plectrums explained

Plectrums, picks, whatever you want to call them. Some guitarists swear by them and some guitarists never use them. In this article we explain the types, materials and other attributes of guitar picks so you can find the right pick for you.

Posted: 26 January 2021

Material

If you’re not sure that material is important when it comes to using a guitar pick, try playing with a coin. You’ll quickly realise just how important the material is! A whole host of materials could be used for picks, all of which have different properties. Most picks available are made with plastics such as Celluloid, Delrin and Nylon. However custom acrylic, wood, metal and even stone picks are available. Celluloid originally was an alternative to tortoiseshell (which is now banned) and offers a similar feel. Nylon is strong, durable and usually features a texture for added grip, but these can fray over extended use. Delrin has a powdery feel to it, almost like the pick has been dropped in chalk.

Shape

There’s a huge variety of shapes available when it comes to picks. We've taken a look at what each option offers for your playing:

  • The classic standard ‘heart’ shape pick is versatile, giving enough thumb coverage for grip and a pointed end for precision.
  • Triangle picks are popular with bass players due to wide thumb and finger coverage ideal for thicker strings.
  • Jazz picks are much smaller and almost hide underneath the thumb entirely, with a sharper pointed edge for precision.
  • Sharkfin picks are not common but have a cult following. They have a variety of different edges that help with different levels of attack and precision. 

Other variations include the finger and thumb pick that wrap around your fingers, this style is popular for country and banjo players as it offers a much faster picking speed when playing finger style guitar.

Size

This is a big factor for feel and guitarists will tend to prefer a specific size. The thickness of a guitar pick can determine the overall tone of your string too. Thin guitar picks (.40mm-.60mm) are much lighter and have an almost ‘flappy’ feeling when strumming. They are harder to use for picking individual strings due to how loose they feel in the hand, but these picks are ideal for acoustic rhythm players and often used in country music for that same reason. Medium guitar picks (.60mm-.80mm) are a great all-rounder. Loose enough to play rhythm but strong enough to support lead picking. Heavy guitar picks (.80mm upwards) produce less pick noise and are ideal for fast lead guitar playing. They are often popular with metal and jazz players.

Overall, a guitar pick is a very subjective topic as everyone has a preference, use this guide to get in the ballpark and then try out a few different materials and sizes!