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Guitar Pick

Various guitar picks. From top going clockwise: A normal plastic pick; An imitation tortoise-shell pick; A plastic pick with high friction coating (black areas); A stainless steel pick; An equal-sided pick; and a "shark's fin" pick
Various guitar picks. From top going clockwise: A normal plastic pick; An imitation tortoise-shell pick; A plastic pick with high friction coating (black areas); A stainless steel pick; An equal-sided pick; and a "shark's fin" pick

A guitar pick is a type of plectrum designed for use on a guitar. Over time people have made picks of various materials, including nylon, plastic, rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, wood, metal, and stone. They most often take the shape of an acute isosceles triangle with the two equal corners very rounded and the third corner rounded to a lesser extent. This shape is, however, merely one of many used by manufacturers.


Guitar picks come in varying thicknesses to accommodate the different playing styles and kinds of strings. Thinner plectra are more flexible and tend to offer a wider range of sounds, from soft to loud, and produce a "click" that emphasizes the attack of the picking. However, some argue that heavier picks produce a brighter tone.

In rock music, while playing electric guitar with hi-gain amplification or distortion, it is generally assumed that thinner picks produce muddier, heavier, less controllable sound and thicker picks produce more delicate, more controlled and well-shaped tone. Thinner picks also tend to rip or tear more often if used too forcefully, whereas a thicker one is more likely to wear down over time.

Thinner picks tend to give less attack and muddier sound, and do not give as much control when doing fast tremelo picking. Also, they tend to wear much faster when used with heavier gauge strings.

Jazz guitar players tend to use quite heavy picks, as they also tend to favor heavy gauge flat-wound strings.

Whether there is truth in either judgement is up to the individual's opinion, and the choice is entirely a matter of personal preference.

Most manufacturers (Jim Dunlop, Alice, Teckpick) print down the thickness in mm or thousands right on the pick. Some other brands (Gibson, Fender, Peavey, Ibanez) occasionally use a somewhat cryptic system of letters or text designations to mark the thickness. Approximate guidelines to thickness ranges are presented in the following table:

Text description Approximate thickness Other possible marks
Extra light/thin 0.38 mm / 0.014" and less
Light/thin 0.51-0.60 mm / 0.020"-0.023" "T" or "Thin"
Medium 0.73-0.81 mm / 0.028"-0.031" "M" or "Medium"
Heavy/thick 0.88-1.20 mm / 0.034"-0.047" "H" or "Thick"
Extra heavy/thick 1.50 mm / 0.060" and more


Most common picks are made out of various types of plastic. Most popular plastics include:

  • Celluloid. Historically, this was the first plastic ever used to produce picks, and it is still of some use today, especially for guitarists that want to get some vintage feel. Ocassionally, guitarists who smoke have accidently discovered the extremely flammable nature of this material.
  • Nylon. Popular material, has a smooth and slick surface, so most manufacturers add a high-friction coating to nylon picks to make them easier to grip. Nylon is flexible and can be produced in very thin sheets. Most thin and extra-thin picks are made out of nylon. However, nylon loses its flexibility after 1-2 months of extensive use, becomes fragile and breaks, so guitarists that use thin nylon picks should have several spare picks just in case.
  • Tortex / Delrex. Special plastic, designed to simulate tortoiseshell picks. Has a smooth, silky, opaque surface, surprisingly easy to grip even with sweaty fingers. Due to nature of material, there are usually no thin grade picks made out of Tortex.
  • Delrin. Has a glossy, textured surface, easy to grip by itself, no high-friction coating applied usually. Delrin is pretty cheap to produce and pretty durable material, however, specific textured feel doesn't appeal all the guitarists.
  • Lexan. Glossy, glass-like, very hard surface, though it wears out relatively fast. Barely bends at all and it's commonly used only for thick and extra-thick picks (> 1 mm). Usually has a high-friction grip coating. Best known example of Lexan picks are Jim Dunlop Stubby series.

Modern plastics can be ranged this way from the easiest to bend to the hardest: Nylon, Delrin, Tortex / Delrex, Lexan. This means that the same medium (for example, 0.70-0.80 mm) pick would be fairly flexible if made out of nylon and very solid if made out of tortex.

Picks made out of steel will produce a much brighter sound than plastic ones. They do however wear the strings quickly and can easily damage the finish on the guitar if used for strumming especially on acoustic guitars. Brian May of Queen uses picks which replicate his original choice - a silver sixpence coin.


Picks will normally have small protusions to make them easier to keep hold of if the fingers start to sweat (very common on stage due to the hot lights). Some picks (as illustrated) will have a high-friction coating to help the player hold on to them. The small perforations in the stainless steel pick serve the same function. Many players will often have spare picks attached to a microphone stand or slotted in the guitar's pickguard.

The equilateral pick can often be much easier for beginners to hold.

The shark's fin pick can be used in two ways - normally employing the blunt end or the small perturbations can be raked across the strings producing a much fuller chord.

The sharp edged pick is used to create an easier motion of picking across the strings.

Bass players who use a pick will normally use much heavier picks than guitar players. Many bass players find that coins make excellent picks, though some prefer slightly thinner picks to increase speed and endurance.


How a guitar pick is used
How a guitar pick is used

Picks are usually grabbed with two fingers-thumb and index-and are played with pointed end facing the strings. That's the most natural way to do it. However, it's a matter of personal preference and many notable musicians use alternate grips. For example, Eddie Van Halen holds the pick between his thumb and middle finger; James Hetfield and Steve Morse hold a pick using 3 fingers-thumb, middle and index; Pat Metheny holds a pick normally, but plays using the rounded side of the plectrum. Jimmy Rodgers and Freddie King have a special kind of technique utilizing two picks at once.

The motion of the pick against the string is also a personal choice. George Benson and Dave Mustaine, for example, hold the pick very stiffly between the thumb and index finger, locking the thumb joint and striking with the surface of the pick nearly parallel to the string, for a very positive, articulate, consistent tone. Other guitarists have developed a technique known as circle picking, where the thumb joint is bent on the downstroke, and straightened on the upstroke, causing the tip of the pick to move in a circular pattern. Circle picking can allow greater speed and fluidity. The angle of the pick against the string is also very personal and has a broad range of effects on tone and articulation. Many rock guitarists will use a flourish that involves scraping the pick along the length of a round wound string (a round wound string is a string with a coil of round wire wrapped around the outside, used for the heaviest three or four strings on a guitar; this wrapping creates a rippled surface that produces quite a distinct sound when scraped with a pick).

The two chief approaches to picking are alternate picking and economy picking. Alternate picking is when the player strictly alternates each stroke between downstrokes and upstrokes, regardless of changing strings. In economy picking, the player will use the most economical stroke on each note. For example, if the first note is on the fifth string, and the next note is on the fourth string, the pick will use a downstroke on the fifth string, and continue in the same direction to execute a downstroke on the fourth string. The economy picking technique sounds as though it would require more conscious thought to execute it but many guitarists learn it intuitively and find it an effort to use alternate picking.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Document License
It uses material from the Wikipedia article - Guitar pick