The guitar pick - or plectrum - is the most fundamentally important element of your rig. Thankfully, it’s also the cheapest.
You don’t even need a commercially manufactured brand. Brian May didn’t. He used an old British sixpence, developing a sound that was uniquely his. But most of us will use a manufactured pick, and it’s important we find one that’s just right – which is exactly why we've compiled this round-up of the best guitar picks available today.
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Our tastes in picks may change as our playing evolves, and it’s always good to have a variety on hand - especially as a beginner guitarist - to see how a change of plectrum might change your style. Not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place...
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What are the best guitar picks right now?
Dunlop’s Tortex Standard picks are so ubiquitous that the color-coded gauge system feels like an industry standard.
Made from treated Delrin, dusted in chalk and familiar in their 351-esque shape, the Tortex makes a great first plectrum, with the 0.88mm green Tortex our Goldilocks’ choice for a medium-gauge pick that’s super-versatile and cheap. Beginners should start their pick journey here. Many might never change.
We also love the Gravity Picks Sunrise Mini Polished Fluorescent Green. Gravity offers a bewildering array of picks in different shapes, sizes and a choice of their super-soft grain textured “master finish” on the contoured pick edge, or a polished edge. This pick is sized like a Jazz III, with little flex in it, and has an excellent edge for gliding across strings and articulating fast, note-heavy arrangements.
Best guitar picks: buying advice
What thickness/gauge guitar pick should you use?
You will only know which pick is right for you when it is in your hand, but there are some points to consider to help refine your search.
Regarding pick gauge (thickness), find a pick thick enough so its flex isn’t creating more work for your picking hand, making you grip too tightly. The picking hand should always be as relaxed as possible. Thinner picks will typically have a brighter, more jangly tone - they have less precise attack, which can be great for strumming, less so for fast picking.
Thicker picks can help build speed. They might also have a fuller, warmer tone, with thicker styles often offering bevelled edges to miminize pick-to-string contact, adding efficiency of movement to your picking and - again, crucially - helping you keep that picking hand relaxed. They can also feel cumbersome at first.
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What are guitar picks made of?
Historically, picks have been made from bone, tortoiseshell, wood, abalone shell or steel, but are now most commonly made from synthetic materials - Delrin, celluloid, acrylic or nylon.
The material can affect how strings respond to the pick, how it feels and how it sounds. Some materials are more durable. Celluloid, for instance, was introduced as a substitute for tortoiseshell and performs similarly, but it wears quite quickly; with heavy use a Fender 351 classic can soon almost be shaped to the player’s grip.
What pick shapes are available?
Then there is the pick shape. This will affect your grip and the contact the pick makes with the strings, with sharper, bevelled 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.
Ultimately, choosing the best guitar pick for you is balancing these variables of grip, tone, shape, flex and feel. Try as many as you can to find which is right for you. And the best thing? They’re so cheap you can buy a bunch and experiment.
The best guitar picks available right now
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, say, alternate picking. 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 from (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 connection with the strings. Acrylic 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 picking.
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.
The thickness might take a bit of getting used to but those bevelled 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.”
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 “bright tone with lots of bottom end” and that their picks will last the distance.
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 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.
These are just so thick that anyone moving from your common 0.8mm medium pick is going to have a little freakout when they first use this - but maybe also a picking epiphany, too. For many, the thick construction allied to the contoured edge is a game-changer when it comes to fast, accurate picking.
Jazz players, shredders, bluegrass cats, progressive noodlers - any fast picker looking for note clarity and economy of movement would get something out of these. And if the gauge puts you off, Dunlop’s Flow series might have something that could perform similarly.
Dunlop makes these in a variety of five different shapes, with more rounded tips and jazzy, smaller-profiles for around the same price. And they are cheaper than some boutique offerings such as Wegen’s excellent but super-expensive gypsy jazz pick.
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, they are 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.
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 being able to change gauge as you’re playing just by how you grip the 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. It might take a couple of those hours to get used to it but, once you do, there’s a whole lot you can do with this pick and new places you can take your playing.
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 for 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.