Top 10 Best Cool Guitar Picks: Which Is Right for You?
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Top 10 Best Cool Guitar Picks: Which Is Right for You?

guitar picks, best guitar picks, guitar plectrum, cool guitar picks

Much like with guitar stands, guitar picks (properly called a plectrum or plectra) aren’t exactly the first thing you think of when you start playing. If you opt for a beginner guitar kit, they usually toss a few in there to get you started. Generally, these are standard, plain celluloid picks of medium thickness.

Once you start getting a feel for your playing and develop your technique, you’ll probably revisit the pick in order to hone either your tone or your comfort level while playing. That means deciding what you want among the different materials, shapes, and thicknesses out there. A smooth, medium thickness plastic pick might work just fine for you. You’ll never be far away from one of them, since that seems to be the choice for anyone who gets complimentary picks made with their guitar-related business logo on them. In fact, you could probably arrange it so you never pay for a pick following a particularly good visit to a guitar trade show.

For those that want something more specialized, though, there are a number of options out there. While the idea of the pick has been around for thousands of years, you’ll still find very many players who eschew them entirely. This decision largely comes down to the discipline you learn when you begin playing or your preferred method of attack. Hybrid picking blends the two, and a whole host of picking styles heavily rely on the pick.

In the late 19th century, the dominant pick material was actual tortoiseshell, which is where the name you see associated with picks and pickguards comes from. Specifically, the shell of the hawksbill sea turtle provided the raw materials for many of these pieces, which in part explains their Critically Endangered status. Even before the outright ban in 1973, the use of celluloid as pioneered by D’Andrea Manufacturing in 1922 began to find favor with players. Today, most picks are made from celluloid, nylon, or Delrin/Acetal (polyoxymethylene thermoplastic), among a host of other materials, all of which impart different characteristics:

  • Celluloid: One of the first thermoplastics meant originally as an ivory replacement. Most likely to be found in the tortoiseshell coloring, these have a bright attack and excellent crispness. Good for acoustic playing and vintage tones.
  • Nylon: Very smooth and very flexible, nylon picks tend to generate a warm tone thanks to the reduced rigidity. Tend to wear out fairly quickly.
  • Tortex: Made from DuPont Delrin, this is one of the first tortoiseshell replacements that really caught on. Still widely used today, these offer a mid-range, well-rounded tone. Sometimes called acetal resin.
  • Ultex/Ultem: More rigid than Tortex, these are more durable, with a stronger attack and high-end presence.
  • Metal: Typically made from stainless steel, bronze, brass, or copper, these allow for incredibly fast picking, with increased harmonic response and unrivaled brightness. Sometimes associated with using a coin as Brian May and Billy Gibbons are occasionally known to do.
  • Wood: As with guitars, use of different woods produce different tones, though these generally tend toward warmth with high volume responsiveness based on pick attack.
  • Other: Picks can also be made from animal bones, horns, or hide, acrylic, carbon fiber, glass, and felt. These are generally niche uses and the price is typically higher than the more popular materials.

When trying any of these, you’re looking to evaluate the following traits to suit your style of playing and the music you want to make:

  • Tone: Listen for both high-end content and lower-mid warmth. Some picks sound very “plinky” but generate better treble response, while others round off the high end in favor of mid-range power. Some of this is down to how your attack changes with a given material.
  • Release: How quickly the pick snaps back into position after you’ve hit the string. Sometimes referred to as rigidity, this will determine to some extent how fast you’re able to play and may have an impact on durability.
  • Memory: How long the pick retains its original shape. Some players favor a worn-in pick with a bit of flex, but picks that warp quickly may only produce your ideal experience for a short amount of time. Thickness has a major impact here.
  • Grip: How well the pick remains in place between the fingers. Many picks offer a textured surface to increase grip, while some rely on the material to do that heavy lifting.

Finally, you’ll need to choose a thickness or pick gauge. The general rule of thumb is that the softer your pick as a combination of thickness and material, the warmer the tone. The harder the pick, the brighter and louder the sound. If you go too light but want to really hit the string, you can induce a flapping or flicking sound that might not mesh with your tone. Everything produces a usable sound to someone, so using the below as a rough guide, you can begin your experimentation:

  • Extra light/extra thin: Typically anything thinner than 0.44 millimeters. Better for strumming than for speedy lead playing.
  • Light/thin: Between 0.45 and 0.69 millimeters.
  • Medium: Between 0.70 and 0.84 millimeters. Most people start here and these are among the most widely available.
  • Heavy/thick: Between 0.85 and 1.2 millimeters. Another extremely popular range with 0.88 and 1 millimeter being the most common.
  • Extra heavy/extra thick: Anything above 1.5 millimeters.

I am firmly entrenched in the Heavy camp, largely because I play heavier strings and prefer a thick, chugging tone with good midrange. My main picks are D’Andrea Snarling Dogs Brain 0.88 nylon, which you’ll find on the list below. I also sometimes use a ProPick stainless steel pick for a couple of songs, but you won’t find that on here. For this list, we’ve focused on plastic flat picks for alternate or hybrid picking. That means no finger picks and no organic materials. These are pick choices for the average player just getting into trying new things. Of course, you could also pick up a Pick Punch like we included on our best gifts for musicians post.

While we’re on the subject, you’ll want something to store your picks in once you get them. Some come with useful tins, but most just come in a bag. If you spend any amount of time looking at people’s pedalboards online, you’ll soon note the presence of an Altoids tin to do this job. That’s what I use; specifically the special edition pin-up tin. To keep them ready-at-hand, you could also try the Dunlop 5005 pick holder, which is commonly placed on the headstock but could go anywhere.

For those in search of their ultimate tone, use our list of the top ten best guitar picks to aid you in your quest.


1. Dunlop Tortex Standard Guitar Picks

Jim Dunlop

One of the first picks developed specifically to replace tortoiseshell, these picks represent an entire category by themselves. Technically acetal resin thermoplastic, Tortex picks are made from DuPont Delrin using a proprietary process that produces the powdery textured surface. That powder eventually wears off, but the pick still retains a good grip. These became especially popular in the 90s when they found favor with the grunge players as mentioned in this Preimer Guitar piece. These don’t accentuate any specific set of frequencies and tend to slide off the string smoothly. My bandmate uses these on both acoustic and electric guitars and occasionally on bass. Dunlop also makes the Tortex Flex in the same thicknesses, which combines the memory of Tortex with the warmth of nylon.

Price: $14.99 for 72 picks

Buy the Dunlop Tortex Standard Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Tortex (DuPont Delrin)
  • Thickness available: 0.50 (Red), 0.60 (Orange), 0.73 (Yellow), 0.88 (Green), 1.0 (Blue), 1.14 (Purple) mm
  • Grip texture: Powder finish
  • Pick size: Standard
  • Shape: Standard rounded triangle

Find more Dunlop Tortex Standard Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



2. Dunlop Herco Holy Grail Guitar Picks

Jim Dunlop

The Holy Grail is the top of the range for the Herco pick line reissued by Dunlop. The nylon used in these picks was specifically recreated based on the ones produced by the once-independent Herco in the 70s. Favored by Jimmy Page and David Gilmour (and everyone else according to The Captain in this Andertons video), these are slightly warmer than your average nylon pick to recreate a vintage experience. Among the other options in this line include the Flex 50 and 75 and the Vintage ’66, but the price difference is negligible, so I say go for the special nylon formulation. Alternatively, Dunlop’s Max-Grip Nylons are probably the current standard from the company and feature a fantastic grip.

Price: $2.68 for six picks (73 percent off MSRP)

Buy the Dunlop Herco Holy Grail Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Nylon
  • Thickness available: 0.75 mm
  • Grip texture: Raised texture
  • Pick size: Standard
  • Shape: Standard rounded triangle

Find more Dunlop Herco Holy Grail Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



3. Dunlop Primetone Jazz III

Jim Dunlop

With most picks, there’s a break-in period as the edge develops a worn bevel from playing. This softens the initial attack and eliminates any unwanted noise, but also begins the process of shortening the life of your pick. Dunlop have created a pick made of super-durable Ultex with a hand-beveled edge so these are ready to play the minute you open them up. You definitely pay a premium for this, but the result could be worth it to you. If you’re playing a lot of shows back to back, having these on hand for when you inevitably lose your pick could be the answer. These also come in triangle, standard, and semi-round shapes.

Price: $7.99 to 8.42 for three picks

Buy the Dunlop Primetone Jazz III here.



Stats:

  • Material: Ultex
  • Thickness available: 0.73, 0.88, 1.4 mm
  • Grip texture: Raised texture
  • Pick size: Small
  • Shape: Jazz III/Teardrop

Find more Dunlop Primetone Jazz III information and reviews here.



4. D’Andrea Snarling Dogs Brain Guitar Picks

D’Andrea

Competing most directly with the Dunlop Max-Grips I mentioned above, I first stumbled upon these as a replacement for the Dava Control picks I’d been fighting with for some time. That was probably 10 years ago and I haven’t looked back. These Brain picks have the finest grip of any pick I’ve played — more than enough that it stays put, but not too rough that it’s intrusive. Despite being made of nylon, I find them to be a bit more resilient than other nylon picks I’ve used, and they have a smoother, more plastic feel. The memory is fantastic and definitely bests the Dunlop version. I thoroughly recommend these, especially for those having grip problems.

Price: $6.97 for 12 picks

Buy the D’Andrea Snarling Dogs Brain Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

Find more D’Andrea Snarling Dogs Brain Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



5. Pickboy Pos-a-Grip Cellulose Guitar Picks

Pickboy

Combining the innovation of a new grip style with the vintage feel of cellulose, these Pickboy picks may make a fine alternative to some of the others on this list. The holes both provide grip and keep moisture from collecting on the surface. The celluloid material generates a largely warmer tone, which some think is closer to the now-banned tortoiseshell. These come in gauges at the thicker end of the spectrum because the holes make the picks more flexible, and the manufacturer suggests going up a size from what you’d expect for that reason. That extra flexibility may afford you more dynamics with your attack, though it may come at the cost of reduced memory in the long term.

Price: $12.82 to $13.08 for ten picks

Buy the Pickboy Pos-a-Grip Cellulose Guitar Picks here.


Stats:

  • Material: Cellulose
  • Thickness available: 0.75, 1.0, 1.2 mm
  • Grip texture: Holes
  • Pick size: Standard
  • Shape: Raindrop

Find more Pickboy Pos-a-Grip Cellulose Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



6. Dragon’s Heart Guitar Pick

Dragon’s Heart

These unique Dragon’s Heart picks take a completely different approach than your average pick. Rather than offering different thicknesses — 2.5 millimeters is your only option here — they offer different materials that loosely map to hours of playing. The shortest-playing option of 1,000 hours combines the core material of Polyamide-Imide with 12 percent graphite. The 1,200 hour version uses 100 percent pure Polyamide-Imide, while 1,400 hours uses 30 percent carbon fiber, and the longest playing 1,500 hour pick has 30 percent glass fiber. Each of these has a slightly different tone, as well, with the graphite being the most neutral and the pure being the brightest. Perhaps the most evident difference is the incorporation of three different playing tips. There’s a rounded edge for strumming, a standard tip, and a narrower tip for super-fast runs. Try this for jazz and metal.

Price: $11.97 per pick

Buy the Dragon’s Heart Guitar Pick here.



Stats:

  • Material: Polyamide-Imide
  • Thickness available: 2.5 mm
  • Grip texture: None
  • Pick size: Large
  • Shape: Custom

Find more Dragon’s Heart Guitar Pick information and reviews here.



7. Planet Waves Black Ice Guitar Picks

Planet Waves

Planet Waves makes a huge number of guitar accessories, so it’s not surprising that they have an entry in the pick market. While not as unique as the last entry, this pick does combine a few traditional elements in a new way. First is the triple-tumbled surface that results in a Tortex-like, soft-touch texture that provides good grip. Compared to the Tortex, it’s a little smoother and less grainy feeling. This takes the shape of a jazz pick, but is oversized for better handling and precise picking. It’s a solid entry sitting squarely in the middle of many different pick designs.

Price: $5.60 to $6.64 for ten picks

Buy the Planet Waves Black Ice Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Duralin (acetyl resin)
  • Thickness available: 0.55, 0.80, 1.0, 1.5 mm
  • Grip texture: Soft-touch texture
  • Pick size: Large
  • Shape: Oversized jazz

Find more Planet Waves Black Ice Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



8. Dunlop Big Stubby Guitar Picks

Jim Dunlop

Clearly, Dunlop has a lot of entries in the pick game. Another bandmate of mine has used these Stubbies for just about her entire playing career. She tends towards the shreddy and jazz side of things, whereas I prefer chugging rhythm rock. The thick contoured surface provides a satisfying tactile experience so that every move across the strings allows you to impart flavor and control. These are very fast and very thick. If you haven’t been able to get quite the tone you’re looking for, try this. You may never go back. The Big Stubby is also available in nylon and triangle versions.

Price: $4.84 for six picks

Buy the Dunlop Big Stubby Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Lexan
  • Thickness available: 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 mm
  • Grip texture: Contoured rest with light texture
  • Pick size: Small
  • Shape: Jazz

Find more Dunlop Big Stubby Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



9. V-Picks Switchblade Ghost Rim Guitar Picks

V-Pick

Handmade in Nashville, Tennessee, V-Picks are very high-quality picks made primarily from acrylic. The Ghost Rim in the name refers to the un-buffed edge that, like the Stubby above, allows for a musical pick attack above and beyond what most picks are capable of. That rough edge provides a kind of bite that some artists get by having their guitar techs rough up new picks. These are pretty costly, but again, they’re made by hand in the U.S., so you can expect them to be quite a lot better, too.

Price: $17.99 for three picks

Buy the V-Picks Switchblade Ghost Rim Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Acrylic
  • Thickness available: 1.5 mm
  • Grip texture: None
  • Pick size: Standard
  • Shape: Standard rounded triangle with pointed tip

Find more V-Picks Switchblade Ghost Rim Guitar Picks information and reviews here.



10. Everly Star Guitar Picks

Everly

Beginning with the standard 351 rounded triangle guitar pick, Everly combines two kinds of grips into an otherwise simple pick. First is the Tortex-like texture that covers the whole surface. Second, a punched out star shape ensures above-average grip in all situations. Available in the standard thicknesses and at a reasonable price, this would make an excellent choice for a beginner or as reliable backups.

Price: $6.99 for 12 picks

Buy the Everly Star Guitar Picks here.



Stats:

  • Material: Delrin
  • Thickness available: 0.60, 0.73, 0.88, 1.14 mm
  • Grip texture: Star cut-out
  • Pick size: Standard
  • Shape: Standard rounded triangle

Find more Everly Star Guitar Picks information and reviews here.


For more instruments, amps, and accessories, check out our Guitar category for posts covering everything you need for a well-outfitted guitar rig.


Heavy, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to Amazon. Our product recommendations are guided solely by our editors. We have no relationship with manufacturers.
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