Sizes
Guitar picks come in a slew of different sizes. Just like pick material, the thickness of a pick will also impact the tone. The combination of size and materials provides a near endless variety of tonal options, though the differences may be slight.
There are 4 general categories for pick sizes: Thin, Medium, Heavy, and Extra Heavy.
- Thin picks range from .40mm to .60mm.
- Medium picks range from .60mm to .80mm,
- Heavy picks range from .80mm to 1.20mm
- Extra Heavy picks are anything above 1.20mm
A general rule of thumb is the thinner you go the less body the pick gives your tone. So using a .40mm pick will sound a little brighter with less body. Acoustic players are known to use this in combination with pretty aggressive strumming to create a sound that cuts through the mix.
When you start to go up in pick size you’ll get extra body in your tone. You’ll have more or less brightness depending on pick material, but less perceived brightness than the thinner picks.
Both of these have to do with how much the pick makes the strings vibrate. A .40mm pick can’t move the strings as much as a 1.00mm pick can. They’re too floppy. The pick gives in before the string. With a thicker pick, the pick moves the string more than the string makes the pick bend or flex. If you have thin and thick picks laying around, strum a few chords with both to hear the difference.
With both really thin and really thick picks, you lose speed potential. Because the thin picks flex and give into the string’s resistance, you can’t build up speed. The pick is way too floppy.
Conversely, with a super thick pick you have (potentially) significantly more material to move across the strings at the tip of the pick. Instead of dragging .80mm of material across the strings, you could have twice that (again, potentially). More material=more movement required, which in turn slows down your speed potential.
It’s important to note that this varies by pick. The Purple Plectrum pick has a very sharp point to work around this. But a 1.50mm Clayton pick will be the same thickness throughout.
I personally like something in the middle, which is why I use .88mm picks specifically. For me, they have the right balance of stability and speed.
Different Pick Shapes
In addition to different materials and thicknesses, picks also come in a variety of shapes. Because why wouldn’t you want an infinite amount of options!
The Classic/Standard pick is the one you probably use. It fits comfortably between your thumb and index finger, and you can choke up to get extra control.
I don’t know how many Jazz players use “Jazz” picks, but I know a lot of Metal players who do. They have a sharper point for extreme accuracy. They’re about 75% of the size of Standard picks so they take some getting used to.
If the Classic or Jazz picks are too small for your taste, you should check out the Tri-Tip/Triangle pick. The larger size gives you a more comfortable grip.
You can also find them in more rounded versions like this Dunlop Ultex:
How To Choose The Best Guitar Pick
I only settled on the pick I currently used after years and years of trying everything I could get my hands on. I worked at a music shop so I could easily swipe one, even briefly, to try it out. I would encourage you to do this. Try different picks on electric and acoustic guitars too.
I actually used to bring two different picks to my gigs (or several of each version because picks are notorious for getting lost or stolen…). One pick for my electric guitar and one for my acoustic. My acoustic pick was lighter and my electric pick was heavier.
But you might be looking for a jumping off point, so I’ll throw out some options.
While this is all wildly subjective, there are a few objective facts about what certain picks do better than others. Here are a few common scenarios and some recommendations.
What’s the best pick for shredding?
Or in my case, attempting to shred. You’ll want something on the firmer side without getting too thick. Something in the .80mm to 1.00mm range. Something with a sharper point will also be useful. A lot of lead players use either a Jazz size pick or a Classic size pick.
What’s the best pick for acoustic guitar?
If you’re mostly strumming through chords, the world is your oyster. Go crazy. If you’re a heavy handed strummer you might not want to go above a .80mm. If you’re a light strummer you probably shouldn’t go below that. If you strum at an average velocity, go nuts.
Something to get you started is between a .66mm or .73mm pick. The .73 has a better mix of brightness and body to my ears.
What’s the best pick for people with joint pain or arthritis?
Wrist joint pain, and arthritis in both the hands and wrists are something most guitar players will experience eventually. There are a number of preventative measures you can take (like thoroughly stretching as a warm up and cool down), but for some it’s too late.
In this case you want to use something that’s more ergonomic and causes less strain (read: don’t have to squeeze as hard). This is where picks like the Triangle, Dragons Heart, and Plectrum picks come in. Because they’re larger they’ll be easier to grip. With some of them you’ll still get a sharp point for picking accuracy.
What pick has the best grip?
If you suffer from chronic pick dropping, you have a couple options. You can use a larger pick like above, or you can use a pick with a textured grip.
The picks with a textured grip kind of feel like holding sand paper. In a good way. You can get as sweaty as you want and still feel secure in your grip.
Picks Are Cheap, Experiment!
The great thing about trying a ton of picks, unlike comparing strings/batteries/cables, is they’re super cheap and you don’t have to install anything. You can get a mixed pack of picks that come in different materials, sizes, and shapes.
I like to use one week as a trial period, depending on how much I play at a time. This gives you enough time to adjust to the pick. Sometimes you’ll get an immediate “NOPE!”, but those are still worth trying.
Using a pick that isn’t what you typically use can spark inspiration too. Really, any variation in what you normally do/use can do this.
Plus, you’ll have a ton of picks to flick at your singer. So the benefits of having a ton of these picks around just keep coming.
And just remember: If you pick it, it will never heal.