The guitar pick has been in constant evolution since the 1920s.
Today, 100 years later, we have achieved great accomplishments in the area of durability of this very important piece of guitar gear.
In this article, we will review all the important points that can cause picks to wear out, and summarize all you need to know about guitar pick durability.
We will make some comments on the tone, to help control the changes, which happen after a guitar pick has worn down.
In addition, we will give some advice to keep your picks “healthier“, longer than expected.
We all know that using different guitar picks, will also make a difference in your tone, and your playing. Material, shape, thickness and shape of the pick, directly affect the tone and playability.
Most standard plectrums can resist heavy strumming for a long time, without much wear and tear.
The first thing you may notice after using a guitar pick for some weeks, is that the tip is not as pointy as the new guitar pick. You will see it, and you will hear it, because the tone of the pick will change over time, with wear.
The rounded shape of the worn down plectrum, will create warmer tones, and feel darker. This is totally fine, if this is the tone you are looking for.
It will also affect the way your plectrum plucks the strings:
Just like the guitar strings, the frets, & other components, the guitar picks will wear out over time.
Some players feel a lack of control after the guitar pick has worn down, while others use the rounder picks because of the tone they produce. This especially happens to jazz guitarists, who tend to choose picks that are almost circular, for example: Rombo Waves.
Gaining control when using rounder guitar picks, is an ability you can train yourself to do, and improve.
Guitar strings are usually made from a mix of steel, nickel, bronze, or brass. In other words: Metals.
Since most players use some kind of plastic material for their guitar picks, (nylon, delrin, …), it’s not surprising that friction between strings and picks will cause the guitar picks to wear down.
You will notice, the thickest guitar strings have a spiral wire wrapped-around, acting like a sanding file on the plectrum.
The short answer: If you are an average user, your picks should last a few weeks to a month. If you are a professional player, using specific techniques, like heavy picking and strumming, it will probably last just one day, especially if you are a studio musician recording new tracks every day.
The long answer: This answer includes many factors including guitar pick attributes, and external factors, regardless of the guitar pick you are using. We discuss all of them below.
The attributes that define the durability of a guitar pick are as follows:
Harder materials will wear down slower. This is one of the reasons there has been a lot of research in the area of suitable materials for guitar picks.
The goal is to find a wear-resistant material, that keeps the tone characteristics that guitar players want, while still giving a good grip.
However, material is not all. The thickness of a guitar pick will enormously affect the wear and tear. Thinner picks will wear down almost immediately when using heavy pick techniques.
Other attributes of the pick that affect the durability, are the Tip Shape, and the Tip Texture. Very pointed guitar tips tend to wear down faster, because there is less material on the tip.
However, this problem can be partially solved with the right guitar pick tip texture. A polished tip on the guitar pick will cause less friction between strings and plectrum. This is one of the most underrated attributes of a guitar pick, and you can find more information HERE.
Results show, that the best way of altering and degrading the shape of your plectrums is to perform “pick slides”.
This guitar technique will wear away the edges of your plectrum and will make it useless very quickly.
This won’t directly affect the tone or control of the plectrum, but the damaged sides will contain some dents. The plectrum will get stuck either on the up stroke or the down stroke.
It’s not only the guitar pick quality that is responsible for its‘ damage. There are three more factors that can play a role on the durability:
It is a very simple equation: The more hours you practice, the more your picks will get damaged.
Thicker guitar strings will increase the area of contact with your plectrum, and therefore, wear it down much faster.
Aggressive guitar playing techniques, like fast palm mute, or pick slides, will damage your guitar pick very easily.
The best way to find out, is to test it, and make your own judgment.
You can take advice of expert players, who have tested lots of guitar picks. However, if their playing styles differ from yours, this information won’t help much.
Besides, many expert players have not changed their picks for decades, and they might be missing the material improvements of the last decade.
As mentioned, not only is durability a factor to take into account when choosing a guitar pick, but also the tone and the ergonomics (grip, size,...).
If the edges of your pick are becoming more rounded, you might start to consider purchasing a new one.
However, never throw away your worn-down guitar picks! The rounded edges can be used to create more mellow tones, and you might want these for some of your songs.
One of the most important things about playing the guitar, is to keep your mind open to new tones and styles. This is the reason some guitar picks have rounded tips even when they are new.
In addition, you can store your old guitar picks in a box. I wish I still had my first guitar pick, that I used, when I was learned to play guitar as a child. A guitar pick can be a beautiful piece of your past.
A tip from my side, is to double check every guitar pick before going out on stage, or studio. A visual inspection is fine.
Always keep some unused plectrums aside. Considering plectrums are probably the least expensive gear of your complete guitar rig, constant wear and tear issues is not a thing you should worry about.
Are you using the right pick? This is a question you should ask yourself every time you play a song.
Some players have their 5-favourites, depending on the style and type of guitar they want to play.
The most important factors when choosing the right plectrum for you hinges on….
We created a 4-step guide that will help you find the right plectrum for you.
You can find it HERE.
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We, (Carlos and Judith), are really doing our best to create the best guitar picks for you.
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