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Best guitar picks 2021: 11 recommended plectrums to upgrade your playing

Best guitar picks 2021: 11 recommended plectrums to upgrade your playing
(Image credit: Dunlop/Fender/Dava/Gravity)

The guitar plectrum - or pick - is one of the most fundamentally important elements of your rig. Thankfully, the best guitar picks are also the cheapest part of your setup. 

Most of us will use a pick in our playing career (unless you’re Brian May, who used a British sixpence to develop his unique sound) 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.

As our playing evolves, our taste in picks may change, but it’s always good to have a variety on hand. As a beginner guitarist a change of plectrum might change your style, so it’s definitely worth trying out a few different types, and reading up on a bunch more. Not sure where to start? You’ve come to the right place… 

If you’d like to read more expert buying advice about the best guitar picks, then you can click the ‘buying advice’ tab above. If you’d rather get straight to the products, then keep scrolling.  

Best guitar picks: Guitar World's choice

So iconic are Dunlop’s Tortex Standard picks, that the color-coded gauge system feels like an industry standard. 

The Tortex makes a great first plectrum, made from treated Delrin, dusted in chalk and familiar in the 351-esque shape - with the 0.88mm green Tortex our Goldilocks’ choice for a cheap, durable, medium-gauge pick. 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: Product guide

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Tortex Standard guitar picks

(Image credit: Dunlop)

1. Dunlop Tortex Standard guitar picks

Simply the best guitar picks you can buy

Price: $11.47 for 12 | Material: Treated Delrin | Thickness: 0.6mm, 0.73mm, 0.88mm, 1mm, 1.14mm | Features: Powdered finish, low memory, made in USA, color-coded gauge system

Great tone and feel
A true classic
Doesn't excel in any one genre

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.

Best guitar picks: Gravity Picks Sunrise Mini Polished Fluorescent Green

(Image credit: Gravity Picks)

2. Gravity Picks Sunrise Mini Polished Fluorescent Green

Acrylic in the name of…

Price: $4.99 for one | Material: Acrylic | Thickness: 1.5mm | Features: Jazz-sized (0.96-inch wide) pick, acrylic construction, sharp-v point, master finish or polished finish, variety of options

Acrylic feels and sounds great
Precise picking
So many options

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.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Kirk Hammett Jazz guitar picks

(Image credit: Dunlop)

3. Dunlop Kirk Hammett Jazz guitar picks

…And be-bop for all

Price: $4.99 for 6 | Material: Nylon | Thickness: 1.38mm | Features: Custom made for Kirk Hammett, V-shaped cutout, bevelled edges, medium size, green or purple sparkle finish, rounded tip

Good grip
Fast picking feel
No lighter gauge options
Cutout and shape not everyone’s bag

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.”

Best guitar picks: Jim Dunlop Primetone Standard Grip

(Image credit: Jim Dunlop)

4. Dunlop Primetone Standard Grip

Hand finished for those who like the personal touch

Price: From $5.99/£7.20 for a 3 pack | Material: Ultex | Thickness: .73mm to 3mm | Features: Hand-burnished edge, thumb grip

Super comfortable
Burnished edge makes for smoother picking 
Ultex is incredibly durable 
No thin options 

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 for 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 they make to your picking experience is 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. 

Best guitar picks: ChickenPicks Badazz III picks

(Image credit: ChickenPicks)

5. ChickenPicks Badazz III picks

One tough chicken. The best guitar pick for shredders

Price: $12.95 for two | Material: Thermosetting plastic | Thickness: 2mm, 2.5mm | Features: No flex material, beveled edge

Glides across strings
Full, rounded tone
Fewer gauge options

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.

Best guitar picks: Fender 351 Shape Wavelength

(Image credit: Fender)

6. Fender 351 Shape Wavelength

A grippy take on a classic guitar pick

Price: $6.99 for 12 | Material: Celluloid | Thickness: Thin, medium, heavy, extra heavy | Features: Wavelength debossed grip pattern, made in USA, traditional Fender 351 shape

Warm tone
Good grip and feel
Some might prefer the classic style
Not as durable

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.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Primetone Pointed Tip guitar picks

(Image credit: Dunlop)

7. Dunlop Primetone Pointed Tip guitar picks

Are you down with the thickness?

Price: $8.25 for three | Material: Polycarbonate | Thickness: 5mm | Features: Concave and grooved picking surface, precision-contoured edge

Deep grooves, good grip
Great pick to string action
Not great for strumming
How thick is too thick?

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.

Best guitar picks: Dunlop Nylon Jazz III

(Image credit: Dunlop)

8. Dunlop Nylon Jazz III

No pick conversation can be complete without it

Price: $4.99 for six | Material: Nylon | Thickness: 1.38mm | Features: Small/broad shape with embossed logo for grip, medium-sharp jazz tip

Classic feel and tone
Great value
Takes some getting used to
Newer designs offer bolder solutions

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.

Best guitar picks: Fred Kelly Picks Bumblebee Delrin Teardrop

(Image credit: Fred kelly)

9. Fred Kelly Picks Bumblebee Delrin Teardrop

The best guitar picks for sweaty fingers

Price: $12 for three | Material: Delrin, polycarb | Thickness: Light, medium, heavy, extra heavy | Features: Thumb-grip in various sizes and left-handed, teardrop shape

No dropping picks
Allows for hybrid styles
Takes a bit of getting used to
Only one shape

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.

Best guitar picks: Dava Grip Tips Delrin

(Image credit: Dava)

10. Dava Grip Tips Delrin

It’s all in the grips

Price: $5.31 for six | Material: Delrin with molded rubber grip | Thickness: Medium | Features: Delrin construction with molded rubber grip, thin profile

Non-slip design
Versatile feel
Could be difficult to keeping picking hand relaxed
Small picking surface area

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.

Best guitar picks: Original Dragon's Heart guitar picks

(Image credit: Original Dragon)

11. Original Dragon's Heart guitar picks

Breathe some fire into your playing

Price: $14.97 for one | Material: Polyamide-imide w/12% graphite fill | Thickness: 2.5mm | Features: Three picking edges, over 1000 hours guaranteed, unique shape, made in USA

Game-changing design
No gauge options
15 bucks for a pick!?

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.

Best guitar picks: Buying advice

Best guitar picks: 11 recommended plectrums to upgrade your playing

(Image credit: Future)

What thickness/gauge guitar pick should you use?

There are some points to consider to help refine your search, although realistically, you will only know which pick is right for you when it is in your hand.

Regarding pick gauge (thickness), 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. We say 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. 

Thicker picks can help build up speed, but they can also feel cumbersome at first. They usually have a fuller, warmer tone, with thicker styles often offering bevelled edges to miminize pick-to-string contact. This increases efficiency of movement to your picking and - again, crucially - helps you keep that picking hand relaxed.

What are guitar picks made of?

Historically, picks have been made from steel, bone, tortoiseshell, wood or abalone shell, but are now most commonly made from synthetic materials such as celluloid, acrylic, Delrin, Ultex or nylon. 

The material can have a huge effect on how your guitar sounds, as well as how it feels and how your strings respond to the pick. Some materials, such as Ultex, are more durable. Celluloid on the other hand, 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?

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, 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 all of these variables of grip, tone, shape, flex and feel. The best thing is that guitar picks are so cheap that you can buy a whole bunch and experiment! Try as many as you can to find which is right for you.

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars since 2005 and is a regular contributor to Guitar World, Total Guitar and MusicRadar.