Do guitar picks wear out? How do you even know when to change guitar picks?
I’ve discovered something that I found odd.
What I’ve found is that one of the most essential tools in creating the sound you desire out of your guitar is somewhat misunderstood and often overlooked.
It’s the guitar pick.
The magic is made when a guitarist combines properly tuned strings and talented fingers, right? The pick is just a piece of plastic (or whatever it’s made of), that connects the fingers to the strings.
Do guitar picks wear out? And if so does it really matter?
I’ve spoken to an amateur guitar player and he said that he only replaces guitar picks for two reasons:
1. When he loses them.
2. When his 3-year old daughter walks off with his current pick, and he’ll find said pick in the kitchen days later.
Outside of that, he almost never even thinks about changing guitar picks.
Granted, he’s not what you’d consider a dedicated or passionate player, but he’ll tell you that guitar picks don’t wear out.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had professional players talking about (or complaining about) guitar picks needing to be changed within 12 hours of first use.
Some of these picks cost upwards of 10 dollars or more.
Professional and/or passionate players are obviously going to spend more time mastering their craft, which in turn leads to more pick dust on pickguards and pick-ups. And a higher pick price tag doesn’t translate into a longer lifespan.
So, do guitar picks wear out? The short answer is ‘yes.’ Does it matter if they wear out? The answer is also “yes” depending on how serious of a player the artist sees him/herself.
If it isn’t already obvious why, many factors dictate when the pick is past its prime, as well as when to change guitar picks.
Factors that determine a guitar pick’s useful lifespan include:
– The pick materials
– The musician’s strumming style
– The musician’s grip
– The guitar string materials
– The frequency of which the musician plays
Guitar strings, by their very design, dig into guitar pick surfaces and slowly scrape away whatever material the pick is made up of. Guitar strings are composed of hard materials like steel and nickel. At some point, the pick will begin to lose its shape and likely begin to distort the sound an artist wants to produce.
To revisit the question, “do guitar picks wear out?” the long answer is “yes, because . . .”
What is causing the pick to wear down exactly?
- Strumming a pick against guitar strings regularly is going to cause erosion to both the strings and the pick. So guitar pick wear is unavoidable.
- If your playing style calls for fast or very hard strumming, then it’s going to mean much more and much faster wear on the pick.
- If you are an artist who holds the pick on an angle, you should expect to see chipping and rounding on your pick with great regularity.
- Everybody loves pick slides. But this technique too will inevitably bore grooves into pick edges. This technique is one of the most damaging when it comes to shortening the life of your guitar pick.
- Are you using a pick made of natural materials, or do you prefer the often cheaper and more durable synthetic picks? Artists tend to lean toward the natural picks because they produce the best sound, but synthetics like acrylic picks last longer.
To revisit the question, “does it really matter?”
For the amateur guitarist with the pick-stealing daughter I mentioned earlier, it clearly doesn’t matter. But at the end of the day, most artists want the best possible sounds their instruments can produce.
The best sounds are going to be possible with the least worn guitar picks.
That leads us to the next question:
When to change guitar picks?
When a pick begins to wear down, the main negative consequence is that it can literally affect the instrument’s sound. This is the single most important reason to change a pick if the artist can’t produce the sound she or he wants.
If a pointy pick starts to become more rounded, this change alone will begin to alter the guitar’s sound. It also can affect the artist’s control, leaving him or her feeling less in control of the sounds they produce.
I’ll harken back to what was previously stated about pick wear and changing picks depending on how serious an artist one sees her/himself. Some artists actually like using worn picks even more so than new picks.
The amateur guitarist I referenced earlier may not care, or even notice changes in tone and control
. On the other hand, these changes may frustrate a more serious artist. For a professional about to go on stage to perform live, these unwanted changes could be the stuff of personal nightmares.
If you notice a lack of control or subtle changes in the sounds you produce, this is a good indicator you can use to know when to change guitar picks.
Another and more simple indicator one can use is to simply look at the guitar pick. We’ve already established that all guitar picks will wear down eventually. What condition is your pick in?
– Is your pick chipped, scratched, or worn in spots?
– Are you using a thicker pick that lasts longer or a thinner pick that wears down much quicker?
– Is your preference going to be a pick made from natural materials or from man-made materials?
For serious artists, it’s recommended that the pick is changed as soon as it shows signs of wear. For players who use thinner picks and for those who use naturally created picks, this change becomes necessary more frequently.
On average, most guitarists should be able to get a couple of weeks use out of a well-chosen pick.
Bear in mind that I do not mean professionals who perform live, or are in studios recording every day.
Those folks go through picks daily. Changing picks is just a part of life for them.
Here’s a guitarist explaining how often you’ll want to change out a worn guitar pick:
What can you do about picks wearing down?
There’s nothing you can do about it. No matter what picks you use, they will all wear down eventually. If changing your pick becomes so much of an issue that distracts you, then a few suggestions might help to prolong the life of a guitar pick before the inevitable changes become necessary:
1. You can try using metal picks. These ones are going to be the most durable.
2. If you’re not comfortable with metal guitar picks, then a pick made out of materials like celluloid will outlast a pick made out of nylon.
3. Thicker picks will outlast thinner varieties, and as previously discussed, synthetic usually will outlast natural guitar picks, and at a lesser hit to the pocketbook.
Finally, you don’t want to spend top dollar on practice guitar picks. Trial and error is going to be how you’ll determine which picks last the longest while still providing the sounds you’re looking for. If you perform, you should save your best (and more expensive) guitar picks for when you are on stage.
Dunlop Tortex guitar picks very often come recommended by seasoned guitarists. These products offer durability, affordability, and longevity. Additionally, many artists recommend buying guitar picks in bulk online. This tip is especially helpful once you’ve determined which guitar pick works best for you.