What’s the Best Plectrum for Me?
Playing guitar and plectrums, or picks, literally go hand-in-hand. But which plectrum is the one for you? In this Buyer’s Guide, we hope to answer your most frequently asked questions. Can’t see your question? Feel free to contact us!
- A lot of people who play string instruments, like the acoustic or electric guitar, strike the strings using a plectrum. While you don’t have to use one, the advantages of using a plectrum are: there is less strain on your fingers, you get a tighter sound, and a pick can help when playing faster melodies.
- ‘Fingerpicking' playing styles, like those often used to play classical guitar music, usually don’t require a plectrum, or at most a set of thumb and finger plectrums can be used.
To get a good starting point, see the tips below. You can always try other thicknesses, shapes, and materials later.
- Playing chords: thin plectrums with standard shapes
- Playing solos/melodies: heavy plectrums with a standard shape
- Or Experiment with a mixed pack
- If you want to have a tight grip, then try a plectrum with a rough texture
- Plastics like Tortex, Delrin, Ultex, celluloid and nylon are popular materials, and a safe choice
A plectrum is a small, flat object that’s used to strike and play the strings of an instrument. Playing with a plectrum doesn’t only put less strain on your fingers and nails, but shapes a more focussed sound, and if you want it, a little more aggression. You can use one to play chords and also to play solos. While the shape can vary, most have a relatively sharp point that is meant to make contact with the string. It doesn’t really matter what kind of guitar you play, whether it’s an electric guitar, a classical guitar, bass guitar, or a mandoline, a plectrum will always work.
Over time, a plectrum will start to show some wear and tear. But a few factors determine how quickly this happens. In general, thinner plectrums will wear down faster than thicker plectrums, where the tip gradually gets worn down. The hardness of the material also has an influence on this. So, metal or glass examples will wear down very slowly. However, some guitarists do prefer the feel of a played-in plectrum, while other guitarists always want a sharp point so replace their plectrum regularly. Also, simply because they’re so small, plectrums are very easy to lose, so it’s always worth having a few.
If you have no preference, then it’s easiest to just go for a standard shaped plectrum to start with. There’s very good reason that this shape is the most used plectrum worldwide! The standard plectrum is small enough for smooth and fast playing, but big enough to have good grip.
If you want more power and grip, then you might prefer a larger shape, or even a triangular shape. If you want more speed and flexibility, then a smaller jazz-plectrum might work for you. There are also thumb and finger plectrums that are designed for guitarists who prefer to play with their fingers but want a little more power.
The thicker a plectrum, the less it will bend while playing, and the other way around.
Relatively thick plectrums bend much less or not at all. As such, thicker picks strike the string more directly, giving the sound a more solid feel than that of thinner plectrums. When you want to play heavier and faster guitar parts, then a thicker pick is what you’re likely to need. The picks to try are ‘heavy’, ‘extra heavy’, or even thicker.
If you play more sultry guitar parts or you’re more of a chord strummer or rhythm player, then a relatively thin and flexible plectrum is more likely to suit you. Here, you can choose from a ‘thin’, ‘medium’, or for a little more attack, a standard ‘heavy’.
Most plectrums are made of plastic. Most guitarists play with plastic plectrums, while materials like Celluloid sounds a little more ‘vintage’; smoother Delrin and more rough textured Tortex have a nicely balanced sound; Nylon offers a little extra warmth, and Ultex adds more definition.
There are other kinds of plectrums available, including stone, wood, glass, and metal. It usually applies that, the harder the material, the more ‘outspoken’ the sound.
At the end of the day, most guitarists will choose a plectrum because of how it feels. While one will prefer a smoother pick, the other will prefer something that feels more rough. As such, there are a lot of plectrums available that have been finished with a special textured grip.
We absolutely understand that it’s a tough choice to make, especially since the range on offer is gigantic. Also, it doesn’t help that guitarists that play the same style don’t necessarily have the same preference. Choosing a plectrum is incredibly dependent on personal preferences, and the only way to figure out which is the best one for you is to try them! Some pick makers put together nice variety packs of different kinds of plectrums, so you can freely experiment with how different shapes and materials feel to find what suits you best.
Every guitarist knows that plectrums are easy to lose. Now, you could keep some in a drawer, or just pack them in your gig bag, but now and then, a nice plectrum holder can be incredibly useful. Especially when rehearsing or playing a gig. There are various pick holders that are fixed to your guitar, can be attached to a keyring, or even slotted onto your microphone stand.