To answer the question “What is the best guitar pick?”, I have compiled the guitar pick guide as, like so many aspects of guitar playing, the guitar pick (or plectrum) has a bewildering array of varieties and a massive amount of un-necessary mystique in my opinion.
It is the second factor in the chain that creates the sound however, so does contribute considerably to the overall sound coming out of the speaker and is worth some real experimentation for each individual.
Read below and formulate an idea of what sort of pick might suit you, then source a few different types to try. They are not that expensive and it’s well worth buying a good variety and trying them out.
Let’s first consider what the basic differentiators are in a pick:
- Size – the physical dimensions when viewed flat;
- Thickness – pretty much equates to the stiffness of the pick;
- Shape – the outline shape together with points and/or curves;
- Texture – whether the surface is smooth or matt and whether it has some sort of grip moulded in;
- Material – typically, celluloid, nylon and other plastic derivatives, more exotic substances like delrin, ultem and tortex; some even use bone, wood, metal, stone or leather!
So why so much variety? I could be cynical and suggest that manufacturers have a vested interest in claiming new properties for given styles of pick and new exotic materials, but there are some basic things to consider.
If you want to cut to the chase, you can’t go far wrong choosing Jim Dunlop guitar picks or Ernie Ball guitar picks. Some players also like Fender guitar picks especially those that try to capture the vintage feel.
For electric guitar picks go for the thicker picks (0.85mm or above).
For acoustic guitar picks go for 0.85mm or less but more typically, 0.65mm or under.
My personal preference as an electric guitar player is for the John Petrucci Jazz III Dunlop picks – They have a nice grip, glide over the strings and last a long time (plus they sound great – especially in John’s rather capable hands!)
Let’s look in a little more detail at the various properties above but do bare in mind that many of the properties below combine in different ways and also depend on the way in which you use the pick and it’s contact with the string(s).
- The physical dimensions – largely falls into 3 categories, but this is a huge generalisation :
- Small – approximately 7/8”(22.2mm) +-1/16”(1.5mm) inch long, these got popular in the 90’s when the “stubby” was first introduced;
- Medium approximately 1-1/8”(28.5mm) +- 1/16”(1.5mm) – this is a very typical size of pick, and the majority of picks are of this size;
- Large approximately 1-1/4”(31.7mm) and larger- covers a huge range as there are some truly massive picks out there.
- These appear to be small differences in size, but when you are holding a pick, these small differences in size actually become more apparent.
- This is probably the most important aspect of a pick;
- Thicknesses fall into 4 main categories (thickness is nearly always quoted in mm (millimetres)):
- Thin – under 0.6mm (including X-thin 0.45mm and under);
- Medium – 0.60mm to 0.85mm;
- Thick 0.85mm to 1.2mm;
- X-thick – 1.2mm and up (can go to 3mm!).
- Strumming equals X-thin and thin (mainly acoustic, gives the characteristic acoustic sound);
- Strumming with single note lines equals medium to give flex for strumming as well as enough rigidity for single note clarity;
- Thick and X-thick equals what most electric players will use to increase accuracy and articulation;
- The thicker picks produce a more “solid” sound whereas the thinner picks give, err, a thinner sound.
- Picks vary in overall shape from the typical “rounded triangle” shape to perfectly triangular (so it doesn’t matter which way you hold it). There are also variations on the “roundedness” of the tip, some being really quite pointed, others more “curvy”:
- There are some picks with actual notches or cerations for string scratching etc.
- This is mainly about whether the pick has been “roughed up” giving it a matt texture;
- About whether the pick has moulded grip under your fingers to avoid it slipping (particularly useful when the temperature/intensity goes up!).
- Might affect the tone – the harder the substance, the more sharpness and attack you are likely to get (try using a coin and then a thin piece of wood to hear the extremes of this);
- Might affect flexibility and springiness of the pick for a given thickness;
- Might affect durability – although this is not so much of a factor these days;
- Might dictate that the pick feels smooth/shiny or more porous – this may subtly affect the tone but also the feeling when holding the pick.
Narrow down thickness first, based on your playing style and the sound you want, then try different materials and shapes to find what’s comfortable for you and don’t be afraid to experiment – this is one of the cheapest items you need as a hobby guitarist so you can probably afford to try a few different types.
I highly recommend Dunlop guitar picks and Ernie Ball guitar picks.
I hope you found some useful information here – please do remember that articles are aimed at the full spectrum of hobby guitarists, so you may find that you already know some things but not others.
Check back regularly for new content and use the posting categories drop down for other relevant posts.
Please do comment below on my answer to “what is the best guitar pick”, I really value your opinion.
All the best and keep on rockin’