Even something as ‘simple’ as choosing a guitar pick can be extremely confusing for many aspiring
guitar players. With some many different designs on the market, just which one should you choose?
And which opinion on the subject should you believe?
The short answer is “it depends”, but I’m sure leaving it at that will not be very helpful to you. Nor is
the common advice of “just try as many picks as you can find until you stumble on one you like.”
The good news however is that there ARE some general aspects of guitar pick design which, when
examined with a knowing eye, can be very helpful in pointing you in the right direction and
significantly reduce the confusion and randomness of the task. Let’s dive straight in and check out
what you should be looking for when choosing the best guitar pick for you.
Stiffness is one of the primary characteristics that will affect how the pick will feel and how it will
react to your playing. A very stiff pick will not bend even when you hit the strings very hard, whereas
a softer pick has more ‘give’ and will bend a little out of the way as it glides through the strings. You
can of course find guitar picks with many different degrees of stiffness / softness.
So, what degree of pick stiffness is best for you? This depends on how you intend to play.
In general, the more aggressive and fast your playing is, the stiffer your pick should be, and vice
versa. So, if you want to play shredding solos and fast heavy metal rhythms, go for a very stiff pick
which will maximize the precision, attack and power of your playing. Conversely, if you favour a
more laid-back style that uses a lot of chord strumming, you’ll probably prefer the feel and sound of
a softer pick, since it will feel easier and smoother to strum chords if the pick has a bit of ‘give’.
This element functions in a similar way to stiffness. The sharper the point of the pick, the sharper the
attack will be (and the more precise you will need to be when using the pick, since it will be easier to
get ‘snagged’ on a string if you push the pick in too deep.) A more rounded pick, on the other hand,
tends to smoothen the attack and make gliding over multiple strings easier. The overall ‘hard’ vs
‘soft’ feel will therefore be due to a combination of both overall stiffness and contour sharpness.
Guitar picks come in a large variety of sizes. Whether a smaller or larger pick will feel best for you, is
probably a very personal thing. In general, we can say that a larger pick offers a larger gripping area,
so some people prefer that since they feel it gives them a more secure grip. On the other hand,
some people will tell you that if a pick is too large, it feels ‘unwieldy’ in their hand. Where you fall on
this spectrum will depend on exactly how you hold the pick and on the size of your hands.
Grip Surface Texture
This will mainly affect how secure gripping the pick in your hand feels. It goes without saying that
you don’t want to use a pick that feels like it could slip out of your grip too easily. Some pick designs
will have a ‘knurled’ or rough surface intended to make slippage less likely. Other designs have a
smooth surface, and how secure or not the grip feels will depend on the texture of its material, the
available gripping area and your own gripping technique.
Edge texture relates to how ‘smooth’ or ‘rough’ the pick material feels when driving it across the
strings. This affects two main aspects: how easy it feels to pick through the strings (how much
friction and resistance you perceive) and the quality of sound (‘smooth’ vs ‘scratchy’.)
The best choice for you will also be dictated by your overall playing setup (the particular
combination of guitar and any pickups and amplification you use.) A ‘scratchier’ picking feel can
inject more brightness and pick attack in your playing and compensate somewhat for a setup that
tends to sound too smooth or dark. Conversely, if your setup sounds bright enough as it is, you’ll
probably want to go with a smoother material to avoid sounding too bright and ‘thinny’.
What matters most, feel or sound?
Sometimes you can get conflicted between different types of picks. Maybe you prefer the playing
feel of one design, but then favour the tone obtained from a different kind of pick. How should you
prioritize in that case?
As a rule of thumb, here’s what I would suggest. If you play electric guitar, you have many other
options which allow you to tailor your tone (pickup selection, amplifier settings, equalization, effects
etc.) Therefore, in this case I would suggest you give the most priority to how a pick feels. You want
to choose a pick that makes your preferred style of playing feel the easiest and most accurate.
If, however, you are a pure acoustic player, then the tonal differences between different kinds of
picks will probably be of more importance to you, so in that case you will need to find the best
compromise between playing feel and sound quality.
And there you have it. I hope that the above points will help remove some of the confusion on how
to best go about choosing the ideal guitar pick for you. Happy playing!😊
About the author:
Aldo Chircop is a guitarist, composer, producer and guitar teacher based in Malta. He is president
and chief instructor of Malta Rock Academy, home of the best blues, metal and rock guitar lessons in
WHAT KIND OF GUITAR PICK IS BEST?
By Aldo Chircop
Call today to schedule your FREE trial lesson.
Geauga County / North East Ohio's Premier Guitar Lessons