What Are The Benefits Of Using A Pick?

Guitar playing is ever more popular these days. Guitar learners are usually taught to either play fingerstyle or use picks. Both styles seem to have their own legion of diehard fans, and many professional guitarists seem to swear by them too. What are the benefits of using a pick?

In general, playing with guitar picks helps to generate a brighter, punchier sound. Picks allow you to control your strumming better and have a more consistent sound. You can also play faster and focus more on getting the chords or fingers pressed correctly. You also get to control the volume of your playing better. 

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This article discusses the guitar pick and the benefits and disadvantages of using it to play guitar. We also answer some common questions about guitar picks, such as if picks come in different shapes, sizes, and materials.

We also examine the types of guitar picks professional guitarists use, and discuss the best guitar picks for beginner players. 

What Is A Guitar Pick?

Guitar picks are flat, triangular tools used to strum or pick the strings of guitars. They are usually made of plastic, although metal, wood, or stone picks are common. Guitar picks are loved by musicians because it gives their guitar a controlled tone.

A guitar pick is usually a flat, triangular-shaped tool used to pick or pluck the guitar strings. Its actual name is a plectrum, but people tend to recognize it by its picking function, hence the name ‘pick.’ 

Picks are usually small in size and held only with fingers. String instrument players then use the picks to strike the strings and produce sounds on their instruments. Earlier guitar picks are made of things such as stone or wood. Some also are made from the quill of a bird feather. 

The practice continued until the 1800s when musicians discovered that turtle shells, particularly the Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle, seem to make excellent picks. These are called tortoiseshell picks, although they are made of turtle shells. 

Musicians agree that tortoiseshell picks are flexible and give a rich tone. As material science improved, celluloid was also discovered to be a good material for picks. From 1900 onwards, celluloid picks also became popular. 

It took until 1973 for the CITE to be passed, banning the making and selling of tortoiseshell picks. CITE stands for the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora.

Picks today are mostly made of nylon, polyethylene plastic, bone, metal, wood, horn, or stone. If you want to get cool with your picks, coins also work well.

Are There Different Types Of Guitar Picks?

Guitar picks can be differentiated in shape, thickness, and material. These differences result in different performances, sound quality, and playing feel. You may want to test around to see which pick types suit your playing style. 

AspectVariation
MaterialNylon, Polyethylene Plastic, Bone, Metal, Wood, Horn, or Stone
ThicknessExtra Thin, Thin, Medium, Heavy, Extra Heavy
ShapeStandard (351), Standard With Sharp Tip, Jazz, Pointy, Sharkfin, Teardrop, Triangle 

Guitar picks come in many types and can be overwhelming to new guitar players. Some of the major areas that differentiate guitar picks include material, shape, and thickness. There are things such as finishing and color as well.

Material

The most common picks you may see today are made of nylon, which is flexible yet tough enough to handle abuses and strikes on sharp guitar strings. It is also rather affordable. 

Aside from nylon, you may also see picks made of polyethylene, bone, metal, wood, stone, or horn. Professional musicians may like to use certain pick material, as they think it helps their guitar to sound better. 

Thickness

Guitar pick thickness affects how bendable the guitar strings are, which may influence your guitar sound. Thin picks usually are more pliable to the strings, which means they may sound nicer for strumming, and the volume is less loud. 

ThicknessMeasurements
Extra Thin / Extra Light Under 0.45mm
Thin / LightBetween 0.45mm to 0.70mm
MediumBetween 0.60mm to 0.80mm
Heavy0.80mm to 1.2mm
Extra HeavyOver 1.2mm

Thick picks are harder and do not yield to strings as much. This means thick picks pluck strings hard, making your guitar sound louder and punchier. Generally, guitar strings come in five levels of thickness:

Shape

Guitar picks can also vary by shape. This is to cater to different types of playing styles and also to gripping preferences. Players who play hard on their guitars, such as punk or hard rock, may want a more steady hold on their pick. 

This means they may prefer a larger pick that they can hold better. Picks such as shark fin shapes also allow additional playing style. The jagged edge could be raked across the guitar string to produce a fuller chord.

Jazz guitarists love the cleaner, more precise sound, which means their picks tend to have a sharper picking edge. This reduces the amount of pick that contacts the strings, meaning it is less likely to make harsh, loud sounds. 

What Are The Benefits Of Using A Pick?

When playing with a pick, you get to protect your nails and slow down string deterioration. You also get a brighter, punchier sound and play faster. Some picks can help you achieve a more consistent strumming quality, allowing you to focus more on the fretting hand. 

There are reasons why picks are used widely by all guitarists, from jazz to metal rockers. This is because they add quality to their sounds and give them an edge.

Protects Your Nails

The fingerpicking style usually requires you to use your fingers to pick on guitar strings, and sometimes you may accidentally use your fingernails. This is usually fine, although you may notice scratch lines on your fingernails if you are not careful.

This should be ok for many, but if you take care of your nails or have varnish and gels, you will be happier. It means you may have to either reapply a new finish on your nails or polish away the scratch lines.

Using a pick avoids this problem and keeps your nails from interacting with the guitar strings. 

Slows Down String Deterioration

If you play fingerstyle, your fingers will be in a lot of contact with the guitar strings. This means some of the sweat, grime, and oils from your skin will likely end up on the guitar strings. 

These things may eventually wear down the protective layers of the strings, making the strings discolor or, worse, develop some rust. This means you may need to change your strings more than usual. Strings are not too expensive, but frequently changing them can be heavy on the wallet.

If you use a pick, you reduce the contact between your skin to your guitar strings, helping to prevent it from deteriorating faster than it should.

Brighter, Punchier Sound

If you take note of many rock bands, most of their players use picks. In fact, they love large, hard picks too. The reason? They get a bright, punchy sound. 

Hard picks are generally not as flexible as thinner picks, which means they hit them hard when they strike or pick on the guitar strings. This means the strings react faster and more violently, sending a stronger signal to the pickup. 

This naturally translates to a louder sound with a stronger punch on the amps. In fact, legendary guitarist Brian May of Queen actually prefers a metal coin over picks since it’s thick, very hard, and gives him that loud and punchy sound. His choice is the Canadian six-pence coin.

Strumming Control & Consistency

When you use a pick, you stand to benefit from more strumming control and consistency. This is because picks are generally more reliable as a strummer than your fingers. 

One of the issues faced by guitarists earlier is when they strum with their fingers, they need help getting the guitar to ring brightly. Instead, they get a muted tone. This is usually caused by inconsistent contact angles with their nails. 

Problems like this could be corrected with a pick. Players are more confident to ‘dig’ their picks deeper when strumming, meaning they will hit the strings at a better angle. On top of that, the pick may also help to reduce muting, as there are no fingers to dampen the string’s vibration. 

This, in turn, helps to produce brighter, louder strums. The strumming sound would also be more consistent. 

Better Playing Speed

Most fast guitar players, such as punk or trash, play with picks. Their preference for picks may go back to the similar concept of the pick being able to hit the string clearly, producing louder sounds quickly. 

The guitar pick also does not absorb or dampen the strings, meaning the sound is clear and bright. 

This allows them to change notes faster, yet they can get all the notes out from their guitar. If they play fast downstrokes on power chords, picks also help to keep the downstrokes consistent, allowing them to keep playing fast.

Allows You To Focus On The Fret Hand

When playing on the strumming and picking hand is consistent and less troublesome, guitar players can then focus on the other hand, the fretting hand. 

In guitar playing, usually, it is the fretting hand that requires a lot more precision since the fingers are needed to press down the strings. The fingers also move a lot more, moving up and down the fretboard.

With a pick, you can control your playing more consistently on the strumming picking hand, allowing you to concentrate more on the fretting hand to improve your playing.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Using A Pick?

If you play using a pick, you may never finish experimenting around for the perfect pick. Picks also may make plasticky sounds and cause you to become reliant on them. You may need to develop your fingerpicking skills better, and you may lose flexibility in your playing.

As much as picks are good, you still see some players swearing against them. These players avoid using guitar picks likely because of suitability or because they just do not like the sound. 

You May Never Finish Experimenting For The Right Pick

Suppose you have decided to start using picks to help you play and are searching for the perfect pick. In that case, it may be quite overwhelming for you since there are so many options, types, and materials you can select from. 

Suppose you are the kind that wants to experiment with every possible combination. In that case, you may be experimenting for a very long time. 

Experimenting with picks until a certain level may be a good idea. Once you have found that you are satisfied with the performance and comfort, you stop trying new picks.

‘Plucky,’ ‘Plasticky’ Sound

One of the biggest criticisms about picks is the sound it makes. Sure picks help your guitar to make a louder, clearer sound, but it does not sound natural and warm like a fingerpicked guitar. 

This is because fingers may give the strings a softer stroke, while picks may be ‘striking’ the strings hard. This means picks may make a rather artificial sound from the guitar. 

Some also think that the strumming sounds from guitar picks carry a bit of that ‘plasticky’ sound, likely from the pick surface striking the guitar strings. This effect may be more pronounced on an acoustic guitar.

Your Fingerpicking Skills May Not Develop

Another reason that made some players stay away from picks is that they would ‘stay in the heat.’ They prefer to struggle, improve and perfect their fingering skills rather than rely on picks. Their approach does have merit.

What happens to some players is that as they use picks, they become increasingly reliant on them, to the point that they cannot play well with their fingers. This also limits the playing flexibility, as not all musical genres or guitars are playable with picks. 

For example, if you intend to play Flamenco music on a classical guitar, you will need a finger pick to play it well, not a pick.

You May Damage Your Guitar

When playing guitar with a pick, what happens is that you are moving a thin, slightly sharp object up and down your guitar. This means you have a likelihood of scratching your guitar if you are not careful. 

One good thing here is that most guitars realize this and usually add a piece of pickguard underneath the sound hole or the strings. However, not all pickguards are scratch-resistant, depending on the materials used. This means you may leave scratch lines on it, making the guitar less pristine looking.

What Pick Is Best For Beginner Guitarists?

Beginner guitarists may start with a thin pick under 0.6mm. Beginner players usually start by strumming, which is easier and better sounding with a thinner pick. Since they are affordable, beginners may also start with regular-shaped nylon picks. Players can always change later when they develop preferences and styles.

Beginner guitarists could be considered as newer players who just started learning and may only be able to play enough open chords to play some popular songs. 

Suppose you are a beginning guitarist and want to use a pick. In this case, your best choice is to start with a regular-shaped, thin pick made of nylon. The thickness is best under 0.6mm, although anything within the extra light and light range should be fine. 

This is because beginning guitarists have yet to start picking their strings. Your playing is limited to getting your strumming rhythm right. You also may be working on getting the chords pressed in the right and transitioning fast from one chord to another. 

Thin picks are excellent for strumming. This is because it is more pliable, meaning when coming into contact with the strings, it bends itself as well. This means you avoid making really loud strumming sounds. Newer players also may dig their picks too deep, which may be an issue when the pick is thick. 

Beginner players can pick materials or shapes without worrying. This is because you have neither developed any preference nor want to spend money on expensive guitar picks. 

Once you have acquired skills and preferences in picks, you can always go out and shop for better ones. 

Do Professional Guitarists Use Picks?

Many professional guitarists use picks, usually as it allows them to play with better accuracy, volume, and brightness. Some guitarists change their picks from time to time, while some stay consistent and stick to a pick type. 

GuitaristPick Of Choice
Brian MayCanadian six-pence coin
Dave GrohlDunlop 0.73mm Gator Grip 
David GilmourD’Andrea 351 0.96 mm
Eric ClaptonErnie Ball 0.94mm
James HetfieldCustom Jim Dunlop 1.0mm – 1.14mm
Kurt CobainDunlop Tortex 0.6mm
Mark TremontiDunlop Jazz III Nylon 1.0 mm.

In general, professional guitarists are known to use picks, especially those on electric guitars. They may be using picks for various reasons. Some may want a brighter, punchier sound. Some may like picks since it allows them to rake the guitar strings. 

The following are some of the popular professional guitarists and the picks they are known to be using:

Brian May: The legendary guitarist from the band Queen is known to have very eclectic taste in picks. He prefers metal coins, preferably the Canadian six-pence coin. He credits it to its rigidity and his dislike of malleable picks.

Dave Grohl: Dave has been rocking the world for decades, first with Nirvana and now with Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl is known to rock similar guitars consistently, including his picks. He is known to use Dunlop 0.73mm Gator Grip picks. This pick has a textured surface to make it non-slip and is known to make a beefy, darker sound. 

David Gilmour: Dave Gilmour plays for the bank Pink Floyd and regularly rocks his Fender Stratocaster using a beefy and thick D’Andrea 351 0.96 mm. This is a celluloid pick, which, when coupled with its thickness, should result in punchy, loud notes, perfect for soloists.

Eric Clapton: Eric Clapton can be seen playing his guitar with the Ernie Ball 0.94mm pick. A 0.94mm thick pick should help with individual notes and allows Eric to play bright and clean solos during recording and performances. 

James Hetfield: The heavy metal legend of the band Metallica uses a custom pick, believed to be a Jim Dunlop, 1.0mm to 1.14mm thickness. Before using a more specialized pick, he was known to use the Dunlop Tortex 0.88mm pick in a tortoiseshell shape.

Kurt Cobain: The late Kurt Kobain composed and played great songs with the band Nirvana before his demise in 1994. Kurt Kobain is known to be using a thinner pick, the Dunlop Tortex 0.6mm pick, usually in orange. Thinner picks likely allow him to switch between softer picking to powerful power-chord attacks, common in Nirvana’s songs. 

Mark Tremonti: The guitarist for the band Creed and Alter Bridge is known for his melodic, fast solos. This explains his choice of guitar pick: the Dunlop Jazz III Nylon 1.0 mm. The thick pick allows great clarity and punchy sound, while the Jazz III shape ensures small contact between the pick and string for faster playing. 

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