So, you may be wondering “are guitar picks flammable”. After all, we all know that music can set the soul on fire, but can it set your guitar pick ablaze too?
Let's start by talking about what guitar picks are made of. You'll find picks made of various materials, from plastic to metal to wood. Each of these materials has its unique properties, and some may be more flammable than others.
But the burning question is, are guitar picks flammable? The short answer is, YES, guitar picks made out of CELLULOID are highly flammable. We’ll explain a bit later.
The long answer is that it really depends on the materials the picks are made out of. If you’re an avid camper & happen to like taking your favorite 6-string along with you on trips, a good ol’ celluloid pick might come in handy for both jamming out & lighting up a toasty fire.
In this article we’ll go over what makes celluloid picks flammable, how to start a fire using a guitar pick, and go over some other materials that guitar picks are made out of. Stay tuned!
Let’s start by talking about the material celluloid, a brief history, its uses, and why it’s so flammable.
Celluloid is a type of plastic that was invented in the mid-19th century by a British chemist named Alexander Parkes & originally called "Parkesine," which was made by dissolving cellulose nitrate in a solvent. However, it wasn't until an American inventor named John Wesley Hyatt developed a new process for making celluloid in the 1870s that it became popular. By adding camphor to cellulose nitrate, Hyatt produced a more durable, flexible, and moldable material that he called "Celluloid."
Celluloid was quickly embraced by manufacturers because of its versatility and low cost. It was used to make a variety of consumer goods such as photographic film, combs, buttons, and billiard balls. It also found its way into the world of music as a material for guitar picks.
Celluloid guitar picks first appeared in the early 1900s and quickly became popular with musicians. They were favored for their flexibility, durability, and ability to produce a bright, clear tone. Celluloid picks were produced in a wide range of colors and designs, and guitar players could choose from various guitar pick thicknesses to achieve their desired tone.
However, celluloid picks had their drawbacks. They were highly flammable and could catch fire easily, presenting a significant safety hazard. Additionally, they were prone to breaking and could wear down over time, leading to a loss of tone quality.
As technology progressed, new guitar pick materials such as Nylon and Delrin were developed, offering guitar players safer and more durable options. While celluloid picks are still available today, they are not as commonly used as they once were.
In summary, celluloid is a historic plastic that revolutionized the manufacturing industry. Its versatility made it a popular material for consumer goods and music accessories, including guitar picks. While it had its advantages, the flammability and durability issues of celluloid have led to the development of safer and more durable materials for guitar picks.
I hope that goes to show you just how flammable celluloid guitar picks can be! Maybe it can be of use in a survival situation or just something to be mindful of when storing celluloid materials.
Here’s a quick rundown of some common guitar pick materials & just how flammable they can be.
This thermoplastic is generally not flammable but like most everything else, will burn with enough exposure to heat. Delrin picks will just generally just melt if you take a flame to them.
Aside from that, this pick material is perhaps the most common type of material you will encounter next to celluloid. It’s commonly used in Tortex picks & also in our own Iron Age picks.
This is another common thermoplastic.
A thermoplastic is a type of plastic that can be melted and reshaped multiple times when heated, and solidifies when cooled, unlike a thermoset plastic which sets permanently after the first time it is melted and cooled.
Acrylic is moderately flammable & burns easily. We’ve even burned some just trying to polish it too aggressively (although it didn’t catch fire).
The thing with acrylic however, is that it releases toxic fumes when set on fire, so it’s something to avoid & be aware of.
Finally, most acrylic guitar picks tend to be handcrafted since they’re not as cost efficient to injection mold. Typically they have to be cut from a solid sheet & then beveled to make them playable.
We already talked about this one! Good for playing guitar, starting campfires, and prying phones open for repair. These are the picks with a faux tortoise shell look to them and come in a wide variety of colors.
Probably not very flammable unless we’re talking about throwing one of these into a crucible.
These picks are also much less common since they’re difficult to produce at scale and mostly available as handcrafted items.
Related: Best picks for playing metal
Nylon is a synthetic thermoplastic material that is considered to be flammable. It has a low ignition point and can burn quickly when exposed to flames or heat sources. This could be a runner up for 2nd place for more effective tinder as far as guitar picks go.
Nylon sounds like a good material for picks, especially with its high resistance to abrasion. However we’ve only encountered a handful of different models made from this material. It tends to be very flexible which makes it a great option for acoustic guitar picks.
Ultem is a high-performance thermoplastic material that has good resistance to heat and flame and can withstand exposure to high temperatures.
Although it’s not completely non-flammable, it has good flame-retardant properties and is generally considered to be self-extinguishing when exposed to a flame source.
One thing we personally noticed was that ultem produces thick black smoke when heated such as with a CO2 laser but is difficult to ignite. Probably not good for your next camping trip.
You can find both mass produced & handcrafted picks from this material & it’s an excellent choice all around. Highly recommended. Want to see our ultem offerings, check out our gladiator Ultem picks here.
UHMWPE is generally considered to be resistant to flame and heat, but can melt & eventually burn if exposed to an ignition source.
While this material has an extreme abrasion resistance & low friction, it doesn’t handle heat well. Still it makes for an awesome pick that’s lightning-quick across the strings but you won’t find these from any mass-produced pick maker.
This one goes without saying & is absolutely flammable but we don’t recommend you burn your wood picks! There’s a ton of these handcrafted picks out there & available in all sorts of different types of wood from oak & pine, to more exotic types like ebony & padauk. Personally we like to use macassar ebony for our wood picks as it's some of the strongest wood available, but feel free to explore with different materials, shapes, & sizes.
Related: Ultimate guitar pick guide
Guitar picks should be thrown away when they start to affect your playing ability in a noticeable way. Some picks, especially thicker ones, might start to morph along the way as you play them more & begin to adjust to your own natural picking angle. This can be useful and feel like the pick is more customized towards you, but if any pick is starting to feel like it’s holding you back, it might be time to swap it out.
Related: Thin vs Thick Guitar Picks
For more picks like celluloid & acetal/delrin, it’s easy to just grab a new one & toss the other into the crowd. For higher end picks that are made by hand, you could actually try to extend the life of them by re-shaping them & re-finishing them. This could be a weekend project if you like & explore what it takes to make your own personalized pick.
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Iron Age Guitar Accessories
226 Douglas Way St
San Antonio, TX 78210
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution. It represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”
~William A. Foster (MOH Recipient, 1945)