Types of Guitar Picks Explained

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Anyone who plays guitar understands how useful a good plectrum can be. However, there are so many various types of picks available right now that it can be difficult to find the right pick for you.

There are different pick materials, sizes, shapes, and thicknesses, and each of them has its own characteristics. Which type of pick should you use? Let’s find out!

Guitar picks are made from many materials and in various shapes. Picks are made from various plastics, metals, woods, and other compounds. Thick picks are better for picking. Thin picks are better for strumming. Larger picks are easier to control. Smaller, more pointed picks are more accurate. 

animated black guitar pick beside yellow lightbulb and blue and red guitar picks on blue music themed background.

The type of pick that a guitarist uses is important, and understanding guitar picks, what they are made of, and the different characteristics of each pick type is important as well.

Let’s explore the range of modern guitar picks to discover which is best for you based on their unique attributes. 

Guitar Pick Materials

There are many guitar picks available on the market right now, and among the main differences between them is the material that they are made from. 

The material that a guitar pick is made from determines how heavy it is, the way it feels in the hand, what it is like to play guitar with, and ultimately the sound that the instrument produces. 

Different guitar pick materials make the instrument sound different, which makes pick material the most defining factor between guitar pick types. 

Every type of pick will make a sound, but the sound that they each produce is different due to the materials that they are made from. The material a pick is made from also determines how comfortable it is in the hand and how damaging it is to guitar strings. 

All of these are important factors that every guitar player should consider when exploring the vast world of guitar picks.

So, let’s take the time to look at the various materials that guitar picks are made of to help you determine which pick is right for you. 

Plastic Guitar Picks

The most common variety of guitar picks is plastic guitar picks. There are several different types of plastics used to make guitar picks, and each of them has unique characteristics and produces a unique guitar tone. 

These are the most commonly used plastics for guitar picks:

Nylon – this is the most common guitar pick material. Nylon is flexible and can be made to be very thin. Nylon is slick and smooth, which creates a good guitar tone, and most manufacturers add high-friction areas to these picks for better grip. 

Nylon picks lose their durability after heavy use and tend to break, but they are very cheap to replace. 

Nylon picks produce a warm guitar tone, especially when used on nylon strings for classical guitars. Nylon picks are excellent for all types of guitars and all types of guitar playing, but they may be too flexible for some players’ preferences.

Celluloid – this material is also very common in guitar picks and was the first plastic used for this purpose. Celluloid is meant to emulate tortoise shell guitar picks. They are more rigid than nylon picks, they produce a brighter tone and are generally easier to play with, but they are more brittle as well. 

Celluloid is a favorite among acoustic guitar players for the bright tone that they produce, but they are suitable for all guitars and all types of guitar playing. These picks can be somewhat stiff in the hand, which is not ideal for some playing styles. 

Ultem – this plastic is the stiffest, most rigid plastic used for guitar picks, and it is among the toughest as well. These picks come in various sizes, and they are preferred by acoustic guitar players, bass players, and mandolin players due to the bright tone that they produce. 

Acrylic – this plastic is smooth, very hard, extremely strong, and causes no damage to guitar strings. Acrylic has been in use for guitar picks since the 1980s, and it has become a favorite among guitarists of every style.

These picks last for a long time, and they can be made very small and pointed without losing the edge, making them ideal for electric guitarists. 

Delrin – this is among the most popular plastics for guitar picks. Delrin plastic glides over guitar strings well, producing very little string noise. 

Delrin is durable and rigid and produces a bright and clear guitar tone. These picks are best used with electric guitars and acoustic guitars, as they may be too smooth for classical guitar strings. 

Carbon Fiber Guitar Picks

Carbon fiber has become a widely popular material for guitar picks in recent years due to its rigidity. Carbon fiber guitar picks can be made extremely thin and exceedingly light while still retaining rigidity and durability. 

The thinnest guitar pick in the world is made from carbon fiber, and these picks produce a very bright tone. Carbon fiber picks are ideal for guitarists with a heavy playing style, especially electric guitar players. 

Metal Guitar Picks

Metal guitar picks are not very widely used, but there are a select few guitar players who use nothing but metal picks. 

Metal picks can be made from various forms of steel, brass, silver, nickel, and even coins. Metal picks provide an exceedingly bright tone, and they are very rigid to play with. 

These picks can be very hard on guitar strings and are not recommended for classical guitars. 

Horn Guitar Picks

Horn guitar picks are very seldomly used in the modern guitar world, but they are still around. These picks are made from animal horns and produce a very warm and rich tone. Horn picks are not very durable and are best suited for classical guitars. 

This type of pick must be hand-made and are usually custom-made to order, rather than being readily commercially available. 

Bone Guitar Picks

Bone is another seldom used guitar pick material nowadays, but there was a time when bone was a very common material for guitar picks. 

Bone picks sound very similar to horn picks, as they have a very warm and rich tone. Bone is more durable than horn, and these picks can be made to a sharper point than horn picks, but they are still worn away quickly by steel guitar strings. 

Wooden Guitar Picks

There are several woods used to make guitar picks, including rosewood, zebrawood, African blackwood, bocote, and cocobolo. Only hardwoods such as these are used for guitar picks, and softer woods are not durable enough for this purpose. 

Wooden guitar picks produce a very warm, controlled tone and are typically much thicker than most other types of picks. These picks are ideal for steel-stringed instruments such as acoustic guitars and electric guitars. 

Stone Guitar Picks

Stone guitar picks are becoming popular nowadays as well, as these picks can be made in any shape, but they are highly durable and very rigid. Stone picks can be made to any texture as well, which makes them very comfortable to play with. 

Stone picks have the same rigidity and durability as metal picks, but they have a more mellow and gentle tone by comparison. 

This type of guitar pick is becoming popular among acoustic guitar players for its rigidity and unique tone characteristics. 

Other Materials

These are only some of the most commonly used guitar pick materials, but there are several other types of guitar picks available right now. 

Picks are made from rubber, glass, felt, agate, and even a material known as New Tortis that is designed to perfectly emulate the now illegal tortoise shell guitar pick. 

Every type of guitar pick material is ideal for certain playing styles and produces a unique tone. 

Rubber picks are very mellow-sounding, glass picks sound very bright, felt sounds very dampened, agate picks are extremely thin and inflexible, and New Tortis picks are mildly flexible with a fantastic warm tone. 

Guitar Pick Shapes

Along with guitar pick materials, there are several guitar pick shapes and styles as well. 

Every guitar pick manufacturer has their own guitar pick style, and there are so many to choose from that have various types of grips, tactile features, ergonomics, weight, and even those that have material removed to make them feel lighter.

However, there are only a handful of main guitar pick shapes

The main guitar pick shapes are standard triangle shapes, sharp triangle shapes, equilateral triangle shapes, wide teardrop shapes, narrow teardrop shapes, and the famous shark fin shape. 

Triangular Picks

Triangular picks are the most common, and they are generally considered to be the most useful.

These picks come in various sizes and dimensions, but the shape of the triangle is the most comfortable in the hand, and it is the most controllable to play with. 

Teardrop Picks

Teardrop guitar picks are very comfortable to use, but they tend to be preferred by guitarists who focus on one playing style, as they are less versatile than triangular picks. 

Shark Fin

The shark fin guitar pick shape has three edges that are intended for three different playing styles.

These picks have a multi-purpose edge, a strumming edge, and a picking edge, which makes shark fin picks highly versatile, but they can be difficult to get used to. 

The guitar pick shape that is best for you is determined by the size of your hand and your playing style. Each guitar pick shape comes in various sizes as well, so there are many picks to try out before you settle on the ideal pick for you. 

The size of a pick determines the accuracy of the pick and how it feels in the hand. Larger picks are better for strumming, smaller picks are better for picking, and sharper picks are more accurate, while wider picks are easier to control. 

Guitar Pick Thicknesses

Another very important consideration to make when exploring guitar picks is pick thickness.

The thickness of a pick determines how durable it is, how warm the tone of the pick is, how comfortable the pick is to play, how heavy the pick is, and what material the pick can be made from. 

Guitar pick thickness is measured in millimeters, and each millimeter range is given a gauge name as well. 

Guitar picks that are less than 0.8mm thick are called light gauge picks, 0.8mm – 1.2mm thick are regular gauge picks, 1.2mm – 1.5mm are heavy gauge, 1.5mm – 2mm are extra heavy, and super-heavy gauge picks are 2mm or thicker. 

The thinnest guitar pick is 0.2mm thick, and the thickest guitar picks are more than 10mm thick, which means that there is a vast range of pick thicknesses available in the guitar world right now. 

The thicker the guitar pick is, the easier it is to control, but the more difficult it is to play fast, and the warmer it sounds. Some pick materials such as wood and rubber cannot be made very thin and therefore have to be thick, while others, such as carbon fiber, can be extremely thin while still being usable. 

Very thin guitar picks are great for strumming, but the lack of rigidity of these picks makes them difficult to control for faster picking techniques. 

Very thick guitar picks are difficult to strum with because it is difficult to push them through the strings, but they are great for single-note picking because they are very easy to control. 

There are so many pick thicknesses out there that it is a challenge to determine which is best for you. The ideal way to determine the right thickness for you is to think about what you want your guitar to sound like and choose a thickness accordingly. 

Also, consider the way the thickness of the pick feels in your hand, as this is an important consideration as well.  

Which Type Of Pick Is Best For You?

At the end of it, there is no incorrect pick size, material, shape, or thickness.

Every type of pick and pick attribute provides a unique set of features and characteristics, and the pick that is best for you is the pick that feels the most comfortable in your hand and suits your playing style best. 

Guitar picks are very subjective, and what is a perfect pick for one guitar player may be an unusable pick for another. 

The only method to truly and accurately determine which type of pick is best for you is to experiment with as many picks as you can.

Fortunately, most picks are very affordable to buy, so trying out a large variety of picks should be accessible for most guitar players. 

There are some basic guides to consider and follow, such as your playing style. If you spend more time picking melodies than strumming chords, then use a smaller, thicker pick. If you strum chords all day long, then use a larger, thinner pick. 

If you need something with versatility, choose a medium-sized pick made from a durable plastic material with decent thickness. 

Take your time to find something that works well for you, and experiment with as many different picks as you can before you “pick” what your ideal pick is!

Related Articles

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Every type of guitar pick is unique. They all feel different, sound different, and have differing levels of playability. Every guitar player has their own pick preferences, so take the time to find yours, and your playing will be better for it. 

There is an ideal pick for you out there. Choose your perfect pick based on the way it sounds, the way it feels in your hand, and how well it serves your playing style, and you will never be unhappy with the picks that you use.

As always, Happy Playing,


About Matt P.

Matt has been playing instruments since he was 11 years old and has done nothing but work in the music industry for his whole life. Matt studied music and sound engineering at The South African Music Institute and has played for numerous bands over the years.