As the point where brain and body meets instrument, guitar picks remain one of the most important but often-overlooked links in a guitarist's sonic chain - changing your plectrum really can make a surprising difference to your playing style and the tone you produce.
There are three primary factors to consider when choosing a new pick. First of all, carefully consider your guitar pick's shape. This affects the surface area of the plectrum and therefore how easy it is to transition between the strings.
Strummers and acoustic players may prefer a larger pick, while jazz and metal guitarists tend to prefer smaller, pointed designs to maximise dexterity.
Secondly, the gauge of a pick refers to its thickness; thinner picks are better suited to rhythm playing, while alternate and bass picking can be easier with thicker plecs.
Finally, of course, there's the material, which affects the grip and the tone. Nylon and celluloid picks produce a warmer, old-school tone, and Tortex and acrylic plectrums offer a brighter, snappier response.
With all that in mind, we present our guide to the best guitar picks available today, spanning traditional and more contemporary designs. Now, it's time to pick your pick...
1. Dunlop Tortex Standard
The original remains one of the best
$6/£4.99 per pack of 12
First intended as a replacement for tortoiseshell - hence the tortoise design - Tortex picks were launched way back in 1981. However, their durability, flexibility and bright attack have ensured they remain the industry standard today. Dunlop’s colour-coding system makes it easy to find replacements for your preferred gauge, which range from .50mm (red) up to 1.14mm (purple).
2. D’Addario DuraGrip
Additional grip and enhanced click
$10/£7.90 per pack of 10
The DuraGrip design, from guitar string and accessory giant D’Addario, is made from Duralin, which promises to highlight the bright ‘click’ of the pick hitting the string, whether that’s playing chords on acoustic, laying down speedy single-note runs on electric or hitting a bass hard. Add in a stamped grip design, enhanced durability and choice of seven different gauges, and the DuraGrip is worth picking up. It’s available in Wide, Jazz, Sharp and Standard shapes.
3. Fender 551 Shape Classic Celluloid
Warmer tone and wider surface area
$5.99/£4.89 per pack of 12
Fender makes a surprisingly wide range of picks in a host of sizes, shapes and thicknesses, but the majority make use of celluloid. This material provides a warmer tone than many other pick types. The 551 takes Fender’s traditional 451 shape and serves up a wider body and sharper tip, making it great for rapid-fire single-note licks.
4. Dunlop Nylon Jazz III
The classic choice for jazz players
$4.65/£3.99 per pack of six
The clue is in the name with this long-standing classic: a small profile, quick-release moulded edge and sharp tip provide the agility to see the Jazz III through the speediest of runs with ultimate precision. Two versions are available: the warm-sounding Red Nylon or brighter, sharper response of the Black Stiffo.
5. Dava Control Picks
Light and heavy gauges in one pick
$4.64/£5.49 per pack of five
Guitar players usually have to make the choice between lighter-gauge picks for strumming and heavier gauges for single-note picking, but Dava allows guitarists to possess both in a single pick - depending on where you hold them across the Control Region, Control Picks can provide a soft or hard response. There’s a choice of three materials, too: Delrin, Nylon and Gels.
6. Gravity Picks
A great choice for shredders and anyone after a brighter tone
An acrylic construction affords Gravity Picks a different sound and feel to a lot of other plectrums on the market. Besides offering increased grip for your fingers, they seem to ‘glide’ across the strings - great for string skipping and sweeping - and deliver a brighter tone to boot. 1,000s of variations are available, and you can easily order customised versions, too. Sizes range from 1.5mm to 3.0mm.
7. Dunlop Nylon Standard
The best light-gauge pick for acoustic players
$6.06/£4.99 per pack of 12
Players continue to swear by Dunlop’s Nylon Standards, which are known for their warm tone and durability. If you’re after a lighter-than-normal gauge, this is the best place to look: Nylons start at a seriously wobbly .38mm and .46mm, and go up to 1.0mm. They’re a handy tool to have in your arsenal for recording textures and delicate acoustic strumming.
8. Ernie Ball Prodigy Picks
$9.99/£10.49 per pack of six
The best pick for shredders
Ernie Ball brands these ‘high performance’ picks, and it’s easy to see why: made out of Delrin for enhanced grippage, Prodigy Picks boast a machined bevelled edge and sharp point to aid speedy playing techniques by reducing drag and enhancing articulation and control. That makes them a sound choice for shred and metal players. They’re available in 1.5mm and 2.0mm gauges, in standard and mini formats.
9. Graph Tech TUSQ Picks
Eke more tones out of your guitar with these versatile plectrums
$5.95/£5.99 per pack of six
You’ve probably heard of TUSQ - it’s the man-made ivory substitute that’s used in a lot of nuts and bridges. Graph Tech has also crafted picks out of the material, with a unique twist. There are three different ‘tones’ of TUSQ Pick (bright, warm and deep) in three different sizes (teardrop, standard and bi angle), each of which affects the sound that comes out of your guitar. The picks are also comfortable and hardwearing - and they make a satisfying sound when you drop ’em on a hard surface, too.
10. Dunlop Tortex Flow
A familiar tone with modified geometry for faster playing styles
$6.06/£6.69 per pack of 12
This new take on an old favourite gives the beloved Tortex series a bevelled-edge makeover. Sharp edges and a wide angle provide the gliding movement that made Dunlop’s existing Flow picks a hit with shredders such as Andy James and John Petrucci, but here they’re paired with the traditional Tortex material for an altogether snappier response. They’re available in gauges from .50mm to 1.5mm.