Which guitar pick should you pick?
Most guitarists use a pick (or plectrum) to strum or pick their strings. There are a ton of different pick varieties, some better suited for certain genres or instrument types than others. Check out this handy guide to determine which type is best for you.
Musicians have been using different versions of picks for their stringed instruments for thousands of years! The word “plectrum” actually descends from the Ancient Greek word “plēktron”, referring to objects used to hit the strings of a lyre. Early pick materials included feather quills, ivory, bone or wood.
In 1885, a guitar pick made of tortoiseshell from the Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtle was patented. It became popular due to its similarity to human fingernails and stiff but flexible texture. However, tortiseshell’s popularity for picks, eyeglass frames, combs, and other items caused Atlantic Hawksbill Sea Turtles to be overharvested. By 1973 they were on the world’s most endangered species list, and it’s been illegal since then to make anything out of tortoiseshell.
The D’Andrea company introduced guitar picks made from celluloid in early 1922. Celluloid was strong, flexible, and dense – making it a great material for guitar picks.
Picks range in thickness from “extra light to extra heavy”.
There’s no industry standard for pick thickness currently, but here’s a rough breakdown of the gauges:
- ‘Extra thin’/’extra light’ – under 0.45 mm.
- ‘Thin’/‘light’) – between 0.45 mm and 0.70 mm.
- ‘Medium’ – between 0.60 and 0.80 mm.
- ‘Heavy’ – between 0.80 and 1.2 mm.
- ‘Extra heavy’ – anything above the 1.2 mm thickness.
Here are some tips on selecting a pick gauge:
If you’re just starting out playing guitar, it’s a good idea to start with a thinner pick.
If you’re playing a guitar with thicker strings or a bass guitar, you might want to try a thicker pick for more control and strength.
If you’re strumming on an acoustic guitar, go with a thinner pick. If you’re playing melodies and solos on an acoustic guitar, pick a thicker pick. A medium pick should do the trick for playing both styles.
If you’re playing an electric guitar, a thicker pick might be more useful for control. A medium pick should also do the job here.
Famous artists and their signature picks:
Lots of famous guitarists have particular picks they like to use while playing. Here are a few examples:
Eddie Van Halen:Dunlop Max-Grip, 60 mm
A thinner pick matched Van Halen’s blazing-fast shred style.
James Hetfield (Metallica) – Custom Jim Dunlop (1.0mm or 1.14mm)
A heavier pick gives Hetfield’s rhythm playing the heft it requires.
David Gilmour – Fender 354 / Fender 351
These days, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour uses teardrop-shaped picks that allow him to easily hit pinch harmonics.
Brian May – British sixpence
The lead guitarist of Queen uses a coin as a pick. He explained in 2021 that he prefers coins for their rigidity, and for the slight metallic sound they give his playing.
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