If you’re a guitarist that's discerning in the least, then there's an excellent chance that you’ve put a ton of time and energy into choosing exactly the right gear. From selecting a guitar to suit your playing style, to the guitar amp that speaks the most volume to you specifically. When it comes to guitar gear, there's quite a few options to choose from, not to mention the endless amounts of guitar pedals to further tweak your tone!
You've likely explored countless options before you settled on the gear that's to define your signature sound. Perhaps you've put in a considerable investment in time as well. After all everyone likes to get the best deal around, especially if it sounds good, feels good, and influences your playing to really shine through.
However, there's a chance that you among many others, have perhaps overlooked one of the smallest but still crucial pieces of gear. Perhaps you haven’t given much (if any) thought to the type of guitar pick you trust your sound to. You know, it's that "tool" that connects the guitarist to the strings of the guitar. The tone might be in your fingers as they say, but a guitar pick is what translates that to form you musical expression.
Some parts of the world call it a guitar plectrum or plec. Whichever name you choose to call it, a pick can be considered one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment in your arsenal. This consideration is especially true for those questing for the perfect ton, which is of course subjective to each person.
Picking Some Considerations
A guitar pick is one of the most cost-effective ways to tweak your sound and affect the way your perform. While a guitar pick won't make you "play better", a certain one can perhaps make you feel more at ease while picking away at the notes. Maybe it's the way it jumps off the strings, the rigidity, a certain texture of the material, a grip that just works for you, or maybe it's just darn appealing to your style.
There are some very cool looking picks out there, and some just prefer a plain Jane, but that's okay too.
It’s also one of the things that despite being so small, can actually have a huge impact on your tone and how you go about performing the most fundamental of actions - picking a note. Let’s take a look at a few factors to be consider when selecting the right pick for your playing style & needs.
Just remember, when it comes to choosing the right "tool" for the job in this department, there is no right or wrong choice - Only preference. It's always a smart thing to have a variety of tools at your disposal, especially if you seek to perfect your craft and bring your musical expression to fruition.
A Wealth of Materials
If you’ve ever had to improvise with something like a flat coin or a jagged piece of plastic, then you no doubt have already had your first lesson in how much the wrong choice in material & finish, can potentially affect your sound (for better or for worse).
The following are some of the major materials to consider when choosing your next set of picks. They each have their own distinctive sound qualities, just as you would expect from an Ebony or Rosewood fingerboard as well as the material used in say, a guitar's nut & saddles.
I'll go over some of the materials we have in store here at Iron Age Guitar Accessories, as well as some more common materials that can be found elsewhere.
Celluloid Guitar Picks:
The celluloid pick is one of the most abundant picks out there. Celluloid picks can be found in most guitar starter packs & purchased by the dozens for next to nothing. You've likely encountered this pick many times before. The celluloid material is also commonly used to make pickguards & truss rod covers, it's just one of those staple materials in the guitar world.
Celluloid picks are very affordable and feature a warm tone that many players enjoy. However, celluloid picks do have their own drawback, and that's durability. While they perform well for many, some people can go through these at a quick rate, especially if they do a lot of tremolo picking. Luckily they often sell in bulk so be sure to have a handful with you if you plan on rockin' hard.
Fun fact: Celluloid is what they made old film reels from pre-1950's. One of these guitar picks can potentially help you out in a survival situation when it comes to building a fire. That's because celluloid is an extremely flammable material.
Nylon & Delrin Guitar Picks:
These two are the runner-ups when it comes to the more common guitar pick materials. Nylon & Delrin (Acetal) are not only economical, but they can vastly outperform the typical celluloid pick.
If you've ever played a Tortex, you've played with Acetal, Delrin is just a "brand name" derivative of the same substance.
So you know how they can be finished with a matte surface for extra grip & how durable they can be.
These are just great all-around picks, really. Some people even like to make cheese shaped picks out of this material :) Nylon on the other hand, is actually much softer in terms of pick rigidity. Great if you like to do a lot of strumming or power chords. You can find our own delrin picks here.
Bone Guitar Picks:
A bone pick isn’t something that just sounds like it’s bad-ass, it also produces a mid-heavy sound to be reckoned with. Bone is a materials that hardcore tone enthusiasts often seek out. This is because of its naturally warm tonal properties, and the reason it's commonly used to make guitar nuts & saddles.
Bone picks generate quite a boost in volume as well, this is because they're much harder than your typical plastic pick & much more dense. Great if you're looking to cut through the mix or get some more ring out of your acoustic. Bone material is easy to work with too, It can be polished to a high gloss or left in a natural textured state which can help with gripping qualities tremendously. The durability on this material is also quite good and will very slowly bevel into your natural picking angle. A fine choice all around that will keep sounding great for a very long time.
Horn Guitar Picks:
Horn guitar picks simply feel good in your hand & are nice & slick off of the strings. This is a tightly woven fibrous material that polishes well into a high sheen finish. It has a well-rounded tone that's similar to bone but with less of the top end brightness & more "oomph!" on the bottom end. Overall, it's a very warm & rounded tone, not quite as durable as bone, but very nice to play on any stringed instrument.
Stone Guitar Picks:
Many of today’s gemstone guitar picks are few and far between. Stone picks are often polished to a high degree, as well as painstakingly shaped by hand through a tedious process that adds to its craftsmanship value. These picks are as rigid as they come, but most have a smooth gliding effect over guitar strings and a durability that is unmatched. Even so, they produce a very glassy tone with many harmonic overtones & very little (if any) picking noise that many guitarists absolutely love. Their greater mass & density also contributes to a slight volume-boosting effect that sounds especially brilliant on an acoustic guitar. Overall, these picks are very special & make a uniquely awesome gift to any guitar enthusiast that they'll surely remember!
Best of all, these natural beauties will last you a lifetime of great tone & playability, making their higher price point well worthwhile to many musicians. If you're looking to get your first stone guitar pick, we recommend you give an Agate Plectrum a shot. It feels more like a crystal than a rock, & polishes incredibly well. The tone itself can be characterized as that exactly; Crystalline.
Exotic Wood Guitar Picks:
Like bone, horn, or other natural materials, wooden picks provide the guitarist with a very unique playing experience. Exotic wood picks produces a variety of warm earthy tones depending on the pick style as well as the wood used. Popular options include various Rosewoods, Ebony, & even Coconut Shell. Wood picks are naturally porous & because of this, tend to have a subtle grippy surface but can also be polished around the edges for a swift attack.
Durability is variable on wood picks as some are more resilient than others but can be quite easily restored to a like-new condition with just a bit of fine-grit sandpaper & a little elbow grease. Occasionally re-finishing your wood picks will keep them in service longer so you may further enjoy their unique tonality.
Below is a short video we made to show you the difference in tone when using wood picks. If you're interested in making your own wood picks like the one shown in this video, check out this blog post: How to make a wooden guitar pick
Metal Guitar Picks:
Metal guitar picks produce a uniquely crisp, “brassy” tone with prominent high register harmonics. Granted they aren’t an option that works for everyone, but for guitarists in search of a sharp, clean sound, they’re indispensable. Popular choices in metals include brass, copper, titanium, and steel. These are very durable & very cost effective, just be weary when shopping for various plectrums as they're often sold as "Pick Blanks".
Blanks are good if you want to wear the pick or stamp it but may have thick unfinished edges which can produce an unsoundly scratchy attack on your strings. To resolve this, we round our edges out & polish them to a mirror-like finish. This is to produce the cleanest & smoothest tone possible without the pick getting caught up in the strings.
Carbon Fiber Guitar Picks:
One of our newest additions is also a very high-tech & exquisite material. Carbon Fiber is commonly used in the aeronautics & auto racing industries. It's an ideal material in these applications because of it's extreme light but strong integrity.
It's is composed entirely of graphite fibers that are tightly woven & solidified with a resin epoxy. These are some sharp looking picks & the tone reflects that. When shopping for carbon fiber picks, again beware & look out for un-finished or un-beveled picks. To get the best experience from such a plectrum, it is best to have them carefully smoothed down to allow for a clean release off the strings.
As with any other pick, we do our best to keep all edges evenly finished on all our picks to deliver the best experience possible to the discerning guitarist or musician. To learn more about our carbon fiber picks, check out this carbon fiber blog post.
This is perhaps one of the most detrimental characteristic to defining how crisp your picking strike will be, as well as defining its overall playability. A guitar pick bevel is the natural contour or tapered edge that's found on some picks, these can either provide a smooth & mellow attack (Soft Bevel) or a quick & snappy strike (Sharp Bevel) of the strings.
The majority of mass-produced plastic picks, don't actually come with bevels. A plectrum that's been played & broken-in however, will often show a rounded drop-off on its leading edges. That there is a bevel, and it shows the natural angle at which the guitarist strikes their strings. A guitar plectrum that already has this angled contour will surely feel more fluent to you as it allows the string to slide by just a bit more freely.
Most of our picks feature a sharper beveled tip for a crisp attack, however as they break-in and you get more use out of them, they will begin to mold to your style of playing. Many guitarists would consider having a pick that's tailored to their personal picking style, much more ideal.
The great thing about thicker picks made from materials like bone & wood, is they can actually be re-beveled. That means that with a little bit of effort & sandpaper, the pick can be restored to a like-new state & continue to be used effectively. Additionally, it leaves room for carving & crafting grips into the pick which adds a touch of ergonomics not found in flat picks.
Thickness and Shape
A couple last & very important factors to consider when shopping for guitar picks is their thickness, as well as the shape. If you play acoustic guitar, then you may prefer a pick that is on the thinner side .40-.60 mm. Thinner picks produce lighter, more delicate sounds that are ideal for strumming. You do lose a bit of control because of their flex & they produce a noticeably floppy attack which may or not be your thing.
If you play rock, rhythm, or lead guitar then you might prefer a pick of medium thickness instead – between .60 and .80mm. These are by far the most common guages & give you a bit more control.
2.5 (left) & .60mm (right)
Those looking for a heavy sound should consider exploring thicker picks. Most of our picks are extra heavy due to the nature of the materials used & measure in at around 1.5-3mm thickness. Depending on the edge the pick carries, it can actually be very beneficial for pick-control. A thick & rigid pick adds a certain comfort when you hold them because they tend to relax the hand better.
Another benefit to your playing when using thicker picks is they tend to transfer more force onto your strings. This produces a fuller sound that can be instantly distinguished. Less flex can also result in a more controlled state when playing at faster speeds. Shape can also help you fine tune the details of your sound.
If you’re looking to capture a more precise & controlled sound, then you may also prefer a smaller, pointier pick like a JazzIII. Standard teardrops, round-tipped Jazz, and triangular picks all have their unique sounds as well. The general rule here is the pointier the pick, the sharper the attack. A rounded-tip plectrum will have typically a warmer & fuller sound.
Final Words On Guitar Plectrums
Overall, every guitarist should experiment with different options in order to determine exactly what works best for them. Choosing a plectrum wisely can be a fun new experience that can open doors to new creativity in the player. As far as guitar plectrums & the effect on tone goes, a good pick is perhaps one of the most cost-effective ways to modify it to your liking. For more information on choosing the right guitar pick for you, check out our various guitar blog articles or visit The Pick Blog. The Pick blog is a blog dedicated to reviewing all sorts of plectrums and give some great insight on your search for the right tone.