Guitar Picks (Plectrum)
If you select guitar picks only by color and shape, and you're happy with that... this page is not for you.
But if you want to understand what these handy little accessories are made of, when it's handy to use a thin guitar pick instead of a thick one (or vice versa), how to improve the grip with a common school-supply item, and much, much more... read on!
Picks, otherwise known as plectrums, are used to pluck or strum strings. They come in an almost infinite number of colors, shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. They can be customized with text or graphics, or both. They're thrown to the crowd my numerous musicians, and they even inspire collectors and traders.
Shapes for Flat Guitar Picks
Most picks are some form of triangle. The wider portion allows for a firm grip. The narrow point is for picking and strumming.
Here are some of the forms you're likely to find:
Standard picks are the most common shape. Wide enough for a firm grip, with a gentle point for strumming. When picking, the point tends to slide off the string, giving a mellow tone.
Teardrop and Jazz guitar picks tend to be more rigid than a Standard pick of the same thickness. Players love them for their fast response and bright tone, especially for picking. When strumming, or looking for more mellow tone, slide your fingers back slightly and relax your grip.
Equilateral picks are easy to hold, since there is no right or wrong edge to grip. They can last longer since you can turn to another point if one wears down or breaks. These are also good for players who wish to experiment with filing down the point since you get three tips to experiment with.
Sharkfin guitar picks are used two ways: as a standard pick, or rotated to use the multi-point edge to create multiple contacts per strum. Some like the multi-contact tone produced by the multi-point edge.
Finger and Thumb Picks
Available in various shapes, sizes, materials, and thicknesses these guitar picks are useful for picking individual strings. Some guitarists use artificial fingernails in place of picks.
You might want to experiment with some of these finger and thumb picks, even if you're not interested in classic fingerpicking. Occasionally you may wish to play a song that sounds best with one or more of these picks, and you might end up liking the sound.
If you want to know more about the fingerpicking style of guitar playing, check out one of these sites:
Unusual Guitar Picks
Every guitarist has experience with a pick that has slipped, or fallen from their fingers. So, inventors have created a number of unusual picks to help you hold on tight.
Some leverage the natural grip of your fingers by cutting a portion of the pick away, allowing the skin of your thumb to contact the skin of your index finger. Two such picks are from Planet Waves, with a spiral-like pattern cut into their Surepick, and the Everly Star.
Others use various materials and surface-textures to improve your grip. Clayton offers a pick with cork, and Wedgie offers a number of contoured guitar picks with various patters molded into the surface.
You can also find oddities like the Wirething, combining the grip of acrylic with a steel or copper wire for fast picking and bright tone, or the Ebow electronic bow: used to create synth or stringed instrument effects. The Fred Kelly Bumblebee Jazz Pick uses a loop so you can use it like a thumb pick and a flat-pick. And, the Jellyfish pick features an angled set of metallic strings which you can use as a standard pick, or brush sideways like a very fine comb.
Custom Guitar Picks
Lots of people scramble for the guitar picks tossed into the crowd by their favorite band or artist. Each one has a unique message or graphic intended to tell a little about the artist. Did you know that you can have custom guitar picks with your personal message or graphic imbedded in the material? You get to define the message, pick the color, select the material, and maybe even define the shape your your own custom guitar pick. To learn more about this, read my Hands-On-Review of Clayton Custom Picks.
Picks come in a wide variety of materials. By far the most popular types are plastic. Other materials used include metal, wood, felt, stone, and rubber. Each has unique characteristics of sound, cost, and longevity.
You'll also find picks referred to as 'tortoise shell'. Natural tortoise shell was very popular at one time for it's longevity, tone, and ability to be shaped by the player. However, in 1973 it became illegal to use the shell of the hawksbill turtle, used for guitar picks. Some players still own authentic tortoise shell picks, but today's picks marketed as 'tortoise shell' are some form of synthetic.
Of the plastics, celluloid was once the most popular. It's popularity has declined due to the introduction of other materials and its high flammability. Nylon is inexpensive and durable. Delrin is a lightweight and extremely durable. Tortex and Delrex are synthetics that simulate natural tortoise shell.
Purchase a few of each type, in various thicknesses. You'll probably find two or three that work for most playing situations.
Thicknesses of Guitar Picks
Guitar picks range in thickness from very thin to very thick. Some materials, such as nylon, tend to break if they are too thin. Others, such as Tortex are very stiff unless made in thinner gauges.
Thinner picks are more flexible, but can crack and break more easily. Thinner picks are best for fast strumming.
Thicker picks give brighter sound. Use them when you need bright, distinct notes for solos, runs, and scales.
Thicknesses are measured in millimeters. The Everly company (started and run by Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers) produces picks with a wide variety of thicknesses. Their thicknesses are color coded, so you can immediately pick up the right pick at the right time. Some other manufacturers use this same color scheme.
The table below shows Everly thicknesses, their standard colors, and how these seem to correspond to the generic use of the terms thin, medium, and thick.
|Everly Pick Colors & Generic Codes|
|Blue||1.00mm||Hard (H) or Thick|
The tone you achieve from a a pick depends on the material, thickness, the shape of the point, and how firmly you hold it.
Picks are available in almost every imaginable color, with custom logos and lettering, and in a wide variety of shapes and materials.
Pick Gripping Tips
Do you have trouble keeping a firm grip on your pick? Try these tips:
- First, make sure you're gripping the pick properly. Click here.
- Wash your hands. Natural oils and grime can make your fingers slippery.
- Punch a hole in the middle of the pick using a common hole-punch. You'll end up with a pick similar to the Everly Star.
- Rub the surface of the pick with a fine-grade sandpaper to create a rough surface.
- Use hole-punch reinforcements (paper or clear), available at most office supply stores.