What are good guitar finger picks

The ultimate pick guide

Guitar picks, picks & finger picks
by Stefan Woldach,

Anyone who has ever had to look for their pick at a gig knows how indispensable these little things are. Whether made of solid celluloid or the latest hi-tech plastic, whether made of metal or glass, thick or thin, plain, printed or specially designed for left-handers: picks are now much more than just a means to an end. They make a lot of sound ...

However, there were also great, almost style-forming musicians - such as Mark Knopfler or Jeff Beck - who practiced pure handwork or fingerwork on the electric guitar. And that brings us to the essential point of this topic: Whatever you do or whatever material you put on the strings - it always sounds different. Here is a large overview of the topic of picks!

The essentials in brief


Picks are made of plastics in various hardnesses, metal, glass, wood, stone ... The following rule applies: The harder the material of the picks, the more concise and direct the tone sounds. The softer the material, the lighter and less concrete the tone. The pick surfaces also play a role. The soft felt picks, which were still often played in the 1960s, produce a dull, vague sound.

Pick strengths

From less than half a millimeter thick metal picks to the 2mm thick Dunlop Jazz to really fat and up to 5mm thick boutique picks made of wood or stone, everything is possible. Rule: The thicker the pick, the more direct and “bigger” the tone sounds.

Sizes & shapes

The paperback-sized monster picks that Cheap Trick guitarist and comedian Rick Nielsen occasionally used live are certainly the exception. Picks should lie comfortably in the hand or between the fingers, so their size and shape are first and foremost a matter of taste. Only the shape - the tip of the pick touching the string - has an influence on the tone. Rule: the more pointed the pick, the thinner and more precise the note sounds. However, the larger the impact area of ​​the pick on the strings, the fatter the tone sounds.

The pick in action

The position of the pick is much more defining: It always makes an audible difference whether you hold the pick with your pointed fingers on the strings, or whether the pick is firmly wedged between the bent index finger and the thumb - simply because it is This changes the overall velocity: Because whether you hit the string with the outstretched thumb and forefinger, with your fist and wrist, or with your whole arm, things are energetically very different.

Pluck with your fingers or strike with the opening pick?

This question is at the beginning of almost all aspiring guitarists, unless you want to start straight away with advanced special treatments such as Jimmy Page (violin bow) or Jimi Hendrix (lighter fluid).

Which should you choose? As always in life, both techniques have advantages and disadvantages.

Playing in the finger-picking style enables the musician to have wonderful flowing chord and melody connections, which require a lot of skill and a quick wrist when playing with the plek. If any. Many plucked chord passages are simply not reproducible with the pick.

Budding guitarists with a penchant for folk, country, bluegrass or even jazz will certainly be happy without a pick, but many of them also work with a mixture of playing the plectrum and plucking strings (with the middle, ring and little finger).

Classical fans can do without it anyway. A wide variety of playing techniques have developed from the classic fingerstyle. In addition to traditional folk picking with the thumb and fingertips, for example "Frailing", a technique used in the banjo in which the strings are snapped on with the fingernails.

In American country and bluegrass, on the other hand, the strings are often plucked with metal or plastic finger picks, which produce a very brilliant sound on an acoustic steel-string guitar. And not to forget, of course, the Spanish flamenco style, which is played with stretched fingers and rhythmic and dynamic accents are set when playing chords with the so-called "rasguedo", the fan-shaped opening of the hand.

And the bassists? Friends of the low notes, who prefer jazz standards, blues or funk, will usually trust their fingers rather than a plek. They appreciate playing with their fingers above all because of the even volume and the soft, soft quality of the instrument. In addition, depending on your mood and music, you can popped and slapped immediately.

In addition to the stylistic reasons, there is another aspect that speaks in favor of playing without a pick: the immediate feeling for the strings and the instrument. The materiality of the strings, the direct contact, is not disturbed by such a piece of plastic between the thumb and forefinger. The thick felt picks, specially designed for electric bass players, also met with little approval.

So why play with the pick at all?

Well, anyone who has ever had to entertain the beer-hearted gathering with the acoustic guitar on a campsite by the campfire will have found that a solid chord strumming with a pick not only asserts itself better acoustically, but is also more comfortable for the thumb.

And what would the rock world - apart from Mark Knopfler and Jeff Beck - be without the pick? How does Van Halen's staccato riff from 'Unchained' sound without a pick? What would Jimi Hendrix ‘, Voodoo Chile‘ be without the subtle rhythm work between plectrum and wah-wah? What would poser rock be without string scratching with the plek over the guitar neck?

If there were no pleks, there would be no speed picking and no sweep arpeggios. What kind of music would Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai play without Plek? “Attack” is the magic word here. And that rhymes best with plek and not thumb.

Think of the nuanced accents that can be achieved depending on the position of the pick. The overtones in single-note riffs in particular have long been part of the good tone in the metal genre. From this numerous discussions have developed which concern the handling of the pick.

In classical guitar lessons, you spend a lot of time studying the touch. The position of the right hand, the hardness of the attack, the dynamics, but also the dampening of the strings with the ball of the hand are factors that have a decisive influence on the sound. This also applies to playing with the plek.

But how big should the angle between thumb and forefinger be? Some guitarists hold the plek very flat, almost touching it "with pointed fingers". Others swear by a very angled posture. How far should the tip protrude from between your fingers? A millimeter? Two centimeters? How big should a pick be? And what shape should it be?

Fortunately, there is a simple answer to all of this question: Your own well-being is decisive. And only that.

The history of the pick

Pick, plek, flatpick, plectrum or plectrum - all terms mean the same thing: a small disc made of more or less flexible material with which you can make the strings of guitars, basses, mandolins or banjos sound. In the past, wood, stone, bone, horn, ivory, shells, felt, glass and metal were used for this. Today, plastic picks are almost exclusively played, the quality, durability and variety of which leave nothing to be desired. More on that later.

Let's dive briefly into antiquity: Historians still argue today how the Greek lyre was played. Some representatives say it was crossed with a bow. Others claim that their strings were plucked with arrowheads. So the arrowhead, the first plek? One is safer with related instruments that were found in China and Egypt and that date back to 2,000 BC. To be dated. They were made to sound with aids that can be compared to a pick.

Nick Lucas

Time Warp into the last century: The first guitarist who has proven to have used a "real" pick was Nick Lucas (also known as Nicolas Lucanese, born August 22, 1897, died July 28, 1982). The swing guitarist from Newark, New Jersey popularized this playing technique in the late 20s and early 30s.

Nic Lucas performing with a pick in 1929:

Lucas used tortoise shell picks from the shell of turtles, which was valued for its high flexibility and durability. The introduction of the plectrum made sense at that time, because it helped the “crooning troubadour” chord play in the big bands of the time to be more volume - the guitarists played absolutely unamplified back then and were left with the overpowering brass in terms of volume. After all, the electric guitar had not yet been invented.

At the same time, the "battle of widths" began, that is, the battle over volume when building guitars, with the result of larger bodies and deeper sides. Lucas received a “Special” model with an extra deep frame from Gibson in 1928.

The first celluloid pick

Back to the pick: Lucas was also the first to use picks made from a new wonder material called celluloid, invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1870. Picks made from the semi-synthetic material cost only a fraction of the expensive tortoiseshell - and left the animals alone; Such pleks were still offered until the 1970s, but then it was sensible for them to be banned for reasons of species protection. But by then a large number of polymer plastics had already replaced celluloid.

And science begins at this point at the latest: In addition to celluloid, nylon and carbon, Delrex, Delrin, Jetex, Tortex, Celltex, a few other materials appeared. When it comes to the materials for pleks, opinions differ.

But essentially it is about the following criteria: the best possible combination of tonal reproduction, low background noise, grip, permanent flexibility and good durability. There are manufacturers who provide their potential customers with measurement diagrams for these criteria on their websites.

Color, shape & thickness of picks

As is well known, there are no limits to the imagination. And so there are pleks in all imaginable variations. Anyone who has decided to play with the small aid will need a while in view of the variety of shapes, strengths and colors to find their way around the colorful plastic world.

Solid black? Colorful celluloid? Band logos, pictures, sayings, advertising? No problem. And the market is booming. Regardless of whether they have star status or not, today everyone, like the "big names", can have their autographs printed on their picks and then snap the pieces coolly into the audience.

The inclined fan or collector, on the other hand, can proudly show at home whose plek he has fished out of his beer. Speaking of collectors: Allegedly, pleks with miniature photos, such as those of B.B. King with "Lucille" or by Cheap Tricks Rick Nielsen enjoy great popularity.

And the shape of the pick?

Here, too, the choice is almost limitless. Over the years, however, the teardrop shape has established itself as practicable. However, this shape is of course also available in many nuances: longer, wider, narrower. But there are also shapes like the isosceles triangle (Carlos Santana), the heart shape (Joan Jett), the diamond shape (Loudness), the crest shape (Steve Miller), the shark fin (Andy Cairns, Therapy?) Or the snake shape (Black Crowes). Everything is possible.

Size matters?

Well, not with the Plek. It just depends on the technology. Here, too, the broad mass of musicians have agreed on a healthy mediocrity. Because a large plek is quite unwieldy and a too small one offers little hold at the Pete Townshend windmill. Rule of thumb: You should just follow your feeling, how the pick feels where it belongs: namely between your thumb and forefinger. Probably the most important question is: How strong or hard should a pick be? Here, too, there are completely contrary views.

In any case, it should be appropriate for the stringing of the instrument. Trying to make a set of heavy gauge strings vibrate with a pick brand “extra-thin” would be like chopping down an oak with a nail file: pure understatement. When it comes to the thickness of the pick, an average size between 0.60 and 0.75 millimeters has proven to be quite universally applicable. Specialists will of course see it differently.

The strength of the pick is of course related to the style of music you want to play. If you shake feather-light sweep arpeggios out of your wrist, you will hardly do so with a 2 millimeter thick stainless steel disc.

Another rule of thumb: a thin pick sounds quite quiet. In addition, it often does not transmit the stop exactly when playing fast, because it bends a lot and springs back. With a very hard pick, on the other hand, you need a very controlled attack and a good feeling. Because here there is the danger that the stringing will say goodbye with the courageous power chord. On the other hand, a hard pick offers a nice, defined attack.

Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Most picks are offered in the following thicknesses: 0.46 mm (Thin), 0.61 mm (Light Medium), 0.69 mm (Medium), 0.76 mm (Heavy) and 1.00 mm (X-Heavy). Let's come to a brief introduction.

Choice of weapons

Jim Dunlop is one of the most renowned manufacturers of pleks. At www.jimdunlop.com you can get a good overview of shapes, colors and materials. Under the name “Gels” there are, for example, smooth, transparent pleks in the form of drops, for the Jimi Hendrix fan in “Kiss-The-Sky-Blue”, “Purple Haze”, “Electric Lady-Lime”, “Red House” -Red "and" Woodstock-Yellow ". Conveniently, the corresponding colors are assigned to the strengths: blue corresponds to light, purple is medium light, green is medium, red is heavy and yellow is extra heavy.

The “Gator” series, on the other hand, advertises with a specially roughened surface, while “Stubby” with its concave inner surface provides better grip for thumb and forefinger and is therefore predestined for super-fast licks. There are three different sizes - also for bassists, by the way - in thicknesses from 1 to 3 mm.

The "Backline" series is also worth mentioning. These pleks are small works of art, printed with motifs by the San Fanciscoer cover art artist Alan Forbes, including Ozzy Osbourne, the Black Crowes and Blink 182.

Those who like unusual motifs will also find a nice selection at www.gtstrings.com from the Guthrie Thomas Company - from pandas to luscious bikini beauties. The “tech picks” made of aluminum, copper or stainless steel, manufactured by the Dunlop company, are to be taken literally. Their thicknesses are of course smaller and range between 0.05 and 0.51 millimeters.

Famous guitarists & their special picks

By the way, quite in keeping with the “Heavy Metal” genre, some musicians have acquired a very personal tool. ZZ top guitarist Billy Gibbons swears by a Mexican peso coin, with which he gets his smacking stroke.

The same philosophy, just typically British, was followed by Queen guitarist Brian May, who preferred to play English “6 pence” coins. Jazz icon Django Reinhard, on the other hand, is said to have struck his strings with pants buttons.

Paper clips, credit cards - anything is conceivable, anything is allowed. Of course also high-tech like Dunlop's “Stylus” pick, which looks not unlike an American stealth bomber: black, angular and with a pronounced tip at the front, designed for “ultra fast picking”.

Since only the tiny tip is used here, there is an illustrated booklet with instructions and exercises when you buy this pick. Those who prefer it classic and prefer the celluloid look can get an overview on the websites of the traditional companies www.fender.com and www.gibson.com. The two instrument makers mainly have the common teardrop shape in brown, white and black on offer. Gibson also offers the heart shape and the "wedge" shape, a rounded triangle. The pleks all have a smooth surface and are available in thin, medium and heavy thicknesses.

Are there picks for left-handers?

To take it to the extreme - they actually exist: picks for left-handers! Dunlop offers speed picks made of Delrin with a tip beveled at 10 degrees, which should guarantee more control and speed. Since an angle is involved here, this pick is also available with a "reverse angle" - for left-handers.

The ultimate nightmare

It's pitch black on stage, the pick is gone and the drummer counts in. Some companies sell fluorescent picks.

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