In the long quest for tone, we often leave out the discussion on guitar picks. The question, “What kind of guitar pick do you use?” is becoming less of a lay-person’s feeble attempt to make guitar conversation, and more of a serious desire to know about an important—yet often neglected—part of the tonal equation.

In this post, I decided to address this and hopefully some of our readers can chime in with their thoughts. I have actually been going through some pick choice changes lately and I am quite surprised at the variety in tone different materials make, not to mention what kind of bill these little pieces of plastic can run up on your credit card!

There was a time in history when folks would throw their picks out into the concert audience as mementos of the historic guitar moments. With the difficulty involved with finding the right magic pick, not to mention, the price tag of $1 up to $10, even $20 or more, I won’t be throwing these bad boys anywhere anytime soon. Usually at the end of the concert, when packing up, I am on all fours looking for the picks that slipped from my grasp!

Initially, I used standard sized picks, whatever was available. Then, for many years I used small jazz-sized picks, different brands and different materials. Oftentimes I focused more on the grippy-ness of the material, since these smaller picks have a tendency to fly away during the funky strumming parts. At the end of the night, my index finger would have a worn away nail, where the nail and pick intersect: Ouch!

As time moved on, I found that smaller jazz size picks were less than optimal for playing rhythm parts even if they did provide agility for the riffs and single line solos. Through the years my choice of guitar pick size has consistently grown to very close to the standard size commonly used by all, roughly an inch in length. I know, I know, it’s all come full circle, just about.

I have settled on a couple of picks, depending on the situation. My overall favorite is the Cool Pick Ultra. This pick is light, sounds bright, and is slightly larger than the usual jazz-sized pick. It is made of what is described as “Cellulon” a bi-matrix composite material that gives the buttery feel of nylon, but exceeds the crisp attack of celluloid. I am not sure what the material is, but it really does sound full against my .12 nickel wound strings. I first noticed a difference when I dropped the pick on the desk. It sounds almost like a dime; very resonant in a metallic kind of way. Even though the pick is rated at 1.2mm, it is as stiff as picks twice its thickness.  It was very little play, allowing you to play with a great deal of accuracy. In addition, the pick has what is called the patented AGT rubberized accu-grip coating that helps keep it in your hand. Here is a photo:

The only place I have been able to find them is at Elderly Instruments online. If for some reason you try to get them and they are unavailable, it is probably because your friendly author usually buys 100 or so at a time.

Another pick I found recently that was interesting was the 1.5mm JB standard celluloid pick from JB Picks.

I found this pick to be solid and fat sounding. In addition, you can choose a beveled edge, which will give you a little more playability from the onset.

By far the most intriguing development in guitar pick history is the device made by Von Luhmann: The Pick Punch.

Von gets the “why didn’t someone think of this decades ago?” award! He created a manual punch no bigger than your average stapler that allows you to create your own guitar picks out of just about any punchable material of reasonable thickness.

At only $24.95 (the cost of some of the high-priced guitar picks!) the Pick Punch is as sound of an investment as you will ever make with regards to your Quest for Tone. I bought a few of these and gave them as gifts to fellow tone junkies. Coincidentally, the pick size is EXACTLY what I like for the right amount of agility. Small enough for intricate passages and yet large enough to have enough to grip for extended rhythm parts.

I found myself going around the house, punching out old membership cards and expired gift cards or credit card offers. The results were astounding. In addition, Von makes materials available on his website that you can purchase to make your picks. He also has video tutorials on making picks with embedded images. I can’t say how much this device has changed my quest for tone.

Another one of my favorite picks is made from an expired credit card! I look at recycling with a completely different eye! Yard sales with old celluloid products become a gold mine for potential new tones. Thanks Von!  Here is one of the pick making video tutorials.

 Published June 14, 2011