15 Best Guitar Picks: The Ultimate List

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

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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.

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.

What Are Guitar Picks Made of?

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.

What Are the Characteristics of Guitar Picks?

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.

Guitar Pick Thickness

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 above. I also sometimes use a ProPick stainless steel pick for a couple of songs, but you won't find that on here.

How Should I Store My Picks?

There's no way around it: you're going to lose your pick at some point. If you invest a bit more for some of the higher end picks on this list, that could become a serious problem, so just carrying them in your pocket is not a great idea.

To that end, every guitarist should have at least one Dunlop Series 5005 Pickholder on one of their guitars, even if you don't put one on your priceless vintage piece. This will keep a pick handy with your instrument at all times.

To keep one on your person at all times, consider something for your keyring like the Hide & Drink Rustic Leather Guitar Pick Holder or Gibson Premium Leather Pickholder Keychain. I use one of these and I absolutely love it.

For bulk storage, try a leather pick wallet, or the ubiquitous choice for sitting on pedalboards, an empty Altoids tin.

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