To achieve the blistering riffs, lightning-fast solos, and bone-crushing tones that define the genre, you need the best guitar picks for metal.
Don't underestimate the crucial role that a guitar pick plays in your heavy metal journey. It's not just a small accessory; it's the weapon that will help you conquer the fretboard when precision & aggression is called for.
And while most guitar picks will do the job, there are some that are better suited to hold the title of "metal guitar picks".
Materials, pick shapes, & thickness are key considerations which we'll cover in this article. Furthermore, we'll help you find the perfect metal plectrums that delivers the most control, precision, and an aggressive tone. Frequently asked questions on the topic are also posted at the bottom.
Playing basic guitar is hard enough for most people, but for those who seek to push the boundaries of performance, metal music doesn't always receive the recognition it deserves.
Metal guitarists are required to be proficient in speed, agility, time-keeping, and know a wide range of techniques ranging from pinch harmonics, to string skipping, sweep picking & beyond.
Most importantly, however is being able to inject their own aggressive style into their playing.
It's a lot to take in and be able to juggle through all of these things at once. This is why a certain type of pick is ideal for metal music. We need something can offers that control, that precision, and can take the beating from aggressive playing.
Below we cover these fundamentals that you need to consider for choosing the best guitar pick for metal. Materials, pick shapes, pick thickness, and grip (plus how you can add your own grip!). Finally we'll give you a couple of recommendations for some of the best metal guitar picks we've found.
As mentioned before, any pick will do for playing metal music, but that doesn't mean they're all optimal. You can choose to use a heavy pick made of traditional celluloid but you would also find that it won't hold its shape for very long.
Metal players are typically heavy-handed & so you need a pick that will take the punishment. Here's a couple of materials you should consider when choosing picks for metal.
These have varying characteristics you might be familiar with but they all have one thing in common, they're the most durable.
Perhaps the most widely available is acetal, also known by its brand name "Delrin" by Dupont, which is found in the Dunlop Tortex picks. The material itself was created to replace metal parts such as mechanical gears.
This material is abundant & you can find a plethora of guitar picks made from it (including ours: Iron Age Delrin Picks). It's not the most durable but we would say it's much better than the average tortoise-shell style celluloid pick, plus its low friction properties are a bonus for playing fast.
Finally, it's versatile & there are lots of shapes, grips, and characteristics that are available. We'll go over these down below.
Nylon is another cost-effective option to look into. It's also used in one of the most iconic guitar picks for hard rock, metal music, and lead guitar in general - The Dunlop Jazz III (Related: History of the Jazz III)
Nylon has comparable friction & durability to Delrin but perhaps a bit more flexible. There's also not as many options available to choose from, although we do recommend this material in guitar picks for acoustic guitar. We do have a couple of recommendations below that could be considered good metal guitar picks however.
Moving up on the durability scale, we have Polyetherimide (PEI) aka "Ultem". The first thing to notice about this material compared to the previous two, is that it's much more rigid, feels almost brittle, and produces a brighter sound.
In terms metal guitar picks, this is a good thing as it can offer you more control & allow you to better articulate notes. The pick attack is also more noticeable but really helps to accentuate chords & individual notes.
Overall, this is an incredibly durable material with a bright tone and one of the best pick materials to play metal. There's quite a few options to choose from as well, and they are still relatively affordable.
This next category mainly pertains to materials such as UHMWPE, which stand for Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene.
These materials are extremely slippery & resistant to abrasion. This allows them to glide across the guitar strings effortlessly, provides a smooth playing experience, and may even make you play faster... Well, if you already know how to play fast.
The downside to this material is that it's not available in a mass-produced format, you you typically have to find it from handcrafted & boutique vendors.
Also because they are so quick off the guitar strings, they don't have much of a pick attack, so that's something to consider if you have a preference. These are swift, silent, and deadly.
Overall, picks from this material are not cheap as it can be difficult to work with, but the durability is unmatched. It provides you more mileage, allows you to play for longer periods & they make a great picks for metal.
One thing many metal guitarists seemly strive for, is precision. A stiffer pick can help with this, but also more obvious, is the pick shape. When it comes to metal plectrums, you're going to want a pointed tip.
A pointed tip will help with accuracy & make each note ring out to its fullest when blazing down the fretboard. When it comes to chords, a pointy pick also helps to accentuate the beat in an almot percussive manner.
One drawback that some metal players might not be aware of though, is that this type of pick has more room for error. You need to be well versed in playing cleanly if you want to maximize their impact on your playing.
By a standard shape, we are basing the dimensions to a Fender 351 style of pick, so somewhere around 30x25mm. The key though, is to look for something a bit more pointed like the "Ultex Sharps" if you want a good metal pick. These picks are generally comfortable to hold for any hand size and good all-around.
Next up are the Jazz-style picks; With one of the most common metal picks for metal being the Dunlop Jazz III. This smaller shape is typically around 25x25mm, which is great for smaller hands, but there are also XL versions available. Try them both out to see what you like best for the type of metal you play.
Guitar pick thickness is another important consideration that we've covered before: Thin vs Thick Guitar Picks
To summarize, many guitarists find thicker picks to be more comfortable to hold than thinner plectrums. Furthermore, they're also easier to hold onto when shredding it up or chugging along.
The thicker picks will also tend to be more rigid, which as mentioned previously, will help with accuracy, & control, resulting in more nuanced playing.
As far as metal picks are concerned, we recommend something around 1.5mm and above. Personally, we like to use something around 2.5mm or even 3mm.
There are no hard rules however, so if you like a bit of flex in your picks, then try something slimmer. If you prefer more control, comfort, and an overall beefier tone, check out some thick picks.
Another aspect of picking control is tied to guitar pick grip. This is to help prevent the pick from shifting around in your hand & having it accidentally slip out of your hand completely.
If sweaty hands are an issue, definitely consider a pick with enhanced grip. These enhancements can come in the form of divots, matte textures, raised or indented designs, and grip holes.
Below is a list of things you can even do at home to increase the grip on most picks.
Sandpaper - If you have some sandpaper laying around, you can simply lay it flat on a table & sand the face of your picks for a brushed texture. We recommend something like 120-150 grit sandpaper for this.
Additionally, you can find some sandpaper with sticky backing. If you can get ahold of this stuff, simply cut out a shape & stick it to your guitar pick. It will probably stick better if you sand the pick face too.
Cork - Similar to the method above, you can get pre-cut pieces of cork, or obtain a sheet with a sticky side that can be custom cut. Simply sand the face of your pick & stick on the cork & you have yourself an extra layer of grippiness.
Holes - This might require some power tools, but you can also drill holes into your picks using a 1/16 or approximately 1.5mm drill bit. You'll want at least 2 of them to help prevent the pick from turning in your hand.
Scratches - Finally, you can very carefully take a blade & cut some hashmarks or a design onto a pick. Just be very careful handling knives or any sharp objects.
Dedicated Products - Finally, there are dedicated products out there such as rubber grips (Monster Grips) that you can stick on to any pick. Sure you have to pay for them, but they're good to go out of the box!
So we hope you learned a few things about finding the best metal picks for your needs.
Below are a few different types of picks we can recommend for most players. Ours are high-end & handcrafted picks but we also share some of the most widely used picks that are readily available at more shops. Click on any for more info.
Handcrafted from 3mm Ultem, featuring grip holes & matte grip texture.
Bearing-grade engineering plastic, these are super slick & durable with an emblem for additional grip.
These UHMWPE picks are super thick & comfy to hold. They offer peak durability & are faster than they look!
Try the Ultex Sharps for a good all-arounder. They also have Jazz shapes available if you prefer that size.
These are basically dedicated metal picks & have become very popular over the years. Can't go wrong with them.
If you want a souped up JazzIII pick, check these out. They have them in Delrin & Nylon material as well as small & large sizes.
Thin picks are typically better for strumming & thicker picks for playing lead guitar. Check out our article on Thick vs Thin Picks here that goes into the full details.
Aside from special techniques such as tapping & pinch harmonics, it's typically held the same as when playing any other genre. Check out our article on the basics of holding a guitar pick for more info
We've made picks up to about 10mm & that's a bit edgy, although still playable. You can probably get away with thicker than that but you will lose some agility & practicality. If you really like thick picks, 2-4mm is a good average to go with.
No, bad picking technique breaks strings. If you have a really thick guitar pick that's tapered w/ beveled edge, you should be totally fine using it. It all comes down to the playing tip & some picks might require you to be more aware of how you're using them to pluck the strings properly.
Become a newsletter subscriber to get the latest info on new blog articles, receive exclusive promo codes, and be notified of upcoming giveaways!
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)
Sign up to the Iron Age newsletter to receive exclusive offers, the latest product updates, and info on upcoming giveaways. Don't Miss Out!
© 2023 Iron Age Guitar Accessories.