There are hundreds if not thousands of guitar picks out there, but how do you choose the right one for you? Is there a “best” guitar pick?
This is one of the most asked questions among beginner guitar enthusiasts, but is also something that occasionally comes to mind in the more experienced guitarists.
Some are seeking more efficient playing.
Others are looking to remedy issues in technique.
And then there’s those seeking the holy grail of tone.
Whatever it is you’re seeking about guitar picks…
We’re going to dive deep into some facts about what makes a guitar pick good and some things to consider to best zero in on the perfect pick for you.
With the right tool in hand, you might realize how some techniques become just a little easier to execute…
because sometimes the sharpest tool in the shed is not always the best one for the job.
With that being said,
How do you choose the right guitar pick for you?
Well partly by trying out many styles & experimenting, but also by knowing what to look for and how these characteristics affect your playing.
If you’re ready to learn all about guitar picks, which are some of the most overlooked pieces of gear but arguably some of the most important, then keep scrolling down just a bit more.
Before we deep dive into the world of guitar picks or “plectrums” as they’re called in some parts of the world, we’re going to map out the lay of the land.
These are some of the topics we will be covering overall and while this article is detailed, it’s not 100% definitive.
So if you have any other questions that aren’t covered here, please leave a comment below and let us know what you think or what you feel we should bring to light.
Also feel free to bookmark this page for future reference or share it with a friend.
Here’s what’s inside:
If you’re ready to geek out about one of our favorite hobbies (lifestyle for some) then let’s get down to it.
What are the different types of guitar picks? What are guitar picks made of?
Or even what material is the best for guitar picks?? Find out below!
Below are a handful of different guitar pick materials that we've encountered or worked with so far.
Each material listed will include a brief overview including playing characteristics, pros & cons, material properties, and things to look out for.
If there are some you would like to add or learn more about, feel free to send us a message & we'll dig a little deeper.
One of the most popular materials to make guitar picks out of is acrylic.
It comes in many forms such as solid colors which are available in abundance, to more high end versions that include pearlescent, metallic, or even glittered effects.
Acrylic is relatively durable in terms of wear and it’s versatile in the way that it can be made into all sorts of shapes & comes in many thicknesses.
Acrylic can also be easily polished or sanded to really change the playing characteristics of a pick.
What I mean by this is acrylic guitar picks can be made with polished bevels for more fluid playing experience,
or be made with more textured bevels to add some extra bite to how they come off the strings.
As far as grip goes, it’s a similar case with polished faces (the part where you hold the pick) showing off more of the material with a clean aesthetic,
or having them sanded with a coarse texture to enhance the grip.
This can be all done without adding any other complexities such as grip sleeves or grip pads, etc.
In short, acrylic is a great all around material.
It can be made to have plenty of added grip, can be made into just about any playable shape you can think of, and is relatively durable.
But how does it sound? Some might describe the sound as a bit chirpy which is partly to do with the hardness of the material hitting the string initially,
but otherwise they can have a clean and articulate character.
Sometimes it just takes a bit of adjusting the picking technique to minimize the initial pinging attack.
Compared to, say, a standard celluloid pick, which we’ll get more into later, acrylic will deliver an added boost around the midrange making a more fuller sound.
This is a much more exotic material and, like an Italian supercar, is luxurious but comes with disadvantages.
These downsides relate to its durability, which includes creating carbon dust as the picks are being used.
Despite this, many still like them because they can be made in thinner gauges but still feel as rigid as a much thicker pick.
What is carbon fiber anyways?
Carbon fiber is primarily made from, you guessed it, carbon, or as some folks call it, Graphite Fiber.
It’s typically woven into a checkered pattern and held together with resin which gives it its rigidity & holographic nature.
Other types include “Marbled Carbon” or “Forged Carbon” which retains some of the holographic characteristics
but is formless in its pattern & made into plates using a mold & extreme pressures.
Finally, we have other more exquisite variations like the one we used in our MMXXII Imperator Picks.
This one was embedded with real brass pigments creating golden patches of brilliant contrast throughout the pick.
Although carbon has its drawbacks, they can be overlooked by those who consider its aesthetic and find its use in high end supercars to be inspiring.
Since carbon fiber doesn’t polish too well after it’s sanded down, usually the bevels will be of a matte texture.
As a result, it can have a bright attack and feel good to play as it drags slightly across the strings, yet still incredibly smooth if the bevels are crafted just right.
Guitar picks made out of this material are perhaps the most abundant of all.
They can be purchased by the dozen, by the tin, or even in bulk assortments. We’ve all seen them and this was perhaps the first type of pick we’ve all ever used!
Celluloid picks have been around for ages with the Fender "351" pick being the most iconic of all.
These picks are available in seemingly endless variations from color to shapes & thicknesses.
The grip might not be the greatest but they can be easily modified to enhance this aspect. Some versions are already available with cork, sandpaper, or other grip enhancements.
As far as the sound of these, they’re pretty standard. It’s a softer material so there’s not a whole lot of punch behind them but produces a nice warm tone that many are accustomed to.
If there was one drawback to these picks, it’s that they’re definitely on the lower end in terms of durability.
Someone who plays heavy and often might go through a handful in no time at all. As the pick wears, so do playing dynamics as the pick becomes more rounded out then shorter and shorter.
However, this downside is balanced out with the fact that this type of pick is rather inexpensive so you can just keep on replacing them as needed.
Overall, it’s one of the most iconic and traditional picks ever. They make great fire starters too! They are very flammable.
See for yourself:
This is another widely available material that’s touted for its durability and ability to be injection molded into almost any shape.
If you’ve ever played a Tortex pick, then you’ve played with Acetal.
This material is so versatile that it has been known to be used in mechanical gears, bearings, skid plates, in the automotive industry, in medical supplies, and on and on.
Delrin picks are a great balance between cost & durability, and generally a workhorse for many professional guitarists.
There’s dozens of thicknesses, shapes, and vendors out there that produce these picks. The majority of Delrin picks are also matte in texture so this is another thing to consider.
The Matte texture does enhance the grip unlike Celluloid picks which are usually glossy and also adds a very slight drag on the strings.
If you like the thickness & playing dynamics of Celluloid picks, then delrin is worth considering since they play similarly but with added durability & grip.
Our Iron Age logo picks are made out of delrin.
Wooden guitar picks start to turn away from the norm and have their own unique attributes that you won’t find in plastic materials.
First of all, they can’t be injection molded or produced en masse. These picks have to be hand-finished to some extent so that makes them a bit harder to come by and that much more special.
In terms of playing characteristics, they’re typically thicker and the porous nature makes them easier to grasp.
Getting a good grip is easy, especially if they’re designed with thumb carves or textured faces.
Wood picks do have a drawback which is that they’re less durable than most plastics.
Despite the downside, there’s no denying that wooden picks just have an awesome natural aesthetic about them.
When a pick is made from a nice buckeye burl or piece of flamed maple, one can’t help but admire the beauty that’s almost too good to play.
Something to consider about durability is that different timbers have different hardness levels and a more dense timber will be better suited as a guitar pick.
Softer vibrant timbers like Padauk might look pleasing to the eye but their functionality might be limited in the long run.
While a harder material like Iron Wood or Macassar Ebony will be able to hold up longer to the steel abrasion of the guitar strings.
If you want to learn more about different timbers and their characteristics,
definitely check out the wealth of information available at the Wood Database.
What about sound? This also varies on the type of timber used & is like choosing from a palette of colors & tones.
There’s lots of exploration & experimentation to do when it comes to wood picks but generally they produce a warmer tone, have plenty of grip, and are not too hard to find.
And with a couple of tools and sandpaper, maybe you can even make one yourself!
This is one of our bread & butter materials here at Iron Age & we use our own version of this ivoroid material to make our plectrums.
The type we use is meant to mimic the density of real ivory or bone material and make for a heavier pick.
This extra density adds some mid-range punch and helps to produce a fuller sound, especially on acoustic guitars.
We also like to finish this material with a satin or matte texture on the bevels. This texture adds a slight drag when picking and helps to accentuate each individual note being played.
In terms of durability, it’s solid and we would rate it at about a 7 to an 8 depending on how hard one plays and for how long.
As far as grip goes, we like to enhance this characteristic by creating a coarse brushed texture on the pick faces, making it one of the more grippy materials we carry.
Imitation ivory can also be found in other parts of the guitar industry and has replaced traditional bone items to some extent, namely guitar nuts, saddles, and bridges.
It’s more consistent than real bone material, still very dense, and much less morbid than carving into animal remains.
Simulated ivory is also available from another pick manufacturer, Chicken Picks, so check them out if you’re looking for similar plectrums.
What’s more metal than an actual metal pick?
Metal picks are some of the most durable since they’re able to withstand the abrasion from steel strings.
A single pick might be all you need if you really take care of it but there’s also so many others you can choose from.
We’ve only worked with brass & copper but you can find bronze picks, steel picks, titanium picks, and everything in between.
Overall the tone for these picks is on the brighter side and they produce a nice clean tone.
As previously mentioned, these are extremely durable so they’re great for heavy playing but do equally well for any other genre that’s more laid back.
The grip can vary depending on how they’re made with some picks being plain, to others having textures & engravings, to some having intricate patterns to grab onto.
If you’ve never tried metal picks, here’s a couple pick makers worth taking a look at:
Rock Hard Picks - Makes some vibrant colored steel picks that are diamond coated - very high-tech!
T1 Picks - These are also steel & feature intricate designs for grip. Super cool & razor thin!
There’s loads more options if you just look around a bit.
Here at Iron Age, we stick to softer materials so the metal picks we occasionally make are made from solid brass.
Ours are highly rated too and you can find them here: Brass Guitar Picks
This is something we originally dove into in the Spring of 2019 when we were exploring different materials not used in guitar picks before.
We needed something colorful, unique, and practical, but most commercially available materials just didn’t have the aesthetic appeal we were looking for.
Then we found Justin from Kaotic Artworks and he had just the right color scheme,
the material could withstand some abrasion and it was definitely unique - Just the thing we need to make our first batch of Bifrost picks.
Ever since we’ve stayed in touch and have made this material one of our go-to staples for limited edition picks. You can find Justin's Instagram @KaoticArtworks
As far as playing characteristics go, this resin is very malleable in terms of crafting so grip can easily be added in via engraving, design, or texture.
We typically add a matte texture for grip enhancement without obscuring the beautiful aesthetic of the material underneath.
The durability of these types of picks is on the lighter to medium side but also depends on the style of music played and one’s own picking technique.
As far as the sound, we have gotten many reviews that people like the change in tone such a pick can provide and that a thicker pick in the 3-4mm range like these feel great in the hand.
Personally the attack on the strings feels very fluid, with little to no resistance until they begin to wear in & mold onto your natural picking angle, then they develop a more satin finish.
So overall, the tone is a step in the right direction, the durability could be better since the material is soft,
but what really puts this material in its own league is the fact that it has to be handmade & it looks absolutely amazing. 10/10 for aesthetics.
If you’re interested in seeing how we make a guitar pick out of such material, check out one of our video blog posts here:
How We Make A Custom Guitar Pick (KAW) #1
Contending for top durability we have stone picks which come in various shapes, sizes & colors, as well as subtypes including faux stone, jasper picks, & agate picks.
First up is the faux stone which is not as common but we’ve used it to make our Medusa guitar picks.
This is a composite material made from pulverized stone dust mixed with acrylic and cast into a solid block of material.
It has the feel & density of real stone but has some smoother properties of acrylic so it polishes well, sands well, and performs more like an acrylic pick.
The tone is punchy because of the super dense material & quite durable too.
Next are stone picks made out of materials like jasper which are available in some amazing eye-catching variations like Kambaba (Crocodile Jasper),
Dalmatian Stone, & Dragon Blood Jasper to name a few. These make for some exciting new picks and might even inspire you to play a bit more with them.
The only drawback to these types of stone picks is that the jasper materials are, well, a bit more “stoney”.
In comparison to the faux stone & agate, jasper picks tend to have more of a heterogeneous composition, meaning they’re made up of varying types of rock, minerals, silica and impurities.
So you can’t always get a consistent pick & you can run the risk of having the pick start to catch after abrading the stone over time from heavy playing.
Overall, they can make some amazing guitar pick jewelry & the natural beauty is something to behold but perhaps not the best in terms of practical function.
Finally we have agate stone guitar picks.
Unlike the jasper stone picks, agate has more of a crystalline quartz composition which makes the material much more uniform & stable throughout.
Agate stone picks come in all shapes & sizes as well as eye-catching colors, some natural, some dyed. These picks offer some of the best durability especially compared to the other 2 options.
For reference, steel guitar strings have a hardness rating of about 6 & agate is about 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale - A fingernail is a 2.5 and a diamond is a 10.
The grip on agate picks can vary, it depends on how they’re made & if you have diamond-coated tools,
you can engrave designs for additional grip or have them polished to let the natural beauty of the stone shine through.
As you might imagine, agate is pretty dense and when it comes to tonal properties, it also packs a punch like the rest of these stone picks.
Finally, stone picks are very unique and there’s something awe-inspiring about their nature. Some make better picks than others but they can all be functional to some extent.
One important thing to consider though, is that despite their durability against steel strings, they’re not as tough against a fall on pavement or concrete.
Whenever you play with one just be extra careful about dropping it or handling it carelessly.
Stone picks are also typically on the thicker side because they become more fragile the thinner they are but a good starting point is about 2mm on up.
They’re great to experiment with and sound especially nice on acoustic guitars where they really resonate the strings.
Try saying that 5 times as fast as you can.
With this material, we’re getting into some engineering types of plastics with UHMWPE being used for manufacturing of seals, bearings,
used in the medical field, used in automotive & marine skid plates, and even used to make body armor.
So why is this material a good choice for guitar picks?
UHMWPE is sought after for its low friction properties & high resistance to abrasion, and when it comes to guitar picks, this is a winning combination.
Picks made from this material are typically very fast although they don’t have much picking attack.
Pick attack is the sound & feel of the pick plucking an individual note & typically increases with more textured picks which have a slight drag.
The pick attack on these is near silent which just leaves behind the ringing of the note, no picking noise - This is mainly due to the low friction properties.
UHMWPE is definitely a heavy hitting contender when it comes to hard-wearing picks.
It’s incredibly tough & fast across the strings however so far you can only find it through handmade pick makers.
This is because the material isn’t suitable for mass production using injection molding.
Personally we think this makes it just a bit more special & puts it firmly in the boutique guitar picks category.
Check out these UHMWPE guitar picks, they’re our very own and crafted in a super chunky 9mm thickness for extreme comfort & performance.
Last but certainly not least are ultem picks.
This is another engineering plastic that’s commonly found in gears, bearings, specialized fasteners, used in 3D printing, and even in the aerospace industry.
It’s a tough material and in some cases used as an alternative to metal due to its excellent strength & rigidity.
Ultem or PEI might look similar to acrylic in many ways including its translucent properties but it’s actually a totally different animal.
Ultem is a notch above your typical cast acrylic as far as stiffness & also when it comes to durability.
If you’re a heavy handed player, we definitely recommend checking out this material.
It’s not quite as durable as UHMWPE but it’s a close 2nd and because the friction isn’t as low as the polyethylene, there’s a slight drag across the strings.
This slight drag produces a more biting tone when you pluck the strings and accentuates each note a little better which is something you might be looking for or prefer.
Overall, if you like acrylics but wish they were more durable, this is a pick material to consider.
It’s very customizable, available in various thicknesses, strong, resilient, and just a great all around pick material, certainly one of our favorites.
We will be making our own pick collection centered around this material in the near future… We will call it the Gladiator Collection.
There are many different variations of thicknesses for guitar picks. They can be as thin as 0.5mm and can go upwards to 9mm and beyond.
Paired with different types of materials, the tones you can achieve from thick and thin picks is almost immeasurable!
Thin guitar picks are useful for those who do lots of chord strumming because of their flexibility.
They are inexpensive and easy to find; they can be disposed of, replaced, or collected. Thinner picks also have a bit more snap and clarity.
Although the thin picks are commonplace, thicker picks are known to show added benefits that every guitarist should at least explore.
Thicker picks, (3mm seems to be juuust right!) produce a rounder, fuller sound with more bass, strumming chords with a thicker pick gives a bigger, booming tone.
Thicker picks can sound a little muddier with some guitars. The added picking control makes them more suitable for single note or lead playing.
“Isn’t that uncomfortable and unplayable?!” Actually, no!
A thicker pick has more material to hold onto, so you don’t need to grip it so hard.
They are designed to allow you to relax your hand and can even combat problems some guitarists have with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
New guitarists especially, have a tendency to create tension in the picking hand when holding their pick because they’re focused more on the fretting hand.
This technique is an inefficient use of energy and leads to soreness, stress and fatigue. The motion of moving that hand across different strings becomes extremely tedious.
Thick picks fill in those spaces between the strings so that the travel between each string is not only effortless, but very much minimal.
The key is to let the pick do the work!
The pick is an extension of your hand to the guitar;
having a thicker pick increases the comfortability of this extension and creates a better grasp over the plectrum, a key factor in precision playing, and endurance!
Picks are hard to keep track of anyway; with a thick pick, you will never lose it because it’s huge!
The bevel is the most important part of the guitar pick since it is where you make contact with the guitar strings when strumming/picking.
It can be the difference between a clear, incredible sound or a dull, mediocre sound.
Knowing this, we put immense focus into making the perfect bevel when hand crafting our own picks.
We notice that other pick makers don’t do this as much, therefore we make it our personal goal to attain the perfect bevel for our customers.
There are generally two styles of bevels: a Tapered Bevel and a Rounded Bevel.
A tapered bevel slopes the pick to the tip, whereas a rounded bevel is more of a curve.
We see a lot of other plectrum crafters do a hap-hazard combination of both so beware!
Both have their pros and cons in terms of crafting, but ultimately give the player the same experience when using either plectrum.
One benefit of rounded bevel picks is that it has a broken-in feel, that makes you feel right at home even with a new pick.
The Tapered bevels offer more material to wear through which adds a bit more durability, especially with softer materials.
Picks with tapered bevels take more time to break in, but when you do, it will adjust to the player's natural picking angle.
Bevels come in different finishes, they are usually fully polished, satin, and rough.
These different finishes offer a new set of feel to how the pick is used.
A fully polished bevel allows the pick to easily glide across the strings.
A rough bevel has uniformed scratches that give you added grip to where you can have full control of string feel.
A satin bevel is the in-between of these two worlds; not so rough to where it can still glide across the strings but not so smooth to where the pick can slip across a string.
You should not only have an amazing looking pick, but also one that plays to perfection.
Shape refers to what the plectrum looks like: is it pointy or rounded? Is it big or small? Is it single, double or triple pointed?
These different combinations can help craft an aesthetically pleasing and perfectly precise plectrum.
Guitar pick tips are commonly round or pointy. There actually is a difference in tone between these two;
the pointy guitar picks give off a slight pingy, more accentuated sound and the rounded tips give off a more subdued attack.
Aside from the shape of the tip, a big factor to consider is the size of the pick.
Choosing the correct size for your pick is an extremely important factor as everyone’s hands are different sizes.
A person with smaller hands might prefer the Jazz III over a large pick.
While someone with larger hands might prefer the triangle shaped guitar picks (Archon), and might struggle with the Jazz III.
We talked about tip shapes, we talked about pick size, now the last part is the overall shape of the pick.
There are many different types of pick shapes, and we will be the first to tell you that shape does not matter!
With a plethora of different pick designs to choose from, the importance of that is to make sure you get something that not only looks cool
but still functional and works most efficiently with your own style of playing.
We offer many different styles of picks; from our regular shapes (Brass Ducats and Minerva) to our larger innovative shapes (Legatus and Archon)
and finally classic pick shapes that are elite from all other styles (Tri and Jazz III).
You can view more from our Ragnarok, Imperial, and false ivory collection on our website.
“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)