Guitar picks the most commonly made from plastic, but this is by no means the only material that’s used. In fact, guitar plectrums can be made from a whole range of weird and wonderful materials. Let's take a look at the most common of these.
Plastic guitar picks
Guitar picks made from plastic of various types are the cheapest and most widely available, and are the most commonly used. Originally, many plastic guitar picks were made from celluloid, although this is much less common today. One disadvantage of celluloid is that it is flammable, and is thus a hazard for guitarists who smoke.
Nylon guitar picks are another common option, and are especially popular among guitarists who prefer to use the thin picks, as nylon is a flexible material and is well suited to making slender plectrums.
Ultem and lexan are two more modern plastics that are hard and stiff, and are commonly used for making thick guitar picks. Another widely used plastic is delrin, which is marketed under the brand names Tortex and Deltex.
Metal guitar picks
Metal guitar picks are also popular, especially among
guitarists who are looking for a brighter tone than plastic typically offers. However, they can cause more wear to the strings and possibly damage to the guitar body if used carelessly.
Some guitarists even use metal coins as picks, although conventionally shaped plectrums made from various metals, such as stainless steel and silver, are also available.
Stone guitar picks
More unusual guitar picks are made from semiprecious stones such as agate. These differ from their conventional counterparts in that they’re not pressed in the mould; rather, gemstone guitar picks must be hand carved individually. Guitarists who use stone picks find that different stones give different characteristic sounds, depending on the density of the stone.
Mixed Plastic Guitar Picks
Tortis guitar picks
New tortis is a modern material that is was developed as a substitute for tortoiseshell. Real tortoiseshell picks used to be very popular, but since the trade in tortoiseshell is now rightly illegal, substitutes had to be found. Tortis is made from artificially grown organic material, and guitar picks made from tortis are relatively stiff. It also mimics the tone and playability of natural tortoiseshell plectrums very well.
Wood guitar picks
One of the more unusual types of guitar plectrums is those which are made from wood. More specifically, wooden picks are often made from lignum vitae, which is a rare type of hardwood with several unique properties. It is valued by guitarists because it produces an unusual sound.
While most guitarists eventually settle on a favourite type of pick which they tend to stick with, it really is worth experimenting with different guitar pick materials, as these can provide a great way to get new sounds out of your guitar with relative ease and little expense.
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GuitarLover (author) from UK on March 06, 2011:
I know what you mean! The nice thing about picks is that they're usually cheap so it's easy to try out lots of different types. Not like amps, effects etc (or guitars!)
6 String Veteran on March 05, 2011:
When I worked for a musical accessories retail company some years ago I was astounded at the variety of pick materials, and we sold plastic picks for the most part.
There was nylon (which has been around for a while), carbon nylon, cellulite, carbon graphite (I think), and other materials. In the past I would have glossed over these, thinking that any heavy, standard-shaped pick would do. Now I'm much more, well, picky.