The guitar picks or pick, also known as a plectrum, nib, straw, vellum, or fingernail, is a small, thin, and firm piece, usually in the shape of a triangle, made of different possible materials that are used to play the guitar and other string instruments, as a finger replacement. In the harpsichord, the strings are sounded by pick (formerly made of bird feathers and now made of polyacetal, incorporated into the pile drivers, which push the strings upwards instead of striking them.
Although they are not essential, guitar picks, also known as picks are an accessory that almost all guitarists have owned and used. But how were they invented? We will surely never know when someone used a solid object to strike a string for the first time – some point out that an arrow striking the string of a primitive bow to hunt is, in itself, an explicit enough invitation – but there are indications in Egyptian hieroglyphics that they may have used accessories to play their stringed instruments.
Quills of animal origin
Throughout history, the feathers of different birds (even ostriches) have been used frequently as a “barb”. But one of the true turning points was when, shortly before the end of the 19th century, the tortoiseshell began to be used to make picks for string instruments. This also popularized the use of materials such as bone, wood, and ivory. However, the shell of the Hawksbill sea turtle – the species from which the material was obtained – was difficult to obtain. Not to mention that, many years later (specifically, in 1973), it was banned to prevent the animal’s extinction.
The use of celluloid
The second key moment, and possibly even more important, was when in 1922 the D’Andrea company began using celluloid for the manufacture of picks. Celluloid was created in 1869 by John Wesley Hyatt and one of its first use was in billiard balls. Until now they were made of ivory, but one of the manufacturers of these balls offered a reward (they say, $ 10,000) to whoever was able to provide an alternative to this increasingly scarce material. Indeed, the new material with a colorant applied offered the appearance of ivory.
The only problem was that the celluloid was based on nitrocellulose, making it flammable. Many of you will know nitrocellulose for being used to finish our guitars, but at that time it was known as guncotton, and it had been used as an explosive in the civil war. Therefore, the proximity of cigarettes or pipes to billiard balls was dangerous, and it was even possible to make a slight detonation under certain circumstances when the balls hit each other. The truth is that this material is still used in ping pong balls, as you can see below:
The rise of guitar picks
But let’s go back to 1922 when Luigi D’Andrea found a way to manufacture and make prints on celluloid. He originally planned to use it to create heart-shaped decorations for feminine makeup accessories, but following comment from one of his sons (“it looks like a mandolin pick”), he decided to try his luck in the music store sector. That soon proved to be correct: the 1920s would be the boom period for guitar picks.
Finger picks (perfected by George D. Beauchamp and patented in 1928) were also experiencing increasing demand, as the guitar became more and more popular in the United States, and, little by little, it was catching up with the banjo and the mandolin. The incorporation of increasingly thicker steel strings increased the sound projection, but also the need to give the nails some help. The flat picks would also see their popularity increased exponentially, and as is usual in the guitar market, a “guitar hero” would be at fault. In 1929, guitarist Nick Lucas would have such a hit with the song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” that he would deserve his own Gibson Signature and legions of fans trying to emulate his flat pick technique.
The spike as we know it today
Although celluloid picks still exist today, the Nylon model created by the Herco company, produced during the 60s and 70s, and later bought by Dunlop is very common. Polyethene, bone, glass, metal, horn, or stone are just some of the options we have today, where the offer has diversified and is easier to find than ever. Each one has its shape, thickness, and consistency, which translates into different sound nuances. But classifying and ordering them is something that we will leave for another time.
Classification of the picks
According to the thickness of the pick and music type :
The thicknesses of guitar picks vary to accommodate different playing styles and string types. Most manufacturers (Jim Dunlop, Alice, Teckpick) print the thickness in mm on the same pick. Some other brands (Gibson, Fender, Peavey, or Ibanez) occasionally use a type of letter system or text designating the thickness. Below is general information on the thickness of the tines. According to the thickness of the pick, there are 5 types of the pick. They are extra light or extra-fine, light or fine, medium, thick and extra thick. Fine tines are more flexible and tend to offer a wider sound range, from soft to loud, as well as producing a click that emphasizes the attack of the pick.
However, some argue that thicker picks produce a brighter tone. Thinner tines also tend to break or wear out more easily if used too hard, while thicker tines last longer before this happens. However, the use of fine and extra fine picks is interesting when making rhythm, as it adds a percussive character to the performance. In rock and metal, while playing the electric guitar with high gain or distortion amplification, it is generally assumed that thinner picks produce a more “uncontrollable” sound, while thicker picks produce a more delicate sound and controlled with a well-defined tone.
However, the finer picks are usually used in extreme genres, such as death metal, black metal, or hardcore punk. Thicker picks are generally used in more discreet genres, such as heavy metal, power metal, or punk rock. However, there are many exceptions to this stereotype, especially considering that pick type selection depends much more on the guitarist’s taste than on the style.
Many death metal musicians go for picks longer than 1.5mm, as they allow for more control on thicker strings. The finer tines tend to provide less attack and sound more muted and do not provide as much control over fast “tremolo picks”. They also tend to break earlier if used on thick ropes. Jazz guitarists tend to use thick picks, in the same way, that they also prefer thick strings. In short, the choice of one pick or another is a matter more of personal taste than anything else.
|Type||Extra fine||Fine||Medium||Heavy||Extra heavy|
|Approximate thickness||0.38 mm||0.51- 0.60 mm||0.73- 0.81 mm||0.88- 1.20 mm||1.50 mm and above|
|Other words||“T” or “Thin”||“M” OR “Medium”||“H” or “Heavy”|
Different Sizes of Guitar Picks
The Pick Size is usually chosen according to personal taste. Although for beginners it is advisable not to use a pick that is too small, to have a good grip, and avoid as much as possible that it slips through our fingers. The most popular pick shape and size is the 351, with a medium-size and rounded tip.
- The famous Jazz would be somewhat smaller than the 351 and with a sharper tip.
- Teardrop has a typical teardrop shape and a very small size.
- In large tines, we have the 346 shapes, but we also have it in a reduced version (Baby).
- And the largest would be the 355, with a wingspan of almost 4 cm. This model is the one used by Mr. Carlos Santana.
There are 3 types of shapes in the guitar pick
(I) Equilateral pick: it can be easier for beginners
(lI) Shark’s fin pick
(III) Sharp-edged pick
The most common picks are made of different types of plastics. The most popular plastics include:
It was historically the first material used to produce picks. Nowadays it is used, especially for guitarists who want a vintage sound. Occasionally smoking guitarists may discover the highly flammable nature of this material.
It is a popular material that has a smooth, slippery surface. So most manufacturers add a layer of high-friction material to it to make them easier to grip. Nylon is flexible and can be produced in very thin sheets. So many of the fine and extra-fine spikes are made from this material. On the other hand, this material loses its flexibility after 1 or 2 months of intensive use, transforming into a fragile material that ends up breaking. So guitarists who choose this type of picks usually have several spare.
Tortex / Delrex
Special plastic, designed to simulate prongs made from a turtle shell. It has a smooth, silky, opaque and not very slippery surface, even with sweaty fingers.
It has a textured and shiny surface that is easy to grip. Usually, no high friction coating is applied. Delrin is considerably cheap to produce and is more durable than other materials, however, it has a specific texture that not all guitarists like.
It has a shiny surface, comparable to glass, and very hard (although it wears relatively quickly). Lexan is very difficult to bend, so it is commonly used for thick and extra thick tines. It usually has a coating for high friction. The best example of picks made from Lexan is the Jim Dunlop Stubby series. The plastics mentioned can be ordered from softer to harder in this way: Nylon, Delrin, Tortex /Delrex, Lexan.
This means that if we compare two tines of the same gauge, one made of nylon and the other made of tortex, we could see that the one made of nylon will be much more flexible than the one made of Tortex. Tines made of metal produce a much brighter sound than plastic tines. Counter productively, they wear down the strings more easily and can even damage the finish of the guitar is used to strum the strings, especially on acoustic guitars. Brian May of the band Queen wears picks that replicate his original choice, a silver sixpenny coin. There are also picks made of wood or even stone.
How to make your custom guitar picks from home?
The pick, also known as the pick or plectrum, is a piece often overlooked by most beginning guitarists. However, it is a fundamental tool to avoid hurting yourself with the strings and to find the most suitable tone to play your favorite songs. In this tutorial you will learn how to make your guitar picks completely custom and from home. It’s really great how such a small accessory can have such a huge impact on a guitarist’s playing. Whether it’s the touch your fingers feel or the sound your strings produce, the truth is that making a pick can be a very satisfying and personal activity. And it can also be a fantastic gift for any guitar lover!
Tools needed to make your own guitar picks
To make your own guitar picks at home, you will need some tools. Do not worry, they are very common objects, so you will not have to buy practically anything since they are recycled materials. The tools are as follows:
- A pen, pencil, or anything else that helps you draw the shape of the pick.
- A plastic card, like the advertising cards or the points that abound at gas stations. You can also use a CD-ROM.
- Mould pick. If you don’t have any pick you can also download the template to print totally free.
Guide on how to make your custom guitar picks at home step by step
If you still don’t know how to make your fully customized guitar picks, you should know that the Guitarraviva process is very simple. It only consists of 3 steps that we have explained below.
Step 1. Draw
To customize your pick you can use any plastic material. From experience, we recommend using the typical disposable cards, as they are resistant and easy to handle. You should also use the template that we have provided or the mold pick you have at home. With these two objects, use a pen to mark the shape of the pick on the card. You can also use a CD-ROM, but the plastic is thick and difficult to cut. If you use it … Be careful!
Step 2. Cut out
Phenomenal! Now that you have your picks perfectly drawn on the card, it’s time to cut out. Help yourself with scissors and try to trim the shape of the pick as tightly as possible.
Step 3. Go over the edges
Help yourself with sandpaper to remove the bumps from your new pick. This step is important because if the pick is not completely smooth it could get caught with the strings of your guitar. With this, you can now enjoy your personalized pick.
How will I know which is my ideal pick?
An ideal pick for us should provide us with a good response when playing, allow a good grip, and that its material does not make our fingers sweat too much. Also, it must provide an ideal tone according to what style of playing we have. I encourage you again to purchase different types of picks and to decide which ones are best suited for you.
As a general rule of thumb, and for guidance only, thick, pointed picks are often best suited for playing heavy riffs or soloing, especially if they are fast. And medium / light picks tend to perform better when playing Chords. As in everything, we will find picks of all kinds of ranges. My advice here is, although it seems a bit absurd to spend a little more for a pick, do it if that pick meets your needs. Also, picks with a slightly higher value also tend to last a little longer.
My Personal Recommendations :
Dunlop Tortex 1mm
This is one of the picks that I have used the longest. Quite versatile and a very affordable price. It is an all-terrain pick that we can use both in melodies and Chords. However, I find some limitations when it comes to playing fast, in addition to a strumming sound on the strings due to their thickness.
Alice guitar picks
I love these picks aesthetically. This is the best option for beginners and guitarists that want to invest very little on picks.They are made with a material that allows a very good grip, and that prevents us from sweating a lot as an extra advantage. In general, they are also multipurpose tines, and as the main advantage, they have different hardness depending on the position in which we take the tine.
D’addario guitar picks
D’addario is one of the best brand for guitar accessories with reasonable price tag where you can choose which size you want to have an edge. Its only drawback is its high price (for some) although it makes up for it a bit in terms of duration, and that it has a very cracked attack, producing a certain shrill sound especially on thick strings. However, I found them really useful for playing heavy riffs and thick string gauges.
Dunlop Jazz III
A mythical one, I used it for quite some time due to the precision you get in your solos, and the control you have over the pick. I find their size, as a disadvantage, which will cause us to drop the pick from time to time (especially if you are a beginner), and that they are quite complicated when making Chords.
Dunlop Jazz III XL
For my taste, the perfect combination of all of the above. It is a variation of the Dunlop Jazz III, only with the standard size of the pick, allowing a much more comfortable and versatile grip when playing chords, without sacrificing the precision and control of its original version, and without giving up its characteristic tone.