Guitar picks may seem like small, inconsequential pieces of plastic, but they are, in fact, the unsung heroes of guitar music. These little tools are the bridge between you and your guitar, shaping the very sound and feel of your music.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll embark on a journey through the diverse world of guitar picks, exploring how these tiny accessories can make a big impact on your playing style. From the classic standard pick to the precision-driven sharp pick, from the diminutive Jazz III to the substantial triangle pick, and the versatile shark fin pick – each type has its own story to tell. This guide is your compass in navigating this vast and colorful landscape.
Guitar picks do more than just strike different strings; they are the conductors of your musical orchestra, the sculptors of your sound. The material, shape, size, and thickness of a pick can dramatically alter the tone and playability of your guitar, making choosing the right one as important as the choice of the guitar itself.
Whether you’re a beginner wondering where to start, a seasoned player looking to experiment with new sounds, or just curious about this little piece of gear, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive into the world of guitar picks, where even the smallest change can bring about a revolution in your music.
Historical Evolution of Guitar Picks: From Primitive Beginnings to Modern Mastery
The guitar pick has a rich history that mirrors the evolution of music itself. Understanding its origins and transformation over the years gives us a fascinating glimpse into the world of music and how it has been shaped through time by this modest accessory.
The earliest guitar picks date back several centuries and were primarily made from natural materials like bone, wood, or tortoiseshell. In cultures around the world, musicians used various objects to pluck stringed instruments, each adding a unique texture and sound quality to the music. For example, tortoiseshell was prized for its durability and the warm, rich tone it produced.
The Birth of Modern Picks
The 20th Century Shift
The 20th century marked a significant shift in the design and materials of guitar picks. As music styles evolved, so did the need for more versatile and durable picks.
Celluloid, the first synthetic plastic, became a popular material for picks in the early 1900s. It offered a balance between flexibility and strength, making it an ideal tool for a range of playing styles.
Shape and Size Innovations
The traditional teardrop shape became standard during this period, but other shapes, like the equilateral triangle, also gained popularity. Just like guitars, picks varied in size to accommodate different musical styles and player preferences, leading to a wider array of choices for musicians.
The Mid-20th Century and Beyond
The mid to late 20th century saw further experimentation with materials. Nylon and Delrin (Acetal) emerged as popular choices to strum those strings, offering durability and a different range of tonal possibilities. The introduction of these new materials allowed guitarists to use picks with varying degrees of flexibility, catering to genres like rock, jazz, and classical music.
Customization and Personalization
As guitar playing styles became more diverse, the demand for customized picks grew. Picks were now being tailored for specific genres, playing techniques, and personal preferences. Innovations in manufacturing technologies allowed for more precise shaping and texturing of picks, enhancing grip and playability.
The 21st Century: A New Era of Picks
The digital age brought about new manufacturing techniques, such as laser cutting and 3D printing, allowing for unprecedented precision and customization in pick design. Materials also advanced, with the introduction of new polymers and composites that offered unique sound qualities and improved durability.
Growing environmental concerns led to the development of eco-friendly picks made from biodegradable materials and recycled plastics. Musicians became more conscious of their picks’ environmental impact, driving demand for sustainable options.
A Continuing Journey
The history of the guitar pick is a testament to human ingenuity and the ever-evolving art of music. From their humble beginnings as simple hand-crafted tools to the technologically advanced, customized picks of today, these little tools have continued to adapt and grow alongside the musicians who use them. As we look to the future, the evolution of the guitar pick is sure to continue, mirroring the ongoing innovation and diversity of music itself.
Standard Pick: The Classic Choice
The standard guitar pick, also known as the “Classic pick” or a “351” pick, is the most common and widely available type.
These picks are the go-to choice for many guitarists due to their versatility. They’re suitable for a range of styles, from strumming chords on an acoustic guitar to playing lead on an electric. They’re also not very expensive, which means these guitar picks are accessible to players of all budgets and levels.
Sharp / Pointed Picks: Precision and Speed
Sharp or pointed guitar picks are designed for additional precision, making them ideal for guitarists who predominantly play lead guitar. These picks allow for quick and accurate picking but are not the best choice for songs with a lot of strumming. They’re also not the best option if your guitar has heavy gauge strings. In these cases, a standard or a bigger pick might be more suitable.
Jazz III Picks: The Soloist’s Friend
The Jazz III pick is another super common type. These little tools are smaller than the average pick with a sharp tip, giving guitarists greater control. Jazz picks are particularly good for fast playing and solos. These picks offer precision that other pick shapes don’t, making them a favorite among lead guitarists. So, if you find yourself predominantly playing lead guitar, opt for one of these guitar pick shapes.
Triangle Picks: Comfort and Ease
Triangle picks are large, which can be helpful if you struggle to hold smaller picks. They are better suited for rhythm guitarists and those who play with heavy strings, like bass players. However, their size can be a problem for guitarists who need to move quickly over their guitar, meaning they’re not a great choice for more intricate playing.
Shark Fin Picks: Versatility in Playing
Shark fin picks offer different edges to give guitar players versatility. The serrated edge is perfect for picking the strings, while the rounded tip is ideal for strumming. These picks are designed to be long-lasting and cause minimal wear and tear, meaning you shouldn’t have to keep changing your pick.
Exploring the Diversity of Guitar Picks: Other Shapes and Sizes
When we think of guitar picks, the standard shapes often come to mind first. However, the world of guitar picks is much more diverse and fascinating than what you might imagine, with a plethora of different choices. Beyond the common types that everyone knows, a myriad of other shapes and sizes exist, each offering unique benefits and catering to different playing styles and preferences.
Teardrop Picks: For Delicate Precision
The teardrop guitar pick is a notable mention. These picks are smaller than standard picks and have a more rounded edge. The design of a teardrop pick allows for delicate and precise playing. They are particularly favored by guitarists who play intricate melodies or require a softer touch. The smaller surface area of these picks can result in a clearer, more defined tone, making them ideal for studio recording where every nuance of sound is crucial.
The Fingerstyle Pick: A Hybrid Approach
For those who blend traditional picking with fingerstyle playing, there are picks designed specifically for this hybrid approach. These picks are often worn on the fingertips and thumb, resembling thimbles. They extend the reach and amplify the sound produced by the fingers, allowing for a combination of the natural tone produced by finger plucking and the sharp attack of a pick. These picks are perfect to use with classical guitars.
Oversized Picks: Enhanced Comfort and Control
Oversized guitar picks are another unique option. These picks are larger than the standard size and are designed for players seeking more surface area to hold onto. They are particularly useful for beginners who are still developing their grip, as well as for players with larger hands or those who have physical limitations that make holding smaller picks challenging. This larger size can also contribute to a fuller, more resonant strumming sound, which is great for certain musical styles.
Textured Picks: Enhanced Grip and Unique Tones
Textured guitar picks are designed with various patterns or indentations on their surface. These textures provide a better grip, reducing the chance of the pick slipping during vigorous playing. Additionally, the unique surface of these picks can create interesting tonal variations, adding a new dimension to the guitar’s sound.
Flexibility and Thickness Variations
Apart from shape, the flexibility and thickness of a guitar pick play a significant role in its functionality. Thinner picks, often made from more flexible materials, are great for a light, breezy strumming style. On the other hand, thicker picks provide more control and are typically used for faster, more aggressive playing styles, such as metal or hard rock. The thickness can range from ultra-thin, almost paper-like picks to thick, rigid ones that hardly bend at all.
Custom and Novelty Picks
The world of guitar picks includes custom and novelty picks. These picks can be custom-made to specific shapes and sizes, catering to individual needs and preferences. Novelty picks, on the other hand, are more about personal expression and can come in various fun shapes and designs, from skulls to famous logos, adding a personal touch to a guitarist’s gear.
Many famous guitarists or well-known guitar brands have taken it upon themselves to design their own picks, making them not just a tool to help sculpt your sound but also a collector’s item, too.
Guitar Picks and Gauges: Tailoring Thickness to Your Playing Style
The gauge, or thickness, of a guitar pick, is a critical factor that can significantly influence your playing experience. This section delves deeper into the world of guitar pick gauges, helping you understand how different thicknesses can suit various playing styles. We’ll also let you know the types of strings they are best paired with so you can find the best guitar pick for your guitar.
Understanding Pick Gauges
Guitar pick gauges are generally categorized into three main groups: thin, medium, and heavy. Each category serves a distinct purpose and caters to different playing styles.
Thin Guitar Picks (Below 0.60mm)
Thin guitar picks are typically below 0.60mm in thickness. They are highly flexible and produce a lighter, brighter tone. They are excellent for strumming chords, especially on an acoustic guitar, where a softer, more resonant sound is needed. Thin picks are also a great choice for beginners as they are more forgiving and easier to manipulate.
Medium Guitar Picks (0.60mm to 0.80mm)
Medium picks strike a balance between flexibility and rigidity. Their thickness ranges from 0.60mm to 0.80mm. These picks are versatile, which makes them suitable for a wide range of genres and playing styles. They offer enough stiffness for lead playing while still being flexible enough for comfortable strumming. Medium picks are often the go-to choice for electric guitarists who play a mix of rhythm and lead.
Heavy Guitar Picks (Above 0.80mm)
Heavy guitar picks are above 0.80mm in thickness and are preferred by players who need more control and precision. These picks are less flexible, allowing for a stronger attack and more volume. They are ideal for lead guitarists and those who play fast, intricate solos. The rigidity of heavy picks makes them less suited for strumming, as they can produce a harsher sound on the strings.
Gauge and String Type
The material of a guitar pick can also influence playability. For instance, heavy nylon picks may still have some flexibility, offering a different playing experience compared to heavier picks made of rigid materials like acrylic. This variance means that the feel and sound produced by a pick of a certain gauge can vary based on its material composition.
The gauge of a guitar pick should also be matched with the type of strings you are using. Thinner picks are generally better for lighter strings, as they reduce the risk of breaking the strings during vigorous strumming. On the other hand, thicker picks can complement heavier gauge strings, providing the necessary force and control for more aggressive playing styles.
Experimenting with Different Gauges
The best way to find your ideal pick gauge is through experimentation. Try different thicknesses to see how they affect your playing style and the sound you produce. You may find that you prefer a thinner pick for strumming chords on your acoustic guitar and a heavier pick for playing lead on your electric guitar.
Guitar Pick Materials: Exploring the Impact on Tone and Playability
The material of a guitar pick doesn’t just determine its durability and feel; it also plays a significant role in shaping the tone and playability of your guitar. Let’s delve into the most common guitar pick materials and how they can influence your playing experience.
Celluloid Picks: The Classic Choice
Celluloid is one of the oldest materials used for making guitar picks. It’s favored for its classic feel and warm, rounded tone. Celluloid picks are generally smooth, with a slight flexibility that makes them great for a wide range of playing styles. They’re particularly popular among players who enjoy a vintage sound or play older music genres. However, celluloid is less durable than some modern materials and can be prone to warping and breaking.
Nylon Picks: Grip and Durability
Nylon guitar picks are known for their durability and excellent grip, thanks to their slightly textured surface. They offer a bright, clear tone and are available in a wide range of thicknesses. Nylon is a flexible material, which makes these picks a good choice for players who prefer a softer touch, such as when strumming chords on an acoustic guitar. Nylon picks are also a popular choice for beginners due to their forgiving nature and comfortable grip.
Acetal / Delrin Picks: Consistency and Balance
Acetal, often known by the brand name Delrin, is a material favored for its consistent quality and balanced tone. Picks made from acetal are typically smooth, with a matte finish that offers a good grip. They provide a medium-bright tone and are resistant to wear and tear, making them a reliable choice for players who want a pick that lasts. These picks are well-suited for both electric and acoustic guitars, offering a versatile option for many guitarists.
Acrylic Picks: Bright and Crisp
Acrylic guitar picks are known for their bright and crisp tone. They are generally more rigid than picks made of other materials, providing a high level of control and precision. Acrylic picks are excellent for guitarists who require clean, articulate notes, which makes them a great choice for fast lead guitar playing. The rigidity, however, can make them less ideal for strumming, as they produce a sharper attack on the strings.
Ultem Picks: The Modern Choice
Ultem picks are a modern choice, known for their exceptional durability and bright, crisp tone. They have a high resistance to wear and maintain their shape and thickness over time. Ultem picks are often favored by electric guitarists for their ability to produce clean, articulate notes, especially during fast alternate picking and complex riffs.
Exploring Exotic and Sustainable Materials
In addition to these common materials, there’s a growing interest in exotic and sustainable materials for guitar picks. Picks made from woods, metals, bone, and even stone offer unique tones and feel.
Sustainable materials, such as bioplastics and recycled materials, are also gaining popularity among environmentally conscious guitarists.
The material of your guitar pick can greatly influence your playing experience, affecting everything from tone to grip to durability. For example, Stone guitar picks will last you for years to come, and they offer great control. Whether you’re drawn to the warm, vintage sound of celluloid, the bright clarity of acrylic, or the balanced feel of acetal, each material brings its unique character to your music. Experimenting with different materials is a great way to discover the perfect pick for your playing style and sound preferences.
Choosing the Right Guitar Pick for You: Matching Pick to Playing Style and Genre
Selecting the right guitar pick is a crucial step in aligning your gear with your playing style and the genres you prefer. We’ll guide you through the process of choosing the perfect guitar pick, taking into account the nuances of different music genres and playing styles. We also have some tips and tricks to help you find the pick that elevates your music.
Matching Guitar Picks with Music Genres
Rock and Metal
For genres like rock and metal, where precision and speed are key, medium to heavy picks are often preferred. Thicker guitar picks, possibly made of materials like Ultem or acrylic, provide the rigidity needed for fast, articulate solos and riffs.
The sharpness of the pick’s tip can also be crucial — a more pointed tip offers better control for intricate lead work.
Blues and Jazz
Blues and jazz guitarists often opt for medium gauge picks made of materials like celluloid or nylon, which offer a balanced tone and flexibility. The rounded tip of a medium pick can produce a warm, mellow sound characteristic of these genres. Jazz III picks, known for their small size and sharp tip, are a popular choice among jazz guitarists for their control and precision in fast, complex playing.
Acoustic and Folk
In acoustic and folk music, where a softer and more resonant sound is desired, a thin pick is often the go-to. Materials like nylon or celluloid provide the flexibility needed for the dynamic strumming characteristic of these genres. The smoothness of the pick’s edge also contributes to a softer attack on the strings, enhancing the natural sound of the acoustic guitar. They’re great for those who play acoustic rhythm guitar.
Consider Your Playing Style: Tailoring Your Pick to How You Play
The unique way you play the guitar should be a major factor in choosing the right guitar pick. This goes beyond the genre of music; it delves into your personal approach to guitar playing, whether you’re a rhythmic strummer, a fast-paced soloist, or a fingerstyle enthusiast. Here’s how to align your pick choice with your playing style in more detail:
Strumming vs. Picking
Strumming: If you’re predominantly a rhythm guitarist or enjoy strumming chords, it’s likely you’ll prefer a thinner, more flexible pick. Thin guitar picks, typically made of materials like nylon or celluloid, allow for a smoother, more fluid motion across the strings. They produce a softer sound that’s ideal for acoustic genres, folk, or rhythm parts in band settings.
Picking: For guitarists who focus on picking individual notes, such as lead guitarists or those who play a lot of solos, a thicker pick is often more suitable. These picks, usually medium to heavy in gauge, offer more control and accuracy. They’re stiffer, which makes them ideal for fast, precise movements required in genres like rock, metal, or jazz.
Fingerstyle with a Pick
Hybrid Picking: Some guitarists combine traditional picking with fingerstyle techniques, a method known as hybrid picking. For this, a pick that can be comfortably held while freeing up some fingers for plucking is essential. A smaller pick, like a Jazz III, is ideal for this style as it can be easily palmed or gripped in a way that allows the fingers to pluck the strings directly.
Comfort and Grip: Comfort is key in playing for extended periods. The size and shape of the pick should fit comfortably in your hand. Textured or matte-finish picks can provide a better grip, especially for players whose hands tend to get sweaty. Some players might prefer picks with ergonomic designs that offer a more natural and relaxed hold.
Adjusting to Different Techniques
Alternate Picking and Sweep Picking: For techniques like alternate picking and sweep picking, which are common in fast-paced genres, the pick’s responsiveness is crucial. A medium to heavy pick with a pointed tip can offer the precision and speed required. The stiffness of these picks provides a quick rebound from the strings, making fast passages cleaner and more articulate.
Palm Muting and Dynamics: If your playing involves a lot of palm muting or dynamic control, consider how easily you can maneuver the pick. Heavier picks can provide a sharper, more pronounced attack, which is beneficial for styles with a lot of palm muting, like heavy metal. However, for dynamic control, a pick with some flexibility can be a great choice.
Tips and Tricks for Finding Your Perfect Pick
Experimentation is Key
Don’t hesitate to experiment with different pick shapes, sizes, materials, and gauges. Sometimes, the perfect pick is found through trial and error, and what works for one guitarist might not work for another.
Consider Your Instrument
The type of guitar you play can also influence your choice of pick. Electric guitars, with their lighter strings and amplified sound, might pair well with heavier picks, while acoustic guitars, which rely on the natural vibration of strings, might benefit from lighter, more flexible picks.
Adjusting to Your Pick
Remember that switching to a new pick might require some adjustment in your playing technique. Give yourself some time to get used to the feel and response of a new pick.
Keep a Variety
It’s beneficial to have a variety of picks at hand, as different musical situations might call for different types of picks. For instance, a recording session might require a different pick than a live performance. One of the best ways to start your search is by purchasing a variety pack of guitar picks. These packs often include a range of thicknesses, shapes, and materials. This approach allows you to experiment with various options without committing to a bulk purchase of one type.
Test Picks in Different Settings
A pick that feels great in a quiet room may not perform the same way in a live setting or during a recording session. Test your picks in different environments to see how they respond.
Focus on Comfort and Ergonomics
Comfort is key when playing for extended periods. Some picks are designed with ergonomic features to reduce hand fatigue. If you have any physical issues like arthritis, these picks can be particularly helpful.
Don’t Ignore the Texture
The texture of a pick can dramatically affect your grip. If you find picks slipping out of your hand, look for ones with a more pronounced texture or grip enhancements.
Be Open to Change
Be open to changing your pick type as your playing evolves. As you grow as a guitarist, your preferences in tone and feel may shift.
Remember, Picks Wear Down
Keep in mind that picks wear down with use. A worn pick can behave differently, so replace them regularly to maintain consistency in your playing.
Care and Maintenance of Guitar Picks
Though small, guitar picks are integral to your playing experience. Proper care and maintenance of your picks can extend their life and ensure consistent performance. Here’s a guide to keeping your picks in top shape so you can continue making the music you love.
Storing Your Picks Properly
Pick Cases and Holders
Invest in a pick case or holder. These can range from simple plastic cases to more elaborate leather pouches designed specifically for storing picks. Keeping your picks safe in a case protects them from being lost and minimizes exposure to elements that could warp or damage them.
Avoid Extreme Temperatures
Avoid leaving guitar picks in places with extreme temperatures, like a car on a hot day or near heat sources. Heat can warp picks, especially those made of softer materials like nylon.
Keep your picks in a dry environment. Excessive moisture can affect certain materials like celluloid, potentially leading to warping or degradation.
Cleaning Your Picks
After each use, wipe your picks with a soft, dry cloth. This removes oils and sweat from your fingers that can accumulate over time.
For a deeper clean, occasionally wash your picks with mild soap and warm water. This is particularly useful for picks with textured grips, where dirt can build up. Ensure the picks are completely dry before storing them.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals
Steer clear of using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials to clean your picks, as these can damage the surface or alter the pick’s texture, and you’ll end up investing in even more guitar picks.
Inspecting and Replacing Your Picks
Regularly inspect your picks for signs of wear and tear. Look for warping, bending, chips, or significant wear on the edges. Pay attention to how the pick feels during play. A worn pick may not provide the same level of control or may produce a different sound.
Knowing When to Replace
Replace picks that show signs of significant wear. A worn-out pick can negatively impact your playing precision and the quality of your sound.
How often you need to replace a pick depends on how frequently you play and the material of the pick. Some materials, like Ultem, are more durable than others, like celluloid.
Keep Spares Handy
Since picks are small and easy to lose, having backups ensures you’re always ready to play.
Recycling Old Picks
Consider recycling old picks, especially those made of plastic. Some companies offer recycling programs for guitar picks. Alternatively, old picks can be repurposed creatively, for example, as jewelry or in art projects.
Choosing Eco-Friendly Picks
When possible, choose picks made from sustainable or biodegradable materials to reduce environmental impact.
Taking care of your guitar picks doesn’t require much effort, but it goes a long way in preserving their life and ensuring they perform at their best. By storing, cleaning, and inspecting your picks regularly and knowing when it’s time to replace them, you can maintain a consistent quality in your playing.
DIY Guitar Picks: Crafting Custom Picks at Home
Not all guitar picks have to be bought from a guitar store. In fact, making your own guitar picks at home can be a fun and rewarding DIY project. Not only that – it allows you to customize picks to your specific preferences in terms of shape, thickness, and material.
Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. Here’s our guide on how you can craft your own unique guitar picks.
Materials You Can Use
Old Credit Cards or Gift Cards: These are great for making medium gauge picks.
Plastic Lids: Use lids from yogurt or butter containers for thinner picks.
CDs or DVDs: These can be used for sturdier picks, but be cautious as they can splinter.
Wood Veneers: This is great for a natural feel and unique look, but be aware: they are more fragile.
Recycled Materials: Get creative with materials you can recycle. Experiment with different plastics for various flexibilities and tones.
Scissors or a Craft Knife: For cutting out the basic shape.
Pick Punch: A specialized tool that punches out pick shapes, available online or in music stores.
Fine Sandpaper: For smoothing edges.
Permanent Marker: To trace out your pick shape if you’re cutting it manually.
Ruler: For precise measurements.
Steps for Making The Perfect DIY Pick
1. Choosing and Preparing the Material
Select the material based on the desired thickness and flexibility. Make sure to clean the material thoroughly if it’s being repurposed, but avoid harsh chemicals that may effect the surface of the material.
2. Tracing the Pick Shape
Use an existing pick as a template or create your own unique shape. Trace the shape onto your chosen material with a permanent marker. If you don’t have a pick on hand, you can always find a template online and print it out.
3. Cutting the Shape
If you’re using a pick punch, simply align the material in the punch and press down. For manual cutting, use scissors or a craft knife. Be patient and careful, making sure to follow the lines closely.
4. Smoothing the Edges
Use fine sandpaper to smooth any rough edges. This step is crucial for comfort and the longevity of your strings. You can also round off the tip to your preferred shape.
5. Customizing Your Pick
Add personal touches like engraving, painting, or stickers to make your guitar pick truly your own. You can also experiment with texturing the grip area for better hold.
Tips for Creating DIY Guitar Picks
Thickness Matters: Remember that the thickness of your material will influence the pick’s flexibility and sound.
Safety First: Be cautious when cutting and sanding. Wear protective gear if necessary, especially when working with tougher materials.
Test and Adjust: After making a pick, test it out. You may need to adjust the shape or sand it further based on how it feels and sounds.
Recycle and Experiment: This is a great opportunity to recycle materials and experiment with different textures and flexibilities to find what suits you best.
Making your own guitar picks is not only an eco-friendly and cost-effective option, but it also allows you to experiment with different materials and shapes. It’s one of the best ways to find what works for your playing style without breaking the bank. Plus, it adds a personal touch to your guitar gear. So, gather some materials and start crafting your unique picks!
Conclusion: Finding Your Perfect Pick
In the end, the type of guitar pick you choose comes down to personal preference and the specific requirements of your playing style. Whether you prefer nylon picks for their durability or celluloid picks for their classic feel, there’s a pick out there for everyone. Experiment with different types of guitar picks to find the one that feels right for you and enhances your playing experience.
Remember, the journey to finding your ideal guitar pick is a personal one. Don’t be afraid to try out different types and materials until you find the one that feels like an extension of your musical expression.