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Which is the best guitar pick for me and what do my favorite musicians play and why?

Updated on January 5, 2013

Learn in which situation which pick works best and how picks influence the sound of the masters of Jazz, Pop and Rock

Your sound is not only achieved by your guitar,amp and effects . If so, there would be a lot of Kirk Hammets, Steve Vais, Rosenwinkels or Bensons out there.Its the conscious use of all components of your guitar playing.Which pick you use plays a huge role in the outcome of your sound, feeling and even your timing.

But not only the pick itself plays a huge role---No, your picking angle (the angle at which you hit the string with your pick along with the movements from your fingers. wrist or arm) and where you hit the string ( at the bridge or at the neck pickup?)play an extremely huge role.Click here for more information about the picking angle.

Maybe some pro players would have chosen a different amp to play, if they got used to a different angle or a different pick.

And the other way round, important Jazz/Fusion guys like Adam Rogers who play in very different setttings and bands, actually play different picks depending on the guitar, amp or musical situation they are into.

Due to the complexity and the many possibilities of the topic a lot of players go through a period of creating their own custom picks.

There is also a bunch of good companies on the web offering custom picks.

Click here to visit Chapter 2 to see which player uses which pick.

1. How important are thickness and size of your pick?

Material,size and thickness of the pick make the sound or why a metal pick will suck in folk music

First of all, you should choose your pick depending on the musical situation you are facing.

Overall, it can be said that a heavier pick will be more comfortable for accurate single note picking.

Looking at a statement of Steve Vai on the topic might explain why:

"Well, you know, the heavy picks don't give. When you hit the note, the note comes out. I don't like sloppy picks. When I'm playing hard, the pick needs to be a constant. If the string makes the flop it throws off my ability to control the amount of picks I'm picking, or the strikes I'm picking I guess."(Quoted from website)

I think that goes for a lot of single note virtuoso players .A confirmation of that can be taken of the list i put together for chapter 3, where you find which player prefers which pick.

However, even in that style you can find a lot different taste in matters of thickness and also size.

E.g. Dave Mustaine plays relatively soft picks, cause he likes when he can feel that the strings respond, while Steve Vai or Al Di Meola need a non-giving hard attack for their style.

The size is also important. The bigger the pick, the less space is between the strings that you are playing(implying you don't play in a total parallel angle to the strings) which makes the playing feel softer for many people.

A small pick will feel like the extension of your fingertips which creates a very constant character to your notes, but doesn't leave so many facets in terms of varying volume of your attack.

George Benson prefers Fender Medium -they are able to give you that bright and at the same time fat sound, cause they are not to hard and relatively big.The thicker it gets the darker your sound will be, which is often a desired effect of other jazz players.

Taking it to a thicker level one can look at Death Metal guitar players.For their low tuned guitars and therefore thick strings, they need heavy picks and players often will not take any pick under 1,5mm.

Thinner picks as mentioned above are used for chord-playing in an acoustic or pop setup where you wanna hit all the strings and make sure you can glide through all six strings smoothly.

A short overview on the approximate thicknesses/gauge of the picks:

Thin / Light : 0.44 - 0.69mm

Medium : 0.7 - 0.84mm

Thick / Heavy : 0.85 - 1.2mm

Extra Heavy : 1.3 - 2mm or thicker

2. A List of famous players and the picks they are known to use MOST of the time

see all the genres from vintage rock to heavy to jazz

All information about the mentioned guitar players is based on personal researches I did.

I have seen those players on concerts, on video or visited their homepages. For sure most guitar player will not use one pick

all their life.Have fun!

Vintage Rock Picks: - Check out all the genres from vintage rock to heavy to jazz.J Hendrix, Jimmy Page and all the classic rockers used the following picks

Jimi Hendrix - Whatever brand / Medium gauge pick

Eric Clapton - Ernie Ball / Heavy gauge pick

Jimmy Page - Herco Flex 75 pick

Pete Townshend - Herco Picks 'til '68, later Manny's Picks / Heavy pick

Stevie Ray Vaughan - Fender / Medium pick

Ritchie Blackmore - Signature..A lot of fakes on ebay!!Originals rarely found!

Ernie Ball Heavy Assorted Guitar Picks, Bag of 24
Ernie Ball Heavy Assorted Guitar Picks, Bag of 24

Eric Clapton's pick. Provides that bluesy sound and comfortable handling.

 
Herco HE211P Flex 75 Nylon Flat Picks, Silver, Heavy, 12/Player's Pack
Herco HE211P Flex 75 Nylon Flat Picks, Silver, Heavy, 12/Player's Pack

Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend used these picks for their aggressive, uncompromised sound.Very good to get that vintage rock touch.

 

Hard Rock Picks - See what picks Slash,Aerosmith and other hard rockers play

Angus Young - Fender / Extra heavy gauge pick

Slash - Dunlop Purple Tortex 1.14 mm pick

Joe Perry - Dunlop 483 Classic Celluloid Heavy Guitar Pick

Eddie van Halen - changing his custom picks

Michael Schenker - Alien pick guitar picks

Ace Frehley - Herco .75's picks

Richie Sambora - D'Andrea 351 .71mm Black Celluloid picks

Paul Gilbert - .60mm orange Tortex picks / Ibanez Signature

Dunlop Tortex Standard 1.14mm Purple Guitar Pick - 72 Pack
Dunlop Tortex Standard 1.14mm Purple Guitar Pick - 72 Pack

Slash doesn't believe in changing picks.That right here is his choice!

 
D'Andrea TG351, 0.71MD Celluloid Guitar Picks, 12-Piece, Shell, Medium
D'Andrea TG351, 0.71MD Celluloid Guitar Picks, 12-Piece, Shell, Medium

Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi loves the sound of this one

 
EVH Signature Guitar Picks & Tin - 12 Pack
EVH Signature Guitar Picks & Tin - 12 Pack

Eddie Van Halen's famous signature picks

 

Metal Picks - They heavy rockers of Metallica, Megadeth or virtuosos like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani use these picks

Dave Mustaine - Jim Dunlop .88mm Tortex picks

Yngwie Malmsteen - used Fender Heavy / Custom Heavy gauge pick

Steve Morse - Music Man / Medium-Heavy gauge pick

Joe Satriani - D'Addario / Heavy pick

Steve Vai - Ibanez or other Heavy gauge pick

Kirk Hammett - Dunlop Jazz III pick

Zakk Wylde - H2 Dunlop Tortex pick 1.5mm

Alexi Laiho - Dunlop Black Jazz III pick

Dunlop Tortex Standard .88mm Green Guitar Pick - 72 Pack
Dunlop Tortex Standard .88mm Green Guitar Pick - 72 Pack

A classic pick for metal guitarists Megadeths D.Mustaine prefers this gauge

 
Dunlop Jazz III Pick 6-Pack, Black Stiffo, 1.38mm
Dunlop Jazz III Pick 6-Pack, Black Stiffo, 1.38mm

Kirk Hammett and Alex Laiho use this.

 

Pop/Rock/Blues Picks - Pop megastars like Brian May of Queen, Carlos Santana or the Edge of U2 as well as blues players like B.B. King use these picks

Brian May - british sixpence coin

Carlos Santana - V-picks / Freakishly large rounded pick

The Edge - Herdim guitar pick

John Mayer - Dunlop Tortex .60mm

B.B. King - D'Andrea 351 MD SHL CX (Medium .71mm, Tortoise Shell, Celluloid) Picks

Johnny Winter - Gibson thumbpick

Andy Summers - Custom "signature" Dunlop Delrin 500 picks (2.0mm)

Alternative rock Picks - Bands like Nirvana or Rage against the machine use these ones

Tom Morello - Dunlop Purple 1.14mm Jazz pick

Ian D'Sa - Red Brain 0.73 pick

Kurt Cobain - Orange Dunlop Tortex Standard pick

Dunlop Tortex Standard 1.14mm Purple Guitar Pick - 72 Pack
Dunlop Tortex Standard 1.14mm Purple Guitar Pick - 72 Pack

Tom Morello (Rage against the machine and other) plays these picks most often

 

Jazz/Fusion Picks - Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Rosenwinkel, George Benson and other jazz virtuosos play these picks

George Benson - Fender Medium gauge pick

John McLaughlin - Dunlop Jazz 3 pick (srapped down to get better grip and playability)

Jimmy Bruno - D'Andrea pro-plec pick

Pat Metheny - Planet Waves Duralin Guitar Picks

John Scofield - Dunlop Delrin 2mm picks

Adam Rogers - D'Andrea pro plec 1.5mm extra heavy

Kurt Rosenwinkel - according to eye witnesses he seems to use Fender heavy gauge quite often

3. Materials a guitar pick can be made of

Plastic:

Most picks manufactured by the big companies are made of plastic.Variations of plastic include:

Celluloid: The first plastic used to produce picks.Good to achieve a vintage tone.

Nylon: Is often used for thin and very thin picks.

Acetal: Is a class of plastics with a long lifetime. Delrin picks are made of it.They seem to flow easily over the string without making much noise.

Ultem: Very stiff, is used often by mandolin players.

Lexan: Is often used for very thick picks.

Acrylic: Has a bright tone to it. Available in any thickness, V-Picks is known to use this Material.

Delrex: Is a material that has been used as a replacement for tortoiseshell since trading that has been prohibited in the 70s.Dunlop uses it quite often.

Wood

Wooden picks sound warmer then plastic ones. Each one has its unique sound due to the individual structure and density of the material.Usually a wooden pick needs to be played quite a while until it flows smoothly over the strings.

Stone

In recent years stone picks became more popular. They are very hard and mostly used from 0.7 and thicker.Each one is individual in its exact size due to the material.Can be e.g. of agate and jade.

Glass

Also very hard and a rich variety in tone.Individual sound and many possibilities of shaping it.Some people compare it to play v-picks

Just write me which picks you like best and why.Do you know any famous players and the picks you have seen them use?

Folks,please leave a comment

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      JÖL 2 years ago

      Oh! Also I should include that I play low set, with medium tense, .09 gauge strings on my electric. Techniques I frequent are: legato, speed-picking, taps, gallops, lots of slides and bends, pinches, chimes, trem bar, trills, and pretty much everything I'm able to reach out for. The picks always perform, also on my .10 gauge acoustic, and .10 gauge electrics when I used those formerly. Thanks again.

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      JÖL 2 years ago

      Hello.

      I enjoyed your article. I play Clayton 1mm Rounded Triangles. I've been using them for probably... 25 years? They never chip, or break, they can be smoothed on carpet, they last forever, each one has 3 playable tips, they have little or no give, and the shape accommodates my "unorthodox picking style(s.)"

      I highly recommend them. They come in many thicknesses, and shapes. Thank you for your article, and the opportunity to comment. Have a good time now!