As a beginner, finding the right guitar accessories seems daunting, but you might not think the same when looking through different types of guitar picks. You might think a simple pick won’t make much of a difference, but after months of practice, you’ll notice a decent guitar pick can drastically affect your sound.
Knowing your picks from the get-go can help you shape your skills and spare you hours of hardship when starting. We’re here to guide you through the different types of guitar picks and how you can find the right ones for your preferred style.
Once you fully understand the need for this accessory and recognize the influence each category of picks can have on your skills, you will immediately thank yourself for including this tool in your arsenal.
What Is a Guitar Pick?
A guitar pick (a plectrum) is a triangular tool used to ‘pick’ at the guitar strings. Although pick-like tools have been used on stringed instruments for ages, the designs have changed over the years to suit electric and acoustic guitars.
Strumming the guitar with your bare fingers (fingerpicking) can work if you know what you’re doing. However, not everyone wants to use their fingers. A guitar pick has the added advantage of protecting your fingers.
Guitar manufacturers sell various picks, ranging in shapes, sizes, and materials. Depending on your playing style, there are plenty of inexpensive picks you can try out to test the water.
To start, let’s define the difference between hard and soft picks.
The First Question Beginners Should Ask: What’s the Difference Between Hard and Soft Picks?
When looking at different types of guitar pick, you start simple: hard vs. soft. So, how do they differ?
Hard picks feel firmer in the hand. They are made of a harder, thicker material, cost more, and last longer. The sturdiness of this material means they produce a harder sound, more akin to metal playing styles through electric guitars.
Softer guitar picks can be made of rubber and plastic. Plastic guitar picks are the cheaper variety here, and rubber picks can last just as long as the sturdier material, given they are flexible. If it bends, it’s less likely to break.
Soft picks also make softer tones, which is better when playing softer genres. This is opposite to the heavy picks made of tougher materials.
Start with inexpensive guitar picks in either case. As a beginner, there’s no reason to try something fancy.
Eight of the Most Useful Guitar Pick Shapes
People can overlook the potential of a good guitar pick, so some might not know there are different shapes and sizes. The main difference between these picks lies in their precision.
Bigger picks tend to be more comfortable for beginners. The large sufface area makes them easier to grip and strum with. Smaller picks can help a seasoned player improve their precision while playing.
To help you better understand your picks, we’ll go through eight different types of guitar picks categorized by their shapes and sizes.
1. Standard 351 (the Most Common)
The standard 351 guitar pick is the most recognizable shape. It’s like a triangle with rounded corners, making it easy to grip without being too pokey.
There’s some variation in this shape, some including a sharper tip and larger base. But if you’ve ever thought about the generic guitar pick shape, this is it.
2. Jazz III Shape
Jazz III shapes are of moderate size with a pointy tip. The sharp tip makes it ideal for people playing lead guitar. The shape makes it ideal for playing quickly, making them flexible between genres.
The name comes from how the pick was initially built for Jazz musicians.
3. Sharp Point Picks
Sharp point picks are ideal if you want something that grants you more precision. They are the modified form of the standard 351, and sometimes come as sharpened versions of other picks.
4. Triangle Shape
Triangle-shaped picks are wider along all sides, creating a broad pick great for slower playing styles. Bluegrass and bass players can benefit from this style.
Faster playing styles, like thrash metal, will find this pick unwieldy.
5. Teardrop Shape
Teardrops can be a bit less comfortable for beginner guitarists because the grip area is small. The smaller tip makes it ideal for those who prefer precision, similar to the Jazz III model.
There are thicker teardrop variants that are more comfortable to grip. However, these wider variants lack the precision that comes with thin, pointy picks.
6. Finger and Thumb Picks
Finger picks are rings that connect to your thumb and fingers to protect your fingers while fingerpicking. If you want to get into fingerpicking without adding calousses, this is a great way to start.
Those who love fingerpicking might find this like wearing gloves, as it’s less precise than using fingers. But, if you start with these picks, you might see it as a good way to try out fingerpicking.
7. Shark Fin Shape
A shark fin pick is a unique, bold pick that’s great for strumming. The serrated edge look makes it great for musicians who want picks to create unique sound effects.
Shark fins also have a great shape for strumming, making it ideal for all types of guitarists.
8. Dragon Heart Shape
Compared to the shapes we’ve gone through so far, this is the most unique shape available. This shape is perfect for electric guitars that need loud and bold sounds for heavier music styles. Because of its unique design, you’ll have one edge that is perfect for speed and the other for rhythm.
Five Levels of Guitar Pick Thickness
|Extra Thin||Below .4 mm||Great for a thin tone and acoustic play|
|Thin||.4 to .6||Excellent for beginners who want to strum|
|Medium||.61 to .84||For guitarists who want flexibility|
|Heavy||.85 to 1.25||Great for lead electric guitarists|
|Extra Heavy||1.25 or more||Great for the most experienced guitarists|
Thicker picks tend to make less pick noise, which is the sound the pick makes when “twanging” from the strings. Much like the string, when you flick a smaller pick, it also makes noise.
Thinner picks are generally easier to use, with the thinnest picks being ideal for acoustic guitars. Below, you’ll learn a bit more about these picks below.
1. Extra Thin (Below 0.40mm)
This option is best for light strumming. Thin picks help you glide over the strings easily and keep the sound clean without pushing too hard on the strings.
2. Thin (Between 0.40mm – 0.63mm)
Thin picks are best for acoustic guitars and lifting the strings just slightly enough to produce tones perfect for lead work. If you’re looking for rough use, this might not be the right option as it can put stress on the thin surface.
3. Medium (Between 0.64mm – 0.85mm)
If you’re looking to produce a tone that stands out from thin picks, this option is the way to go. This level of thickness helps produce a clean and bright sound with ease, so it’s perfect for beginners. It’s also great if you are still deciding between electric and acoustic guitar.
4. Heavy (Between 0.85mm – 1.22mm)
To create rich and mid-range sounds while adding heavier volume projections, this type of pick is the best choice. Because of its added stiffness, the flexibility of the fingers is crucial since it requires a solid grip.
5. Extra Heavy (1.22mm plus)
Extra heavy picks are ideal for heavy playing electric guitarists. Don’t buy one of these unless you’ve got experience.
Eight Guitar Pick Materials
There are many materials guitar picks use, and each of them make different tones and feelings. But materials have changed overtime with these picks.
Nowadays, plastic is the most common material in use. Back in the day, tortoise shells were used to carve out picks. This practice has been banned since 1973, as the Hawksbill turtles of the Atlantic became endangered.
Celluloid picks are the sturdier alternative to nylon. Initially, they were designed to replace tortoiseshell picks, replacing them completely during the ban. Celluloid isn’t the sturdiest material and can wear down overtime.
Nylon picks are flexible and made of smooth material. They tend to wear down faster than celluloid guitars, but aren’t considered overly lightweight.
Nylon is known for a bright sound, but it depends on the pick. Because they are cheap, it’s good to try out a few options.
3. Acetal AKA Delrin
Deltrin picks, also known as acetal, is a plastic material similar to celluloid. They are made by the DuPont coporation.
Delrin is technically the same material as Tortex, but a bit smoother.
Tortex picks have a textured, powdered coating that make them more grippy. Tortex picks are also made by Dupont, the same as the material for Delrin but both of these heavy-duty plastics result in little to no fatigue on your fingers.
Ultex is the heavy-duty cousin of Tortex, so both are made of similar material. Ultex’s tougher material makes for a rougher sound, which is ideal for heavier music genres.
Stone guitar picks are excellent if you want a unique, stiff pick. They come in a range of different types of stones, such as jade, jasper, and agate are widely used in carving out these picks.
Stone picks are uncommon and much more expensive because of this. They are easy to grip, but have no flexibility and aren’t ideal for acoustic.
Made from the same material as the instrument, wooden guitar picks are sturd. These picks won’t bend like most other materials, but chips can be found and easily sanded down for a better grip.
When used for picking, this incredibly sturdy material can produce unique sounds. As this is made from the same material as some strings, they can wear down your strings. The tone can change based on its plated nature. This option is mainly best for professional players with seasoned skills.
Three Different Guitar Pick Textures and How They Affect Grip
Picks can come in a range of textures, from smooth to small ridges, to suit your finger strength and grip control on the strings. Ultimately, the texture of your guitar picks changes how easy they are to hold.
For beginners or seasoned players, dropping picks while strumming is a common issue. Smooth and polished picks are great for most players until the sweat kicks in, while powered textures are much better for a much tougher grip.
1. Smooth Texture Picks
The most common types of guitar picks are polished and smooth and considering how much your hands sweat while playing, it can easily slide through your fingers.
This type is very easy to use, but if you’re struggling to grip these picks, it’s better to go for sanded textures.
2. Sanded Texture Picks
Picks with sanded textures are much easier to grip, as the powdered surface provides added support for slippery or sweaty hands. You can opt for Tortex picks, which are most popular for their quality grip and powdery texture.
Sanded textures are best for beginners, as it can take some time to learn to navigate a standard guitar pick properly.
3. Raised Ridges Pick
Also considered medium-textures, guitars with raised ridges can help players easily slide their fingers on the surface. Because of their sturdy quality, you can use a raised ridges pick to perform without worrying about the grip.
These types of guitar picks usually utilize a raised logo to provide more grip, so this option is usually more aesthetic and ergonomic than fully smooth or sanded textures.
A Beginner’s Guide to Finding the Right Pick
Once you recognize your preferred techniques and play style, you can start choosing a pick that’s the right fit for you.
For most beginners, the standard shape with medium thickness is the way to go. But with those who have more experience, you might pick something else.
We’ll go through some important aspects to consider before you find the right one to start your learning journey.
Thick vs. Thin Picks
Thinner picks are the best when you need to control your plucking style. Thinner picks help you pay attention to each stroke to keep a consistent tone and volume projection. Over time, the average preferred thickness for picks has substantially increased, usually due to the type of music now more commonly produced.
Thicker guitar picks are best for when you’re looking for a much fuller sound, but this requires significant finger strength for a solid grip. If you’re a beginner who wants to start learning with heavy music from the get-go, thick picks are the way to go.
Dexterity and Thickness
Depending on your style of play and your current level of skill, you can adjust the thickness of your guitar pick. During complex finger tapping, thin picks might not provide you with the grip you require.
Faster playing runs become smoother to handle with thin picks as your finger slides across the surface of the plectrum with ease. So, for beginners who are still improving the skill of their fingers, thinner picks ranging between 0.40mm – 0.85mm can result in the best outcomes while simplifying the learning process.
The kind of sound you want to produce significantly depends on the thickness of your pick. Depending on the type of guitar picks, they are generally inexpensive, so buying a couple of different types and trying them out to see which tones you prefer is the perfect way to go.
Try out your picks with some simple open chords and pay attention to the differences of tone between this option and your usual pick.
A guitar pick is essential in keeping consistent control over the sound you want to produce. Although some styles may be easier to play using only your fingers, fast runs and lead work usually featured in rock or heavy metal music can’t be accomplished without precision and control over your strings.
So, knowing what kinds of sounds you want to produce from the get-go might be challenging to establish. Still, with the right thickness, material, and textured guitar pick, you can streamline your learning process and find a sound that resonates with your play style.
- What type of pick lasts the longest?
Long-lasting guitar picks include the toughest materials, like Celluloid and Ultex. Rubber picks for acoustic guitars can last just as long though. It depends mostly on how much abuse you put your picks through.
- What are the best picks for metal/speed picking?
For fast runs and speed picking, most musicians prefer thick Jazz III or teardrop-shaped picks, as the volume and tone increase significantly which is perfect for heavy metal music. For aggressive playing, the thickness of your pick is the selling point but its lack of grip and flexibility compromises this.