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Everything you ever wanted to know about guitar picks

When I first tried Dunlop Tortex picks in .88mm size, I was hooked. I've tried many picks over the years, and I always go back to the Tortex - but I have very specific reasons why I do.

Originally, I started using Tortex picks because the special textured DuPont plastic it's made out of (which is called delrin) does not slip in my fingers. Later on I continued to use them because of what's called "pick memory". This is a weird term, but accurate. Basically, what it means is that Tortex picks always wear the same way; it won't be the situation where you use one pick and the tip wears off quick and with the next the tip wears off slow. The Tortex has the most consistency of wear of any guitar pick I've ever used. And they feel right to my fingers.

No, I'm not telling you to use Tortex picks. I use them personally, but you can use whatever you want.

Understanding plastics

This is something most guitar players don't pay attention to, but should.

First I will say that the plastic and thickness of plastic does affect the tone of the string. I'll talk about that more in a moment, but first, these are the types of plastics picks are made out of:

Celluloid

The "original plastic" for picks, so to speak. You know these as the "cheap picks", but some players really like them. The tips wear out really fast, and harder players can actually snap these things easily.

I describe celluloid picks as very "flappy" because you can literally hear a flapping noise when strumming with a celluloid pick.

Nylon

Lots of players like nylon picks specifically for the reason that they can be made very, very thin. As in less-than-wafer thin. They also have friction coating that makes them easy to grab and hold on to. They also bust fairly easily, so if you buy these, buy a bag.

Acetal (Delrin)

This is what the Tortex picks are made out of. Most who read this simply know these as "textured picks". Very durable and very difficult to snap/break. The tradeoff is that they typically produce less string ring/vibration.

Ultem

This is a very stiff pick, no matter the thickness. Very good for acoustic instruments like mandolins and ukeleles. Also very good for those looking for that old-school "tortoise shell" pick feel. When you want your acoustic strings to ring out loud, clear and true, ultem material picks are what you use.

Delrex

This is probably the "most grippy" pick you can use. It's what Dunlop Gator Grip picks are made out of. Most of you know these as "the 'chalky' looking pick". That chalk-like whiteness is the delrex material. The tradeoff to delrex is that you basically have to buy these in thick sizes. Metal players love these things because they never fall out of the fingers and can take a lot of punishment.

Other materials

Metal picks: Picks specifically made out of metal. Some call these "mirror picks" because they have a mirror finish to them. Cool to have, but noisy as hell because when the metal plucks the strings, it can create unwanted harmonics because the pick literally acts as a fret since it's metal.

Glass picks: These things are heavy in the hand, however, you may find that you can get your fastest picking speed ever (if speed is what you're after) with that extra weight. Like with the metal picks, they can create unwanted harmonics.

Wood picks: I only recommend using these to those who want a pick that has the "deadest" sound possible. No "flap" and no "clack" whatsoever from these things. I would only use a wood pick on an acoustic instrument where it was absolutely required to hear no pick noise whatsoever.

Things picks do that affect your sound

Flap

If you've ever used cheap picks, you know the flap sound. It's especially heard when strumming chords, even lightly.

Celluloid picks as mentioned above are the "flappiest" of the bunch. This is because they flex easily, so what's happening is that the pick is literally flapping from one string to the next when strumming.

Some players really like flappy picks. Sometimes when you're trying to get that "perfect vintage rock full power chord", you need a flappy pick to get it. Just about all the famous rock guitarists of years ago exclusively used flappy celluloid picks because there basically was little to nothing else around at the time.

Smoothness

No, not smoothness of tone. Smoothness of the plastic.

Smoother picks are in my experience better for soloing for one simple reason: They don't scrape the strings as much on the tip.

For example, let's say you're trying to perform a slower solo, but when plucking those high notes you can hear a lot of pick scraping noise. Sometimes this can be fixed easily just by using a smooth, non-textured pick - OR - using a pick that's not textured on the picking side (the top is textured for your grip, but the playing side is non-textured for plucking).

Flex

The flex of a pick isn't all about flap, because it can affect your entire playing style. For strummers, a pick with more flex is much more comfortable. For metalheads, thick picks are pretty much mandatory for crunching/chugging power chords. For those "in the middle" of all that (such as myself), a pick with some flex works best.

A list of picks all players should have (or at least try out)

Fender HeavyFender Classic Celluloid

This comes in a bunch of different colors, although you'll probably find them in white, black, "tortoise" or "confetti" as shown above. These things have been around forever, they're cheap, every guitar store has them and they'll be around for a long time.

Every guitar player should buy a 144-count box of these. They're nice to have around just for something different, or to give to friends (who always seem to forget their picks, so you don't mind giving these away), or if you genuinely like the old-style celluloid pick, you might as well get the Fender-branded kind because they look cool.

These things are easy to drill holes through and easy to make decoration with. They're so cheap that you could buy a few boxes of these and make a "pick curtain" (similar to a bead curtain) out of them. Or if you have plastic blinds for your windows, take off the knob end of the pull string and replace it with Fender picks. There are many, many ways of using these things as decoration.

Dunlop Jazz IIIDunlop Jazz III

If you're going to buy a nylon pick, you might as well get this one. Jazz III's are preferred by many players (even ones that play heavy metal). When browsing through the listings, bear in mind there's the regular version of these and the "Max Grip" that have tread-like material at the top of the pick for better grip.

Dunlop Gator GripDunlop Gator Grip

This delrex material pick one I specifically recommend to metal players because you can even get these things in super-thick 2.0mm sizes while still being the "grippiest" pick you've ever used. The Gator Grip will never drop out of the fingers, I can pretty much guarantee you that.

Dunlop Tortex 88Dunlop Tortex

Of course, I have to mention the pick I use, the Tortex. While true there are other pick-makers who use acetal/delrin material, this one in my experience has the most consistent wear and "memory" as I said above.

When you find "that pick" you like, buy a bunch of them

Something I see happen to a lot of guitar players is that they're always running out of the picks they love simply because they didn't buy enough of them.

When you find the pick that suits you best, buy in bulk. You'll probably have to go on eBay to do that, but it's totally worth it because otherwise you'll be spending more for less in the long run.

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