What Is A Guitar Pick? – And Why You Need One!

Examples of Guitar Picks

A small piece of plastic? A master in the art of vanishing? One of the most iconic guitar tools around? “What Is A Guitar Pick?” The answer is all of those things! That tiny piece of material will open up a new world of sound for you and help you produce the precise notes you want to hear and how you want to hear them.

Let’s get picking!

Guitar Pick – The Difference In Sound.

Reuleaux Triangle Pick

A guitar pick or plectrum is a flat little guitar tool. You don’t have to use one (I mean, there’s no law or anything), but it definitely makes it a lot easier to play certain styles and techniques on the guitar. Guitar picks come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials.

Guitar picks produce a “sharper” sound than using fingertips. As you know fingertips are are (usually) curved and they have a bit of give or play. Tough fingers can also seem a bit spongy and when you press them slighty you can see that they move quite a bit.

All these factors mean the fingertips produce a more muted sound compared to using a pick. A pick is usually has a lot less “sponginess” than fingertips due to the varying hardness of the materials and its construction. This is also why you may notice classical guitar players growing out the nails on their strumming hand.

The long fingernails act like guitar picks producing a sharper more precise sound.

Should I Use A Pick – Perhaps, But Heres How Anyways!

Sharkfin Pick

The shape of the pick affects the sound you hear. If we take the pick shown, using the round corners will produce a more dull sound while using the sharp corner will produce a sharper sound.

I will give you a short breakdown of the uses for these picks;

  • Shark fin – Great for strumming and not breaking strings, the sharp edge can produce very clean and bright notes, and the jagged edge can be used to create harsh scraping noises on the strings.
  • Reuleaux triangles – This is basically an equilateral triangle so you can play using any side because they should all sound the same. This is a great pick for beginners as it has a wider surface to grip (less chance of falling) and you can play using any corner so if your pick starts to slide or rotate you can just quickly turn it to the nearest corner and keep going.
  • Isosceles triangle picks – This type of pick had two rounded corners that are equal and one sharp side. The rounded sides produce a flatter or more dull sound than the sharp corner which produces a sharp and bright sound. The rounded corners are great for chords to make sure you don’t over accent certain notes. The sharp side is great for playing individual notes, licks or scales. You can, of course, try it the other way and see if you like the sound.

To use the pick effectively you can follow this guide:

  • Select the edge of the pick you would like to use. (Round or sharp)
  • Curl your fingers until your fingertips touch your palm.
  • Release the tension in your hand and let your fingers uncurl slightly until your hand relaxes (the fingertips will be close to your palm but now your hand will be relaxed.)
  • Place the pick on the side of the knuckle closest to the fingertip of your curled index finger, the corner you intend to use should be facing away from your palm. The pick corner will face the same direction as the nail on your index finger.
  • Place your thumb on top of the pick to hold it in place. Do not push too hard, only apply enough pressure to securely hold the pick in place.
  • Push the pick in a bit to hide it. Your goal is to expose as little of the pick as possible to the string. This will facilitate more efficient playing and more control as well as reduce the risk of you dropping your pick while you’re playing.
  • Angle the pick at 45 degrees to the direction of the string to enable easier and more efficient playing.

Guitar Pick Composition – They’re Made Of The Right Stuff!

Dunlop Picks

Guitar picks can be made of virtually any material you can think of. Whether or not it sounds good is another story but there are picks made of materials such as nylon, glass, bone, celluloid, acrylic, metal, wood and even carbon fibre. It is also interesting to note that coin can be used to form metal picks which create a rich sound (no pun intended!).

The materials are usually uniform and therefore the sound is usually predictable as a result. Mixing materials may create interesting sounds, like mixing different metals for example. Guitar Picks also have set thicknesses, like 0.5mm 0.8mm etc. They can be thicker or thinner than standard but deviating too far may result in a pic that is unusable.

Picks also have varying flexibility due to their thickness and type of material. If we look at the sharkfin picks, they are incredibly thin and flexible. I made use of them to help me prevent snapping my strings ( I guess I was a bit too passionate at times).

Picks can also come with patterns on them be it raised edges or integrated features. While these may just look like they are for aesthetics the raised surfaces or engravings act to increase grip so that you don’t drop your pick while you are playing.

Guitar Pick Shapes – Nice Curves!

Isosceles Triangle Picks

Most guitar picks are in the shape of an isosceles triangle (two equal angles and one unequal to those two.). I say most because I have one which is equilateral triangles (all angles equal). There are some still (like the Sharkfin) which are not triangular at all!

Guitar Picks certainly do come in different shapes and sizes and the right one for you may take some experimenting to find, but fortunately, any decent picks are dirt cheap! There are probably custom picks made of diamonds or rare gems or earth metals but we’ll worry about those when we achieve mastery (or before, you do you!)

You can also get a custom pick with images or engravings on it but make sure you keep an eye on it because those ones seem to evaporate into thin air faster than normal ones and you’ll probably be very sad if you misplace it.

Take Your Pick! – Your New Best Friend

Wheel Of Picks

One thing I have noticed is that guitar picks like to disappear. I don’t know how perhaps when you get caught up in the music they swiftly make their exit without you knowing anything about it. It may just be me, but I think that you will probably experience this too.

I hope this helped you learn a little more about Guitar Picks. Please don’t be shy and drop a comment below.

Good Day, and thank you!





4 Replies to “What Is A Guitar Pick? – And Why You Need One!”

  1. Hello there. Thank you for sharing what guitar pick is and why I need one. I thought I knew all about a guitar pick! I know I fell in love with the guitar; lead guitar precisely but I have not given it time. I thought the guitar pick was only used to save the fingers from peeling or being reddish.

    This article is packed. A guitar pick makes the guitar sound brighter.

    Is it used for bass guitar too? I haven’t seen it being used for bass guitar though.

    1. Hi Barry, Tanks for the comment! I guess using a pick can prevent you from getting finger peeling or redness on your strumming hand but I think most people would benefit from learning with and without a pick. Fingertsyle songs are pretty fun!

      To answer your question you can use a pick for bass guitar. I have seen some use thicker picks (1 and a half mm thick or 0.8 m thick) The same principal applies, fingers allow for more complex playing like playing bass notes and higher notes simultaneously, like in classical music while a pic makes individual notes and chords sound much sharper and clearer.

  2. Renton, Hi! I convey thanks from a grateful student to a generous teacher. Indeed, every topic of your educational guitar lessons is useful. And you tell it in detail and it is fascinating. 

    So much so that the intrigued reader starts asking questions. Then he finds the answers in your texts or in Google search. Additionally, I also looked at Guitar pick: (History, Styles, Sound, Thickness, Materials, Shapes and Technique). 

    After all, I still have childish ideas about the plastic mediator only, called plectrum, from when I learned to play the mandolin.Thank you for your lessons. I wish you success. Mark

    1. Hi Mark I am glad that you found value here! I hope you will continue to find the answers you are looking for here and hopefully one day I will be able to provide all the answers to your guitar related questions on this site rather than having to Google stuff again.

      Stick around and I am sure we can grow our knowledge of guitar together!

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