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There are many types of picks. Which one should I choose?

What is a pick?

I am confident that any student learning the guitar should at least know what a pick is, and what they roughly look like, even if they are strictly a fingerstyle player. The history of a pick, or at least something used to pluck the strings aside from the fingers, dates back centuries. However, the modern pick as we know it started out life in the early 20th century. 

Traditionally, guitar picks (also known as ‘plectrums) were made from natural materials such as feather quills and even tortoise shells, but many advancements have been made in man-made materials which leaves us with the picks we have today.

Most picks are made from different types of plastic, though you can also find others made from metal, felt, wood and even bone. We will discuss later the benefits of each. There are countless designs that were born of specific requirements by different kinds of players, although the general concept remains the same - you are using an object in place of your fingers to attack the strings. This sometimes gives you a boost in volume too!

Which pick should I choose?

Firstly, I would like to discuss the pick that I like to use personally. I use a Jim Dunlop Tortex Sharp that has a thickness of 1.5mm - Dunlop uses a color coded system for their pick thicknesses, so this is colloquially known as ‘the white one’. This particular pick can be found here if you’re curious. I decided on these picks after a chance encounter on the ‘sharp’ shape, but it took a couple of years to settle on the right thickness. I like this pick for its accuracy and grip, but that is a personal choice and many of my peers hate it!

There is a standard shape that is produced by many brands and would be most familiar to you, and lots of other styles pretty much fit into this category; they are not ‘oddballs’ necessarily. 

I have been asked the questions of ‘Which pick?’ many times by both students and parents who are both looking for a recommendation. It should be noted that there is no such thing as the best guitar pick; it is simply not possible to say that one is better than the other. You must really decide on what you will be using the equipment for. Are you going to be strumming an acoustic guitar or playing some really heavy riffs? It is commonly understood that thinner, lighter plectrums are better suited to fast and easy strumming, whilst thicker ones allow you to grip harder and bear down on the guitar, facilitating some gnarly sounds. This has some element of truth, however, it starts to unravel a bit when you think about material, shape and if you are worried about how the sound may change when you experiment.

The best piece of advice I can give to someone who is not concerned with the specifics, is to purchase a variety pack that has many different shapes, materials and thicknesses and experiment from there. A good example would be this one on Amazon Japan - though be sure to disregard the ‘electric’ and ‘acoustic’ labeling. Experiment with each and try to have no preconceptions regarding what you should prefer. 

Whilst experimenting, try to consider these points. Does the pick slip around in your fingers easily? To avoid this, you may wish to try something that has a grip pattern as part of the design. A rougher finish to the material also helps achieve the same result. Is the pick flexing too much when you strum or pick a string? Try a thicker one, or maybe even a smaller shape in general - if the length is short, there will be less flexibility without increasing the thickness. The Jazz III pick is extremely popular for this reason - I can’t stand it though!

Some steps to avoid would be choosing a plectrum based on the color. No one will be looking at your pick, so it shouldn’t be of any concern. Also, as much fun as it would be, guitar picks with your favorite bands logos or pictures of cute cats/Pokémon tend to be a bit of a gimmick - they will wear down quicker than expected. The artwork is also printed cheaply and will rub off within a matter of hours. I view them as more of a collectible than a functional item.

I would additionally like to recommend that you refrain from following the hype of signature guitar picks from famous guitar players. Whilst they may work brilliantly for that artist, they may not for you and often I see inexperienced players forcing themselves to use something uncomfortable purely because their favorite guitar player does. The Kirk Hammett pick has a stylised indent on the top side, which digs into my thumb in a way I find uncomfortable - I also find the shape to be little too small for my liking. Alternatively, the Jeff Loomis pick is virtually identical to my chosen pick in terms of shape, material and thickness. However, due to its signature product status, it tends to be a little more expensive and so I still purchase the standard product.

What are the differences between picks?

Here is a breakdown of the more common material types:


Plastic plectrums, or derivatives thereof, have pretty much the same sound in my opinion. When amplified, the differences in sound based on the material alone are negligible - this is exemplified when you apply any amount of distortion in your signal chain. The variety of designs is massive due to the ease of which they can be produced. There are thousands of different shapes, grip variations, sizes and thicknesses that you can choose from. They are usually affordable too!


Picks made from wood or felt tend to have a much warmer and softer sound. I have rarely used them myself because they have a tendency to wear down quickly and are not conducive to my playing style, or that I find myself playing in a professional capacity. 

Good quality wooden picks can also become quite expensive due to factors like the type of wood, the work that goes into carving and treating them, but also there appears to be a lower demand and are made in less quantities.


Metal guitar picks are frequently used as a token gift because you can buy them freely online with some personal engraving. They also have a very distinct sound when interacting with metal strings, something that I can only describe as ‘metallic’, which seems obvious given the material! 

Whilst extremely hard-wearing, these picks are known for breaking lighter gauge strings prematurely due to the fact that they have little to no flexibility in them.

Did you know that, in place of a guitar pick, Queen guitarist Brian May uses an old English coin that is made of an alloy consisting of copper and nickel? He likes the sound of the serrated edge on the coin and the raspiness that his tone develops as a result. You may like to try this, but I couldn’t get on with it when I tried it myself. 


Some companies such as Red Bear produce plectrums made from polymerised milk proteins. The result is a substance that is similar to that of tortoise shell, but without bringing harm to any animal, or the harvesting of a protected species. 

The famous Swiss luthier Patrick Hufschmid has developed his own variation of acrylics and plastic. Some of his products are even designed for those with disabilities or arthritis. However, perhaps his most impressive venture, aside from his guitars, are the picks he makes with the same material that is used in the visor of spacesuits. 

Another company of note is InTune Guitar Picks Inc. They used to make products for critically acclaimed musician Devin Townsend, who described his favorite pick as a “big pizza slice” - as long as it works for him!

Final Thoughts

Certain instrumentalists that use strings, guitarists included, are restricted by genre or preference to very specific products. Lots of acoustic guitar players, sometimes called ‘flatpickers’, like to use thumb picks. This is where a clip is actually part of the plectrum and attaches around your thumb - variations allow this to be used on your fingers too (to allow the player to keep short nails on their picking hand). It may be worth learning some material using a thumb pick, just in case you absolutely have to one day and you want to avoid being out of your depth as much as possible. 

Your choice of plectrum is exactly that - your choice and yours alone. Follow some of the listed in this blog post, and make your own decision. If you’re lucky enough to live near a reputable guitar store, or like me, near Ochanomizu in Tokyo, you can try hundreds of different picks to your heart's content.



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