Not many guitarists pay attention to their pick, with most opting to go with whichever looks the coolest or something a friend recommended. The fact is, this small piece of plastic has a huge effect on your playing technique, and your tone itself, which is why we’ve put together this guide of the best guitar picks available today.
One pick won’t do it all, so it’s always good to have a multitude on hand for differing styles. Harder picks are great for when you want to get heavy or play fast, whereas a softer pick can be better for softer styles where you want more nuance in your playing.
Even this isn’t a hard and fast rule though, shred legend Paul Gilbert manages to play both heavy and fast with a comparatively thin pick, so it’s important to try different styles and see what feels best for you.
A change of plectrum can completely open up a new world of playing, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced guitarist. So if you want to learn more about the gauges and materials available, then read up on our expert advice at the bottom of this article. If you just want to see the latest and greatest in the world of guitar picks, then keep scrolling.
Best guitar picks: Guitar World's choice
The rainbow-color-coded Dunlop Tortex Standard (opens in new tab) picks are pretty much the industry standard nowadays, which is why they take the top spot here. They’re cheap, durable, and available in a range of gauges making them the perfect choice for any guitarist, beginner or otherwise.
We’ve also picked out the Gravity Picks Sunrise Mini Polished Fluorescent Green (opens in new tab). This pick is very much like the renowned Dunlop Nylon Jazz III (opens in new tab) - a brilliant pick in its own right - with a little flex and a sharp edge that glides across your strings, making fast and note-heavy arrangements a breeze. The super-soft grain textured finish makes sure there’s little chance of dropping this bad boy, no matter how sweaty you get on stage.
Best guitar picks: Product guide
Jim Dunlop developed the Tortex pick in 1981 as the original CITES guitar drama made the industry seek alternatives to tortoiseshell.
Well, both guitarists and tortoises alike are ever thankful for that. Dunlop has brought out a multitude of picks since, many offering a specialized playing experience for certain playing styles, but we discovered that the Tortex, in its basic happy-medium shape and with its sharp and bright response, feels like the best launchpad for your playing.
Consider it a blank slate for all styles, a foundational essential that keeps us using them until long after the powdery chalk finish has worn off through playing. It’s available in all kinds of gauges, so there is something for everyone. But a 0.88mm, green Tortex, that’s the one.
Gravity’s line of acrylic picks comes in nine different shapes, four different sizes (0.96 inches to 1.25 inches), and three different thicknesses (1.5mm, 2mm, 3mm), so there are plenty of options. Indeed, doing the math, thousands of options.
But let’s focus on this little pick - it’s about the same as a Dunlop Jazz III and the Sunrise profile offers a nice sharp point to make a connection with the strings. During testing, we found that this acrylic pick offers a clear, bright tone.
Some variations of Gravity picks have the unpolished “master finish” around the pick edge which can feel a little scratchy to some but offer a nice tactile response in a pick designed for fast and precise playing.
Metallica’s shredder-in-chief switched to these a few years ago after sending his spec request to pick titans Dunlop. It takes the Dunlop Jazz pickup design and runs with it. There is a bold v-shape cutout to enhance grip on a pick that is already pretty grippy thanks to the raised branding.
We found that although the thickness took a bit of getting used to, those beveled edges ensure the pick attack is sharp and precise and the edge of the pick glides off the string whether you are playing an upstroke or downstroke.
Hammett had these in black with a metallic dust effect but these green or purple picks are way more visible, so if you drop them you will find them. “It completely changed my guitar style,” Hammett told CBC Music. “Completely changed how I play. Completely changed how I pick.”
Dunlop’s Primetone series may seem a little bit excessive, but hear us out.
Ranging from a fairly thin .73mm to a weighty 3mm, the Primetone Standard Grip picks cater to most players and playing styles. They’re made from super-strong Ultex material for a reasonable level of durability, as you’d expect from the slightly higher price bracket.
With a simple yet effective thumb grip, these Dunlops are going nowhere fast. The smooth hand-burnished edges might sound a bit much, but the difference it made to our picking experience was truly impressive, making articulate playing much smoother and easier due to the lower resistance.
Every extra little detail is fully intentional with the Primetone range of plectrums, and it’s these details that set these picks apart from the rest. Every single pick is made and hand-finished in the USA, ensuring that the quality never drops. After all, this is the thing that connects you to your guitar, so it has to be right.
A slightly more triangular profile than ChickenPicks’ more traditional 351 Shredder model, the Badazz III is another of these thick, precision-edged picks that make speedy jazz lines a breeze.
The Badazz III is available in two thicknesses, with the 2mm pick surely enough to dig into heavy gauge strings without any give, and a 2.5mm on hand for those fully converted to the thick pick.
This will really suit the shredders who like to pepper their lines with pinch harmonics. ChickenPicks promises a “bright tone with lots of bottom end” and that their picks will last the distance - and we've found they deliver on both promises.
Fender’s 351 celluloid picks have always been great; their old-school models, with the embossed logo, are the pick of choice for Angus Young.
Newer versions have a printed logo and in hot, sweaty situations you might want a bit more grip. That’s where the Wavelength pattern can help, a series of grooves cut into the pick that should give you a little more purchase.
The celluloid allows for a thinner pick with a similar action to heavier picks made from the likes of Delrin or nylon (a medium comes in thinner than Dunlop Tortex’s 0.88mm medium) but we found that they can snap on you if you are really digging in with a light or medium pick, so it pays to size up a bit.
Taking a cue from the picks that occupy our top spot, the Ernie Ball Everlast picks feature a huge range, all color coded for ease of use. With such a massive range of gauges on offer, the Everlast is one of the most versatile sets of picks available.
The point is quite rounded, so it’s not the best for shredders, but it certainly excels in regular lead work and riffing. We found its shape made it super comfortable for fast-picked arpeggiated chord work, and the thicker gauges are great for chugging drop-tuned riffs.
In terms of feel it’s surprisingly grippy considering its smooth surface, although we did drop one at a recent show, we’ll put that down to the over-exuberant tremolo picking. They do wear down eventually, especially with thicker gauge strings on, but we found they lasted longer than your average Tortex.
There is a cult surrounding the Jazz III guitar pick, one enthusiastically encouraged by Dunlop for obvious reasons, but sustained by the players themselves.
Eric Johnson loves them, and his signature Dunlop picks ($5.99 for six) are based on the vintage profile Jazz III’s and laser-scanned for authenticity. Joe Bonamassa got into them through Johnson, who played them on his Total Electric Guitar Hot Licks video in the ‘90s. “Once you go to these picks it is almost impossible to go back to a standard-sized pick,” said Bonamassa back in 2011.
What makes these so good? It’s the feel, the warm tone, the ease with which they glide over the strings, and, at 1.38mm, we found that they're thick enough to change your picking style without feeling like you have changed instruments. A stone-cold classic and one of the best guitar picks for good reason.
This is an interesting option for those who find themselves always dropping their pick or curious about moving from a conventional flat pick to a thumb pick.
The wraparound thumb grip is available in regular and large sizes, and there is a left-handed version too. Once you find the size for you the Bumblebee can be used as a regular flat-pick or for a more thumb-led picking style.
We found that the Delrin teardrop pick makes a slightly rounded contact with the string and performs similarly to Dunlop’s Tortex pics in terms of tone, but the design really allows for you to find your own attack, adjusting the thumb grip and how it sits in your picking hand so you can control how much pick hits the strings.
This is a pick for those who can’t quite decide between light, medium, or heavy. The way these picks are constructed, with molded rubber laid over Delrin, means that how you grip your pick makes all the difference to its response.
Grip near the tip and it will perform like a heavy pick - warm and precise. Release the pressure on the middle of the pick and it will behave like a light pick and brighten up.
This is the sort of pick that might require a change of style, but we feel that being able to change gauge as you’re playing just by how you grip the pick is probably worth editing your style for. This pick opens up all kinds of possibilities.
This pick doesn’t come cheap, so it is just as well the Original Dragon’s Heart pick is guaranteed for over 1,000 hours of play. We found that while it definitely took a couple of those hours to get used to it, once we did, there’s a whole lot that this pick makes possible.
There are three picking edges for a start, with edges that are contoured to enhance pick-glide, and sharp, semi-rounded, and rounded edges to cater to the acoustic strum-a-thon and the lightning alternate-picked jazz odyssey alike.
Just don’t get too excited after nailing Scuttle Buttin’ down the local roadhouse and go throwing it into the crowd – you’ll never get it back.
Many players long for the authentic tone of traditional tortoiseshell just without the animal cruelty aspect of this coveted material. Well, thankfully, D'Addario has a solution in the form of the 351 Casein pick.
This heavy-duty plectrum uses a natural dairy protein which the boffins at D'Addario say sounds exactly like the real thing. Producing a loud, warm attack, this pick is surprisingly versatile and incredibly comfortable.
Now, the standard 351 Casein Pick may look familiar in shape, but it has a right-handed bevel to help the pick glide along the strings effortlessly, plus the pointed tip provides near-perfect balance for strumming and lead parts.
Best guitar picks: Buying advice
A guitar pick is as personal to each player as a guitar amp, pedals, and your guitar itself. This means to find the best pick for your personal taste, you’re going to have to play a few. Thankfully the majority of guitar picks are inexpensive, so it’s pretty easy to try a few different types until you settle on your perfect match
Why are guitar picks different thicknesses?
The thickness of your pick determines how it will react in your hand, and also plays a part in how your instrument will sound too. Generally speaking, a thinner pick will have a brighter sound with a less precise attack, making them great for strummed chords on your acoustic guitar and less so for fast picking.
Thicker picks tend to be better for players wanting to build up speed, with their stiffness meaning less work for your picking hand when playing licks or riffs. This stiffness can make them feel cumbersome when strumming chords, as you’ll really feel each of your guitar strings when you strum. Tonally they offer a fuller, warmer tone thanks to the density of the material, and often come with beveled edges to minimize pick-to-string contact.
Your perfect match will be something that doesn’t make your picking hand work too hard, forcing you to grip your pick tighter. Ideally, you’ll want your picking hand to be as relaxed as possible, giving you a better picking technique and preventing you from tiring out too soon. Whether this is a thicker or thinner pick is all in your personal playing style.
What are guitar picks made from?
Picks have been made from all sorts of materials in the past, including bone, steel, tortoiseshell, wood, and abalone shell. You can also get steel picks but the majority nowadays are made from synthetics like celluloid, acrylic, Delrin, Ultex, or nylon.
The material certainly affects the way the pick feels in your hand, and has a small impact on the sound, but we wouldn’t fret too much about the tonal impact of the material itself.
Do guitar picks wear out?
We’ve yet to come across a guitar pick that hasn’t worn out eventually. You put your picks through some pretty tough conditions when strumming hard or chugging riffs, and the repetitive contact of any material on steel strings eventually wears through, no matter how tough it claims to be.
Modern materials tend to be a lot more durable, with Delrin, Ultex, and Nylon offering an excellent lifespan, even if you’re gigging every night. Celluloid on the other hand does its utmost to imitate tortoiseshell, so will wear out relatively quickly, and quicker still if you play an aggressive style of music.
What pick shapes are available?
The shape of a guitar pick is another huge aspect to consider. It will affect your grip and the contact the pick makes with the strings, with sharper, beveled points catering to shredding styles and rounded points increasing the amount of contact you make with the string. Many find smaller shapes can help with picking efficiency, whereas some tend to find their fingers unwittingly catching the strings when using these types.
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