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HOW TO CHOOSE A GUITAR PICK

Written By Jason Thomas, Amateur Guitarist, Master Slacker

Many guitarists never fully experience the vast array of guitar picks available to them. They get comfortable with 'their' pick, or are simply unaware of what a difference the pick can make to their music. That is why we created this site: to educate and provide an easy way to try a variety of guitar picks.

There are three key features to consider when selecting a guitar pick (AKA plectrum): material, gauge (or thickness), and shape. Below, we will explore these three features in depth to discover what affect they truly have not only on the sound of your guitar, but also on the way you play. It is important to remember that no one feature will decide the sound you can expect from a pick. The tone created will be a synergy of all aspects of the pick as well as your personal picking technique, your guitar, and your equipment.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT GUITAR PICK MATERIAL
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GUITAR PICK THICKNESS (GAUGE)

You can find a guitar pick made of almost anything these days. From dozens of patented polymers to metal, wood, and even animal protein! Each material provides a different feel between your fingers and a different sound from your guitar. As with all pick features,the right pick material really depends on personal taste. However, here are a few tips to get you pointed in the right direction.

  1. Density - One reason picks use different materials is to achieve different densities. Dense picks (heavy woods, metals) tend to provide a heavier sound (preferred by hard rock/metal players) while less dense picks (plastics, nylon) provide a brighter sound.
  2. Grip - A good grip is important for any guitarist whether you are shredding solos, or strumming chords. Some picks such as the Dunlop Gator Grip, are designed to have a grippy finish. Others are naturally "sticky". Metal picks are a good example as they tend to be more grippy even as you start to sweat. Many picks such as nylon tend to have less grip. These are often found to have raised grip surfaces to help combat the natural slip of the material.
  3. String Release - Pick materials will tend to release from the guitar strings differently. You can think of it as "string grip". Just as some materials stick to your fingers better, some materials are more inclined to grab the strings. If you prefer more slip, try a metal, acetal, nylon, or the animal protein mentioned above. If you want a bit of grip to provide more control and really pull and pop those strings, try something else.

​Whatever material you try, understand that material is only one feature of a guitar pick. To get a good feel for a material, try a variety of materials while keeping the pick shape and thickness the same. This isn't always possible as some picks come in only one thickness (i.e. wood picks), but do your best and you should be able to feel and hear the difference.

Guitar Pick Buffet has created a special variety pack to help you try different materials. Check out the Our Variety Packs page to learn more or purchase the pack.

The thickness (gauge) of a guitar pick is possibly the most important feature for the way the pick will feel and the sound it will produce.

Pick thickness is usually measured in millimeters, but will also appear as unquantified values of thin, medium, etc. Here is a breakdown of what these terms typically mean:

 

Thin picks are very flexible. You can easily bend them by hand, and they will easily bend/flex as you play. This quality is great for rhythm guitars or acoustic players who do a lot of chord strumming. The gently nature of the pick allows you to really strum without the threat of over-stressing the strings and breaking one. The downside is that these picks don't allow for the precision and attack needed for fast picking as found in many lead licks. Thin picks also tend to provide a brighter sound with higher highs and lighter lows.

Medium picks are aptly named as they are a happy medium and are use by many players who jump from chords to picking. The increased thickness makes them better for precision picking while still being a good strumming pick.

Heavy picks are much more rigid and are difficult if not impossible to bend by hand. They are great for precision picking, and provide a much deeper low end. As such, they are the choice of metal guitarists as they give the powerful brooding growl while also being ideal for the technically complex solos and licks that often accompany this genre. If you play lead, give a heavy gauge a try.

Extra Heavy picks take heavy to a whole new level. These are solid and will have zero flexure. While having the same advantages as heavy picks, these picks are best for picking applications and should not be used for strumming as they will tend to damage and break your strings. These are the ideal choice for bass guitar players who choose to use a pick to play. They are robust enough to handle the extremely heavy strings found on the bass guitar and can transfer the force needed to make the strings really ring out loud and deep.

Guitar Pick Buffet has created a special variety pack to help you try different pick thicknesses. Check out the Our Variety Packs page to learn more or purchase the pack.
 

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT GUITAR PICK SHAPE

Most common is the teardrop (referred to as the standard shape on this site), but guitar picks come in dozens of shapes. Some are variations of the teardrop and others take more liberty with pick shape design like the Dunlop SharkFin or the D'Andrea Heart-shaped pick.

The overall size and shape of a pick is going to be based completely on personal preference; what feels right to you. Many prefer the teardrop, but the multitude of other options is a testament to the individuality of the modern guitarist. Try triangles, and teardrops, and kitty cats or whatever else you can get your hands on. Eventually, you will find what you like and KNOW what you like, then you can settle into a groove.

The most important part of pick shape is not the shape of the pick itself but the shape of the pick tip. What varies is the roundness of a tip. Large, rounded tips are great for strumming chords, but lack the precision of a small tip. For fast, precise picking, the best choice is a very sharp tip like what is found on "Jazz" style guitar picks. Dunlop makes a great number of jazz picks and is our suggested starting point. These picks tend to be a bit smaller than the standard pick and come to a point that is hardly rounded at all.

To play with a full sound and strum like crazy, think rounded. To play fast and pick like a demon, think sharp and jazzy.


Guitar Pick Buffet has created a special variety pack to help you try different pick shapes. Check out the Our Variety Packs page to learn more or purchase the pack.

CLOSING THOUGHTS ON CHOOSING A GUITAR PICK

The process of choosing the right pick should be fun. Don't get distracted by all the technical aspects of choosing the right shape, thickness, and material. Remember that your music is more than an equation.

Pick the right color. Pick the right style. If you find a pick you love the feel of, but you hate the look, no worries. There are plenty of custom pick companies out there (unfortunately, we are not one of them, yet). You can have almost any pick style personalized to make it your own.

If at any point, you start to hate the tone you are getting from your setup, take a step back. Before you blame your guitar, amp, or bandmate, and spend hundreds trying to correct it, consider the possibility of simply changing your pick.

Check out the videos below to learn more about the importance of choosing the right pick:

 

 

A Quick Overview of Guitar Pick Selection Criteria
An In-Depth Video Series on Guitar Pick Selection