Saying that all guitar picks are the same is like saying that all car tires are the same.
It’s just not true at all.
Unlike car tires, guitar picks are made from a staggering number of different materials and produced in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.
I’ll tell you right now:
A guitar pick is one of the most crucial parts of your overall tone!
This is coming from a guy that has experimented with as many different guitar picks as he could over a nearly 24-year musical career. I tried every material that I could get my hands on. Every old-school material. Every natural material (animal and otherwise). Every space-age polymer. Even precious metals like silver and gold.
I’ve spent a ton of money on guitar picks over the years, and that is evident from the large zip-lock bags full of the things that I have stuffed in various corners of my studio.
Here’s the thing…
You don’t have to spend a ton of money because we have already done that for you (ask my boss).
You can do what I did and spend a ton of money on picks that you find less-than appealing, or you can check out our picks (pun intended) for the 5 Best Acoustic Guitar Picks of All Time based on literally years of research.
*Disclaimer: There are many guitar picks on the market that use animal bone, horn, and shell. I have selected picks that are made of synthetic materials or LEGAL animal byproducts (milk, specifically). This is not only ethical, but believe it or not, some animal-based guitar picks are illegal to buy and sell in the United States and many other countries due to endangered species laws. And no, I’m not kidding!
Who crafted this post:
Author: DL Shepherd
Darren has been playing guitar for over 23 years. He fronted the metal band Suddenly Silence in the early 2000’s, and also achieved recognition as an award-winning bluegrass guitarist.
A native of southwestern Virginia, and has shared the stage with many big-name acts from various genres. When he is not playing one of his many guitars, he can be found riding his Harley through the mountains of Virginia.
Best Acoustic Guitar Picks of All Time – That You Can Get Right Now!
I chose these picks specifically for acoustic guitar players. For the most accurate results, I used the same guitar with the same strings, and played essentially the same tunes for each video. I did not edit the sound, and they were all recorded using my laptop’s mic array.
I wanted to give the most organic experience that I could. Therefore, I want to show you what I used:
Guitar: Alvarez FD60BL (thin line dreadnought size, all maple back/sides/top, rosewood fretboard and bridge, bone saddle, nut, and string pegs, Schaller tuning keys)
Strings: Martin Marquis 80/20 Bronze Lights (used condition)
Room Attributes: Painted sheetrock wall, carpeted floor, sound projected toward a solid mahogany desk
Recording Equipment: Alienware 17 Recon3Di microphone array
Here’s the video:
Best Overall Acoustic Guitar Pick – Fender 351 Celluloid
I might catch some dissension for this from some guitarists, but I just call it like it is: celluloid just sounds good when you pair it with an acoustic.
Celluloid is an older plastic that was originally developed to replace tortoise shell. It was also cheaper to make and could be made in a variety of colors. The “bargain barrel” of nameless guitar picks at your local music store are more than likely celluloid.
The Fender picks are great for acoustic instruments for several reasons. The first reason, of course is…
They sound good!
The tone is always well-balanced and keeps the guitar in the mid-range overall when it comes to tone. There is not too much of anything: bass, treble, brightness, or darkness. They feel great in the hand, although some can find them a bit too slippery. They have high flexibility, and this makes them extremely versatile (they make ping-pong balls out of celluloid, so it has to have some elasticity, right?)
They have great flex to them, and you can really change your tone simply by moving your fingers either toward the point for more attack or toward the back for great rhythm tones that are not too jangly or chimey.
They come in a wide variety of colors. A really wide variety. I have Fender Celluloid picks in colors ranging from solid black to swirled colors to vibrant abalone shell-like colors.
They are readily available, and they will not break your wallet.
Fender Celluloid picks do wear out fairly quickly, but at the price, it won’t matter much to most guitarists. The single note projection is average, and they aren’t fussy about string types.
I will also mention that they are extremely combustible. I’m not kidding. These things will burn up in a flash when exposed to an open flame, so use caution if you’re a smoker. Also, please don’t get any bright ideas and try to use its combustibility as a stage prop. I can assure you that you will get thrown out of venues because you decided to light your guitar pick on fire.
Other than their pyrotechnical abilities, Fender Celluloid picks are an all-around great sounding, great playing guitar pick.
- Consistent manufacturing means that you get a consistent sound from every pick
- Very economical and well within the budget of most guitarists
- Extremely versatile and can be used with all genres
- Come in a variety of colors and thicknesses
- Wear out quickly
- Some may find them a bit slippery during a long session
Longest Life – D’Addario Casein 2.0mm
This standard shape (351 style) guitar pick is a beast if you are not used to thick picks. The 2.0mm thickness is truly something you will either love or hate depending on your preferences.
But let me tell you why you will love it…
This thing projects single notes with amazing volume and handles strumming well. It has a very well-balanced tone thanks to the fact that it is crafted from a material called Casein. Casein is a plastic that is essentially made from milk and an acid (usually vinegar), and then subjected to a curing process.
The result is a very wear-resistant polymer that provides a rich, full tone reminiscent of real tortoise shell (highly illegal in the U.S.A). This legal alternative does cost more than most guitar picks, but the price is very well worth it due to the long lifespan. I’ve played regularly with a Casein pick for years and have only reshaped the tip once.
If you’re tired of chewing through other picks, you owe it to yourself to spend a little extra money and grab a D’Addario Casein pick. I can guarantee you that it will outlast your “other” picks.
- Rich, full tone that is well-balanced
- Great volume projection
- Incredibly wear-resistant
- Price is a bit off-putting for many beginners or budget-minded musicians
- A little slippery during long sessions
- Lack of thickness choices may turn off guitarists who prefer a thinner pick
Best for Warmer Tone – Dunlop Nylon 1.14mm
Nylon makes for a great guitar pick. Bluegrass/folk guitar legend Doc Watson swore by the Herco Nylon picks.
I know because I have one that he gave me.
I decided to review a more familiar Dunlop Nylon pick that produces a warm tone, has a great grip, and a smooth bezel around the edge.
On the low end of the spectrum, these picks provide a smooth bass line and minimal projection all around. They aren’t whisper quiet, but they certainly do not allow the guitar to project like many other materials.
The Dunlop Nylon picks have a textured grip that not only helps you hold on to it during long sets, but also helps you maintain your preferred picking angle. There’s nothing worse than trying to chase a pick around between your fingers when you’re in the middle of a blazing lead.
The way that I see it, if they were good enough for Doc Watson, then they should be good enough for anyone. If your guitar is voiced a bit on the lighter side (such as all-maple bodied guitars), I would highly suggest trying the Dunlop Nylon 1.14mm picks. They will take out some of that brightness and balance out your tone while giving you plenty of playability and control.
- Economical and well within the budget of most guitarists
- Great grip
- Smooth, warm tone
- Can add a bit too much warmth to the tone of some tone woods (mahogany in particular)
- Does not project the best when it comes to volume
Best Projection (Volume) – Dunlop Ultex® 1.14mm
As the quest for that “tortoise shell tone” progressed, along came companies like Dunlop and Clayton that began utilizing a space-age polymer called polyetherimide, also referred to as Ultem® and Ultex®.
When I say, “space age”, I literally mean it. It was designed for aerospace applications.
I will personally inject my opinion: I love Dunlop’s Ultex picks because they are tough and get volume from your guitar better than any mass-produced economical pick on the market. I use them for all styles of playing and even have my own signature picks manufactured to my exact specifications using only this material.
Here’s what you get from the Dunlop Ultex® 1.14mm…
First, you get great volume! It really brings the life out of your guitar and can wake up a guitar that lacks in natural volume, such as a thin-bodied acoustic. When strumming, it provides a plucky, rhythmic tone without sounding scratchy or brittle.
When you want to cut loose on a lead, the single notes ring loud and true with a hint of overall brightness that still sits in the middle of the tonal spectrum. Bass notes are brighter and have more tonal character when you pick them with these picks.
They’re fairly well balanced overall, adding just a slight pinch of brightness to the tone. You can roll back for a nice percussive strum or let it all out on a lead and not worry about cutting through the mix. I really like how these perform when playing palm-muted bass lines. They just have that “plunk” to them that really adds character to your playing.
If you’re looking to add volume to your acoustic playing and want a pick with shape, size, and thickness options, look no further than a Dunlop Ultex®.
- Clear, concise single notes that ring true
- Tough and more wear resistance than most other plastic picks
- Nice, chunky bass when palm-muted, making them very versatile
- Grips fairly well and does not become slick during long sessions
- May provide too much brightness for some guitars
- Some guitarists may find them too “clicky” for rhythm
Best for Brighter Tones – Graphtech PQP-0100-W6 TUSQ Standard 1.0mm Picks
Graphtech is known for making high-quality graphite impregnated saddles, nuts, and bridges for both acoustics and electrics. You will also notice that on many acoustics, the saddle and nut material will be labels as “TUSQ”.
Do not be confused by this name. It is a completely synthetic polymer designed by Graphtech in the 1980’s as an alternative to bone. It can be shaped easier than natural bone and is very dense.
Although these picks have a model number that resembles a car’s VIN number, they are great picks that add brightness to your tone. Please note that these are specifically formulated for bright tone. They have 2 other choices based on the tone that you are going for: warm tone and dark tone.
First of all, these picks feel great in your hand. They are lightweight and offer a higher stiffness-to-thickness ratio than most other synthetic picks that I’ve tried. To be honest, they remind me of a lightweight version of natural bone, and the tone matches natural bone almost exactly.
A dense material like bone adds a lot of brightness to your tone. This is due to how hard they are as well as how much they flex. Graphtech’s TUSQ Bright Tone picks mimic that response and feel.
Do not be fooled by their marketing description.
These do not resemble tortoise shell picks in any way because they lack warmth. The tonal balance is definitely on the higher end of the spectrum with little bass attack. Therefore, your bass lines will sit in the upper midrange and your treble will be super bright with plenty of attack.
If you like to add harmonics to your lead playing, this pick will allow you to do that with little effort.
One important note is that they do wear a bit faster than I expected. This is because they are a true polymer that seems to be reminiscent of Delrin®, only much stiffer. They do not have a lot of flex factor.
They work great with bringing some brightness to mahogany guitars. Also, they work rather well at “waking up” a well-played set of strings. I’d keep at least one around in my case in the event that I forgot to change strings before a set – which has happened a lot (on purpose sometimes).
Give them a try and you’ll see exactly why the Graphtech TUSQ Bright Tone picks win in this category.
- Bright, crisp, and quite easy to maneuver
- Light weight is easy to control
- Can add some life to an old set of strings and darker-voiced guitars
- Some may find the stiffness a bit too unforgiving
- Wears a little faster than one would expect
- Can sometimes sound very thin when trying to add volume to a solo
- VERY clicky when playing rhythm
Based on my tests and experience, the longest lasting pick for acoustic guitars is definitely the D’Addario Casein guitar pick. They’re hard to wear down with regular playing, and they are most certainly worth the premium price.
The Herco Flex Nylon will provide guitarists a warm, rich tone and is great for guitarists looking to even out an overly bright sounding guitar.
As for volume, you can’t go wrong with the Dunlop Ultex® 1.14mm. They’re a true workhorse and will really allow you to crank up the volume when it comes to blasting out a smokin’ lead.
If you’re looking for a brighter tone, you should check out the Graphtech TUSQ Brighter Tone picks. They will really balance out guitars with a deeper voice and help you wake up a set of used strings.
Lastly, the best overall acoustic guitar picks are the Fender Celluloid picks. They are a tried-and-true guitar pick that is easy to handle, extremely versatile, and very economical.
Q: What other types of plastics are guitar picks made from?
A: Virtually any plastic! The main types are nylon, Delrin®, acrylic, Tortex®, Lexan, acetel, celluloid, and Ultex®.
Q: Other than plastic, what are some other materials that picks are made from?
A: There are guitar picks made from all kinds of other materials including bone, animal horn, carbon-fiber, rubber, felt, stone, wood, and metal. These each come with their own pros and cons and are generally specialized for specific instruments. For example, ukulele players might use a felt pick. An adventurous guitarist may explore the tonal capabilities of wood, stone, and metal picks.
Q: Does thickness affect the tone?
A: For some materials like celluloid, it can greatly affect the tone. A general rule of thumb is that a thicker pick will result in a louder projection and give you more tonal attack. However, a material that is high density (TUSQ) will have less flex, so you can use a thinner pick for more attack. I personally recommend using a “heavy” pick, such as a 1.0mm, but I know guitarists that project well with a 0.38mm pick. It really comes down to preference.
Q: How does a pick’s shape affect my playing?
A: Shape is, again, a preference. There are a ton of different shapes available. I did my reviews based on the standard shape (351 style). These are most commonly used. However, I personally prefer a pick with a more defined point and a rounded edge, so my personal pick shape preference is a jumbo jazz shape. The overall shape of the pick does not really change your tone, but the point of the pick will affect it. A sharper point means more control for fast picking (at least for me). I’ve seen players use rounded triangle shaped picks on acoustics and play me under the table though.
Q: Can you reuse worn out guitar picks?
A: Yes, in most cases you can reshape them using some 400-grit sandpaper. I have done this a lot. You can reshape the point usually once on most standard sized picks without making them too small to hold comfortably. This allows you to customize your picks as well. You can play around with the edges (bevel, no bevel, or rounded) and the point to get a shape you like. If a pick is too worn down, you can always make a nice set of earrings or a necklace with them for your significant other.
Q: Why should I buy guitar picks when I can just make my own?
A: That’s a fair question. It all comes down to consistency. In my experience, I found that making my own guitar picks was not worth the time or effort. I tried all of the latest and greatest DIY punches, and they just didn’t give me good results. Cutting them by hand or with a Dremel was too tedious. Using materials that really weren’t designed for guitar picks (credit cards or expired gift cards) proved to be hard to shape, polish, etc. When you buy guitar picks, you get consistency since most are stamped or cut with manufacturing standards. You don’t have to worry about sanding, shaping, beveling, or polishing the edges. From a financial standpoint, many types of sheet plastic can be expensive and can actually cost you more in the long run. It’s much safer to buy than to make your own in my opinion.
The goal of this article was to provide you with some tried-and-true information so that you can narrow down your choices when it comes to the endless amount of pick designs on the market.
Guitar picks are often seen as simple accessories that do not affect tone and playability. For many guitarists, this may be a true observation. However, in my experience, I have found that guitar picks play a huge role in shaping the tone of your acoustic guitar.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is finding the right one for you. That simply takes some trial and error. Over the years, I have changed my preferred picks several times, and I have done so to fit the style of music that I was playing at that given time.
I highly recommend that all guitarists give the picks on our list a try. Pick your pick and start picking!