Perhaps one of the most important but often overlooked items in a guitar player’s kit is the guitar pick. This tiny pieces of equipment come in all shapes and a variety of materials, but seriously; how long do guitar picks last? And is there one that’s better than others?
Well because picks come in a variety of materials and thicknesses the length of time they last vary. It will also vary depending on your playing style and how often you play. Best practice says if you play regularly to change your pick every 2 to 3 weeks, but there is no reason why they can’t last much longer.
Why picks don’t last forever
In reality, a guitar pick is used to strum guitar strings, no matter what material is used, it eventually wears-down.
Guitar strings are like little cheese graters and wear down plastic, metal, and other natural materials that a guitar pick is composed of.
Some guitar strings have spiral wire wrapped-around thicker strings too, acting like a sanding file on a pick itself. This is going to wear down and damage the picks over time.
Thinner picks in particular, which are favored by some types of guitarist, are susceptible to chip and become misshapen which can affect sound and ability to play.
How to know when it’s time for a new guitar pick
A guitar pick should be changed as soon as it shows signs of damage or significant wear.
Thinner picks 0.7mm or less, are more suseptible to chip, bend or crack and so will probably need replacing more often.
Every so often check your pick for damage, particuarly before starting a new recording or song. If you see any signs of damage it is probably worth reaching for a new one, just to be certain you are getting the best sound you can.
Always take plenty of spares to a gig so you aren’t risking having to finish your set with a broken pick!
Picks come in all shapes, sizes and materials
It’s safe to say that the type of guitar pick material gives a player a special sound. How thin or thick it happens to be will define your picking abilities in addition to that. So any guitarist who uses thinner 1mm picks will go through them a lot faster than others.
The issue of how well a pick captures the string will influence the sound depending on your picking style. Thinner guitar strings, of course, can shred a pick during those ripping solos just as easily. But other factors come into play when choosing the type of pick you use daily.
The exact pick shape is used also determines the wear-n-tear. The hardness of a pick can simulate thinner picking effects, however, it isn’t limited to their thickness either.
Some picks provide textures that influence string sound but are also good for those who need a better grip. Some textured picks have beveled or rounded edges or some with a real grip for harder rough tones.
But with all of the available materials, which ones are better for lasting longer? In this next section, I’ll give you a run-down of the kinds of guitar picks you should know about.
Guitar pick materials make all the difference
The material a guitar pick is made from will have an influence on your sound but aslo it’s longevity.
There are 2 categories of picks that fall into both natural and synthetic materials used. They all have a lifespan, however, they will all have advantages and disadvantages. Here are natural materials that have been used to make guitar picks:
- Buffalo Horn
- Abalone Shell
- Coconut Shell
- Surfpick Wood (Lignum Vitae)
- Sheesham Wood
- Farmed Turtle Shell
- Fake Turtle- (Casein), Red Bear Picks
As most of these natural materials, they are awesome for highly stylized sounds and will have a price tag attached. Some are more cost more than others including Buffalo, Tortoise, and Stone. Not only are these reserved for the select guitarist that has a budget for fancy guitar picks, why bother? Even Red Bear guitar picks made from Casein (a milk protein), who wants a $35 pick made from milk powder?
These days the majority of picks will be made of synthetic materials such as:
- Carbon Fiber
- Delrin, Delrex, and Acetal
- Tortex (Acetal)
- Ultem and Ultex
- Blue Chip Picks (heat-resistant plastic)
- Wegen Picks (Acetal)
- Dragon’s Heart Picks (Polyamide-imide plastic)
- Artificial Ivory (Tuscq)
These materials are made from modern-age plastics that are long-lasting and cost-effective. And though the cheaper celluloid, thermoplastic, and acrylic guitar picks are the cheapest, they should be practice picks only. Save your money for the show-picks that make sound and performance even better. If you want to throw some used plastic picks to the audience, carry those in a separate pocket.
Ultra-rare guitar picks
Some materials might not be the best for picking but at least would give an out-of-this-world sound. One set of guitar picks surfaced in Thailand made from Gibeon meteorites from South Africa. Believe it or not, this pair of picks is selling for an astounding $4600. How long do guitar picks last if they’re made for meteorite metal is anybody’s guess. Yet for that price tag, I would rather invest in a decent guitar and amp instead.
Longest lasting guitar picks
Looking to get the most out of a guitar pick that will be a continual beater? Dunlop produces a line of picks that are made of Ultex. This material is my best recommendation for a long-term lifespan.
My next best choice after that is Dunlop Nylons which are equally impressive at long-term picking. These are a go-to pick for many top guitarists around the world.
Lastly, I can safely say that a good old-fashioned Fender Heavy pick does give celluloid a great run for your money.
Best guitar picks out there
Now, we already know about top brands like Dunlop and Fender that have excellent qualities for outlasting conventional materials. How about some alternative picks that focus on sound quality and medium lifespan? The V-Picks are made from acrylic and have a unique quality that helps you hold it for long periods. Acrylic is a nice hard material that lasts a nice long time and the tone is hard to beat.
The choice pick from rock guitar giants such as Jimmy Page, David Gilmore, and ‘The Demon’ Gene Simmons is here. They all used the legendary nylon Herco Flex 75’s which are now faithfully reproduced by the Jim Dunlop company. The superb warm tones that are made from nylon picks remind us that rock idols can still exist. This is the pick that Jack Black spoofed in the “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” film.
An unlikely source that produces guitar saddles also created a new pick material called TUSQ from Graph Tech. As they call it, it’s a type of man-made ivory. It’s a high-quality polymer plastic that mimics the feel and sound of Ivory. The feel from this pick as it slides over the guitar strings is like silk compared to basic plastic picks. Yet it makes an excellent pick for heavier guitar sessions on stage.
Extra tips for picking picks
All of these picks can be found at your local music shop and official online dealers. If you decide to buy any of these from eBay or Amazon, look at a seller that’s selling original picks. Many fake picks can be made overseas and are fakes.
They will be obvious to the touch that they’re made from cheap plastics. Only buy your picks if they come from trusted sources for these reasons.
One other tip is that you can request directly from these official companies, a sample pack. Especially if you have some experience with the music community. Talking to their company and wanting to research or reviewing their newest picks can get your free samples!
Guitar picks all come in different shapes and sizes, but will ultimately have one purpose intended. What they do for your playing style can either help or hinder your experience. This article is meant to make your picks last a bit longer. The materials they can be made from will always differ, so stick with the high-end plastics and polymers. Natural materials are nice and earthy sounding but will suffer quick deaths since they are meant to break down.
Save you money on buying too many expensive picks as well, if you can find cheaper practice picks in bulk. That’s where online sources will help you save when buying 100 at a time for 20 bucks. Some nice pick from Fender for 5 bucks is no laughing matter if you lose it by accident.
So if you’re wondering how often should you change guitar picks, be as frugal as you can. Until you can afford more expensive picks, try to save yourself extra costs with just a few quality picks on-hand.
The reality is you are much more likely to lose a pick before it becomes so worn out that you need to replace it. The most important thing is that you find a pick brand and material that you love and then replace it when the time feels right.