Guitar picks are a popular option to help many guitarists to play better. It helps players to produce cleaner sounds too. However, picks wear out over time, so you must stop using them when they are broken beyond use. The question is, when? When should you stop using a pick?
In general, stop using a pick when it has deteriorated to the point it can no longer perform well. These may include rounding, frayed edges, or grooves. Changing to a new pick and upgrading to a thicker, more durable pick may be a good option.
In this article, we explore when you should stop using a pick. We also look at other popular questions about using a pick, such as why they wear out and why people use them.
Want to see the latest guitar accessories that are popular right now? Just click here!
What Are The Types Of Guitar Picks?
Guitar picks can be divided into three categories: shape, material, and thickness. Guitarists usually try to mix and match the different options within these categories to get the right pick for their guitar.
|Material||Nylon, Polyethylene Plastic, Bone, Metal, Wood, Horn, or Stone|
|Thickness||Extra Thin, Thin, Medium, Heavy, Extra Heavy|
|Shape||Standard (351), Standard With Sharp Tip, Jazz, Pointy, Sharkfin, Teardrop, Triangle|
Guitar picks are flat, triangular-shaped tools used to pick or pluck the guitar strings. You may also see it with musicians that play other string instruments, such as banjo or steel strings.
A pick’s 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 the thumb and index finger.
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. Modern picks are usually made of plastic, celluloid, or other synthetic materials.
Guitar picks come in many types, including different materials, shapes, and thicknesses.
Nylon picks are the most common and affordable. These picks are tough, durable, and can sustain abuses on the guitar strings, especially by players who play heavier music such as metal or rock.
There are also picks made of bone, metal, wood, stone, or horn. These more traditional materials help to produce a more classic sound. Some professional musicians swear by certain materials to get the best sound out of their guitars.
|Extra Thin / Extra Light||Under 0.45mm|
|Thin / Light||Between 0.45mm to 0.70mm|
|Medium||Between 0.60mm to 0.80mm|
|Heavy||0.80mm to 1.2mm|
|Extra Heavy||Over 1.2mm|
When it comes to thickness, thinner picks are more pliable and are great for strumming. However, since they are thin, they do not strike the strings hard enough, which means the volume may be lower.
Thicker picks are harder and produce a louder, punchier sound. This is because they can strike the strings hard. However, thick picks lack flexibility, which may be unsuitable for gentler strumming music.
Generally, guitar strings come in five levels of thickness, so you can choose the one that suits your playing style best.
For example, players who like to play hard, like punk or hard rock, may prefer larger picks or ones with a shark fin shape. On the other hand, jazz guitarists prefer picks with a sharper edge for a cleaner, more precise sound.
Why Do Guitarists Play With Picks?
Guitarists play with picks for better precision and control when playing the instrument. Picks produce brighter sounds and protect the fingers and nails from wearing out. Finally, guitarists may play with picks as they are comfortable with them.
Precision and Control
Picks allow for better precision and control when playing guitar. They can help you hit individual strings more accurately and faster than just using your fingers.
This is because picks have a more precise contact surface, meaning only the targeted strings will be played when you play. The precise contact surface allows a more concentrated force to pluck the strings, making them play loud.
This may not be achievable with fingers or nails, as the contact surface is much larger than picks.
Protects Your Fingers and Nails
Playing with a pick can reduce the amount of wear and tear on your fingertips, especially when playing for long periods or with heavier gauge strings.
Fingers and nails just cannot compete with picks regarding durability. Play on your fingers for a long time, and you will notice that they develop blisters or become cut over time. Fingernails may also break or crack when used to play guitar.
You can use a pick to do the heavy work instead. Picks are made of durable materials, meaning they can take the abuse well and still be ok.
If you notice, most musicians that play heavier music tend to use picks. This is because picks allow them to play their music hard and not ruin their fingers and nails.
Picks also help them to produce a brighter and more percussive sound than playing with fingers. These are important in heavier music genres such as rock, metal, or punk.
Some musicians also enjoy using picks to play acoustic guitars, which allows them to strum better and produce a more melodic, warm sound.
Produce Unique Sounds
Picks come in a variety of thicknesses, shapes, and materials. This allows guitarists opportunities to explore sounds that they may prefer. This also helps players to develop an individual sound that helps them stand out from other musicians.
For example, some musicians use thick, heavy picks to hit their strings hard. This helps produce a loud, booming sound, a feature in metal or punk music. Some may use picks to strum to produce a more balanced ‘wall’ sound as the background of their music.
Some musicians, such as Brian May of Queen, prefer a very hard and thick pick. In fact, he openly cited that one of his favorite picks is the British sixpence coin.
Finally, using a pick can be a matter of personal preference or style. Some also use picks to mask their weaker playing skills.
Some guitarists prefer the feel of a pick in their hand, or they may find that it suits their playing style better than using their fingers.
Some newer players also lack the confidence that they can hit the strings right all the time and produce a consistent sound. A pick would help, as it minimizes the possibility of error and mistakes when playing guitar.
Do Expensive Picks Make Your Guitar Sound Better?
Expensive picks may make a difference in your guitar sound, provided you know how to use it. New players do not benefit much from expensive picks since they may be unable to manipulate the strings and picks to produce good sounds. Experienced players may sound better with expensive picks.
Picks look like a simple tools and are usually made with less premium materials. This means they generally do not cost much. However, picks can also be made from the same premium materials, which may push up the price significantly higher.
For example, there are picks made of stones and silver. In fact, there are guitar picks made out of meteorite material, which cost over $4,600.
However, will these expensive picks make a difference in a guitarist? Will a guitarist sound better just because of a fancy, expensive pick?
Not really. It depends on factors such as the guitar or the player’s experience. This is because picks generally help to manipulate sound quality, and that is pretty much it.
An experienced guitar player would know how to manipulate the guitar, strings, and pick to produce a specific sound. For example, if the player wants to produce the heaviest, hardest-hitting sound.
In that case, the strings may be heavily gauged, and they pick the thickest. Expensive meteorite picks may also come in to produce good durability for the pick.
With a new player, expensive picks generally do not make a difference. New players lack the skill to play well, even with a pick. Picks usually do not compensate well for poor playing technique, which means good picks do not make a difference in sounds.
New, inexperienced players also usually cannot manipulate the guitar and the picks to produce a good sound. As a result, they may not be able to pair strings, guitars, and picks well. This means inexperienced players generally do not benefit from expensive picks.
When Should You Stop Using A Pick?
You should stop using guitar picks when the edges have frayed out, the shape has rounded out, and when there are grooves on the pick. You should also stop using a pick when playing more complicated pieces that may benefit from having a more striking surface.
Generally, you should stop using your guitar in several major situations. First is when the guitar pick has shown signs of wearing out. Second, is then playing with your fingers makes more sense than picks.
Another one would be when you seek sound quality that can only be achieved by fingerstyle playing.
When The Pick Has Worn Out
If you think about it, picks live a hard life. They strike, rub, and grind hard against the guitar strings and must take a lot of abuse along the way. If you like to do pick slides, you may wear out your picks even faster.
If your picks show any of the signs below, consider discarding them. Open up a fresh pick instead to continue playing.
Rounding: This may be more obvious on picks with a single striking surface, such as teardrop or jazz. When picks are worn out, these uniquely sharp edges may have been worn away, so you may notice your pick is turning rounder instead of a triangle.
Frayed Edges: Fresh picks usually come clean and sharp at the edges to allow precise playing. However, the edges may lose their integrity and fray as you use the pick.
Frayed edges can make it harder to strike a clean note on your guitar and may even cause you to miss some string pickings. This can be particularly annoying to a player.
Grooves: If you like to perform a lot of pick slides, you may notice your pick start to form grooves at the edges. Grooving may be a major issue if you enjoy playing your pick from an angle, a practice known as angling.
Pick slides are when you slide your pick on the strings to create a specific sound effect, common in rock or punk music. Grooved picks may not play well, as they have weakened structural integrity.
When You Should Play With Your Fingers
Finally, you should stop using a pick when the music you are playing seems to be better played with fingers rather than picks.
One disadvantage of playing with picks is having only a singular, striking surface. You can easily bring in 4 fingers to play at a time than playing with fingers.
This may be why classical guitarists use their fingers since the music they play is more complicated. Musical adaptations, such as from video games, may also be complicated enough that you need all your fingers to play them well.
Suppose you play complicated, fast musical pieces that may not be covered with a single pick. In this case, it may make a lot more sense to put the pick down and turn to your trusty fingers instead.
When You Want To Protect Your Guitar
Suppose you just picked up a very expensive guitar and paired it with a beautiful set of strings that costs much more than you usually pay for. In this case, you may want to skip the pick and use your fingers instead.
This is because picks are generally harder than your fingers or nails, which will strike your guitar strings at a higher force. This means picks may wear down your strings faster than usual. If you have expensive strings, you may want them to last for as long as possible.
Another thing is that when you play with picks, your picks may strike the body of your guitar, say at the area underneath the soundhole. While some guitars come with a pickguard to protect the area, you may even prefer not to scratch the pickguard.
In that situation, you are better off playing with your fingers instead of using a pick.
When You Want A Natural, Less Plasticky Sound
One of the things about playing guitar with picks is you exchange the striking surface. Instead of the skin and flesh from your fingers, you get the pick instead.
As a result, you may hear a difference in the sound quality. Some plasticky sounds may come out from your guitar, which may not be nice to your ears. You also may notice the lack of naturalness to the sound.
For example, when plucked with a finger, guitar strings usually get louder slowly and then decays away slower too. However, if you pick a string with a pick, you may notice the sound gets louder faster and then decay away faster too.
As a result, when you are looking for a more natural, rich, and warm sound, drop your pick, and play with your fingers instead.
Can You Use Other Objects As A Guitar Pick?
You can use other objects as guitar picks. However, these objects are not designed for use as picks and may damage your guitar strings or guitar. They may also not produce the right sound quality. Common items used as picks include coins, credit cards, or other thin plastic pieces.
If you look at it, guitar picks are essentially thin pieces of material that you hold between your fingers. Then you use it to strike at guitar strings. If you can create something that has similar characteristics, it can technically function as a pick.
People have been doing this regularly. Common materials used to create makeshift guitar picks include:
Coins: Coins are particularly popular as picks since they have the right size and shape. However, they are particularly hard and may not be smooth enough to play strumming with. They may also damage the strings.
Credit Cards: Many also take old credit cards and cut out the shape of a pick from them. They are softer than coins, meaning they have some flexibility and ‘give’ to make them function better as picks than coins. The concern is the edges, which may fray easily since they are not chamfered like picks.
Plastic Pieces: Some also take plastic pieces and make cutouts to create their makeshift pick. Popular items include plastic lids or food containers. The performance of these plastic picks may vary, depending on the thickness, flexibility, and materials used to make the plastic.
Metal Objects: Some also repurpose paper clips or fold-up sheet metals to create picks. This may work, although metal picks can be very hard on the strings and shorten their lifespan. It may also scratch your guitar easily.
Paper: When in short supply, some players can also turn paper into temporary guitar picks. They fold papers into thick layers and then use them as a pick. However, paper wears out faster than strings, so they generally do not last long.
In many cases, these objects are best used as a temporary solution to your picking needs. This is because they are not designed to be one, meaning they cannot work as well as a good pick.
A good pick can showcase the sound potential of your strings and guitar, while these temporary picks may not. A good pick also wears down your strings slower compared to quick picks.