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Do Guitar Picks Affect Your Tone?

Tone is a complicated beast…

Anybody who’s ever spent time trying to mimic their favorite artist’s tone will tell you, every aspect of the guitar’s build, from materials, strings and the electrics within can and will have an overall impact on your tone.

But it doesn’t stop there. Did you know that your choice of guitar pick can also affect tone?

Everything from pick thickness to material, shape, and texture will have an impact on the overall tone produced by your guitar… 

So if you’re struggling to get those warm rock tones down, or need some help brightening up your neo-soul licks, choosing the right pick is the first step towards making those tonal dreams a reality.

So let’s get straight into it and go through some of the ways guitar plectrums impact tone.

Pick Thickness

Thickness, or gauge, is the first place you wanna start when considering how your guitar pick affects tone. 

A thin pick (or anything below 0.70mm) is going to be more flexible and have more overall give than its thicker variety. This thinness decreases the amount of time the pick is in contact with the string meaning less string displacement and lighter overall frequencies.

Therefore, thinner picks will produce a brighter, snappier, and overall balanced tone. These plectrums are a popular choice for rhythm players and acoustic guitarists alike as they offer a great tonal blend. 

Thick picks on the other hand (anything above 0.80) are stiffer and remain in contact with the string for a much longer period of time. This gives your guitar a deeper sound as more of the pick needs to be in contact with the string before a sound is made.

If you’re looking to emphasize the guitar’s midrange and bass tones, then a thick pick is the way to go. Thicker picks are the go-to choice for lead players looking for a plectrum that will give each individual note punch and body.

If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, choosing a medium gauge plectrum will give you the closest tonal similarities without feeling too stiff or bendy.

Pick Material

Once you’ve decided on the best thickness for your tone, choosing the right pick material is the next thing we need to consider. 

Guitar picks come in a variety of different materials and each of them impacts tone in their own unique ways.

If we take the three most popular materials; Tortex, Nylon, and Celluloid, we can see how each of them individually impacts tone.

Tortex is the most commonly used type of material in guitar plectrums. Designed as a replacement for a tortoiseshell, this durable material has a bright and snappy tone and is popular for both rhythm and lead players.

Nylon makes up another huge amount of the market, being the pick of choice for pros and amateurs alike. Soft and warm, these plectrums gained popularity as the pick of choice for many rock musicians looking for a warm tone.

Celluloid is probably one you’re familiar with, even if you don’t play guitar. These lightweight plastic picks produce a bright and crisp attack as well as that iconic flappy sound rhythm players love so much.

And these aren’t the only types of materials out there. Wood, carbon fiber, steel, Ultex, and Delrin are just some of the materials used to create guitar picks, each with its own unique tonal properties. 

Pick Shape

A lot of beginner guitarists are surprised when they find out that guitar picks actually come in a range of shapes, and not just in the iconic 351 shapes we all know and love.

You can choose from pointy, teardrop wide, teardrop thin, triangle, and even shark fin plectrums, all with their own unique tonal strengths and weaknesses.

When we talk about pick shape affecting tone, we’re mainly talking about tip sharpness. Strings, when struck, conform to the contour of the guitar pick which directly impacts tone.

Rounded pick edges produce a darker tone because the “pick attack” is much more gradual and smooth. Sharper plectrums on the other hand excite the string harmonics, creating a much more noticeable and sharp “attack”.  

Pick Texture

Finally, we need to understand how texture impacts tone. 

Generally speaking, the smoother the pick, the softer the tone. Smooth picks glide across the strings with little resistance and as such create a warm, comforting, and well-rounded tone.

Plectrums that are textured meanwhile will create a harsher and sharper sound with a more pronounced attack. The texture provides an extra dimension in terms of volume, pitch, and tonality. 

Textured picks might also be easier to hold onto, especially during long playing sessions. This can impact how you strike the strings, directly altering the tone of your guitar in the process. 

Should I Use Different Picks for Different Styles?

Yes, totally!

The tonal differences each individual pick gives you make them ideal for playing different styles of music. 

Thin picks are a popular choice for rhythm guitarists because of the way they cut across the strings so smoothly and create that percussive “flapping” sound that gives their chords texture.

Meanwhile, thick picks have been the go-to choice for lead players for years thanks to their clarity and single-note articulation, as well as the extra accuracy and speed players can achieve using them.

Hard rock and heavy metal players love the warmth and accuracy nylon picks provide and with signature sets like the Dunlop Jazz III Kirk Hammett, these picks have been customized to make playing specific styles even easier.

Tortoise shell replacement materials like Delrin, Ultex, and Tortex are great for blues players looking for that brightness and clarity of tone. Meanwhile Acrylic and Celluloid are popular all round choices for pop and indie players alike.

Techniques and play styles that are complicated and fidelity would benefit from the accuracy and speed a sharper-tipped pick could offer. But, if you’re a strum-heavy player a rounder-edged pick would give you more versatility and tonal smoothness.

Differences in Tone Between Picks and Fingerstyle

There are two major differences between using a plectrum and using your fingers, attack, and consistency.


The first and probably most obvious tonal difference between using a pick and your fingers is in the attack. 

Guitar picks have a well-pronounced and highly sought-after attack that is harder to replicate just by using your fingers. This emphasized focus on the high-end frequencies gives certain genres like rock and metal their signature sound.

Fingerpicking on the other hand produces a much smoother sound. While it’s great for some styles, the softness and lack of attack in fingerstyle playing limits what you can ultimately do with pedals and distortion.


Another key difference between these two playstyles is their consistency.

Using a plectrum will give you a more consistent tone throughout, thanks to its uniform shape, texture, and materials. 

Your fingers meanwhile will produce different tones depending on which part of them you pluck with. The fleshy middle of your fingers will make a different sound than say your nail or even the harder tips of your fingers.

This tonal variety can be great if you’re looking to be more expressive with your playing but can make genres that require more consistency a little harder to nail down. 


It honestly shocked me just how much those little pieces of acrylic, plastic, and Tortex actually impact your guitar’s tone. 

From adding warmth to increasing the overall attack coming through the amp, choosing the right plectrum can make a world of difference in your search for that perfect tone. 

So get out there and give them a try, the low price tag of picks makes them a great tool for any guitarist looking to experiment with their sound.