Guitar Pick Alternatives – An Essential Guide

Are all of your picks in the dryer? We’ve got a list of guitar pick alternatives for you!

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In this free lesson you will learn…

  • How to consider tone when looking for the right pick
  • What to use in place of a guitar pick
  • How to make unconventional items sound good
  • What an E-bow is!

Guitar Pick Alternatives (For When Your Picks Are In The Washing Machine)

We don’t know how many hundreds of dollars’ worth of guitar picks we’ve left at the laundromat.

Guitar picks are a feast-or-famine proposition.

  • They’re in your pockets, on the floor of your car, or lost in a patterned rug somewhere.
  • Either way, they’re usually nowhere near your guitar.
  • It is in these trying times that musicians become creative with how to produce sound out of a guitar, making guitar pick alternatives out of whatever happens to be handy.
  • The result is a different and sometimes even pleasing sound!

guitar-pick-alternatives

As much as we do not recommend dragging your thumb stiffly across the guitar strings to try to produce a pleasing sound, there are plenty of guitar pick alternatives to be had.

Even if you’ve left all of your guitar picks in your other gig bag, you can find other lovely ways to strum or pick your guitar without trudging back to the jar on top of the music store counter for another pile of standard picks.

Today, we’re talking about different materials and items that you can use as suitable guitar pick alternatives.

Get ready for some new sound adventures and let’s begin!

guitar-pick-alternatives

Start With Your Fingers

If you haven’t tried it already, now might be the time to explore guitar pick alternatives using nothing but your fingers!

Fingerstyle guitar often evokes a softer sound that many people enjoy. Previously, fingerstyle guitar playing was associated mostly with acoustic guitarists (and Mark Knopfler)

  • However, over the last couple of generations, the meaning and use of fingerstyle guitar has expanded to accept musicians of all genres.
  • It is not necessary to stick to the traditional flatpick for any genre.
  • Guitarists like Lindsey Buckingham, Kristin Hersh, Brad Paisley, and even Zakk Wylde all use fingers for rock, groove, and shredding.
  • Check out Zakk Wylde, for example, doing his Brad Paisley impersonation!

You don’t have to wait until all your flatpicks are gone before entering the marvelous world of fingerstyle guitar!

If you’ve never tried it, this is a great lesson to get you on the path of guitar pick alternatives.

You can use the fingernails on your picking hand to get the job done, however for those of us who can’t grow our nails, the pads of our fingers work fine too.

Either way, you can expect a different and sometimes less sharp or clicky sound when you pick the strings with your fingers.

  • If you are playing an acoustic guitar, you can also expect to produce noticeably less volume with your fingers or nails than you generally do when using a flatpick.
  • Do not be deterred! This is why microphones and amplifiers were invented.

guitar-pick-alternatives

If fingerstyle guitar appeals to you but there is anything displeasing about the notion of picking the strings with your bare fingernails or the pads of your fingers, it is not time to give up on the idea!

  • Thumbpicks are sometimes made of the same material as ordinary flatpicks, and they wrap around your thumb so that you can either strum the guitar or pick the strings with your thumb.
  • You can try fingerpicks, which are designed to be worn on your first, second, and third fingers and to allow you to pick the strings with a little brighter attack.

can't-find-my-guitar-pick

Fingerpicks are usually made of different gauges or thicknesses of steel, plastic, or Delrin.

If you don’t like fingerpicks, this category of guitar pick alternatives also includes augmenting the natural nails on your picking hand with acrylic nails.

  • There are guitar-specific brands, or you can just go to the neighborhood drugstore and get yourself some nails.
  • Acrylic nails give us a brand new kind of extension in tone on the guitar, and we think everyone should try them at least once.

Be conscious of the tone you get with every different approach on this list of guitar pick alternatives.

guitar-pick-alternatives

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Guitar Pick Alternatives: Different Materials

The guitar picks most widely and generally available tend to be made of a few different types of materials, most popularly nylon, Tortex, celluloid, and Delrin.

At your local music shop, when you ask for guitar picks, these are the types of pick that you’re likely to be shown.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find some interesting guitar pick alternatives that feel similar to the picks you are used to using but produce a different character of sound on the guitar.

You can also make your own picks out of old credit cards or CDs. If you’re feeling crafty, check out this nifty pick punch! You could be making picks by tomorrow night!

And here’s a helpful article on WikiHow if you’d like to sit right down and make your own guitar picks right now.

guitar-pick-alternatives

Guitar picks were historically made of “natural materials,” meaning many animals were previously harmed in the making of a pick that you can just as easily have punched out of your expired library card.

  • You can find guitar pick alternatives that are made of other natural materials like bone, wood, stone, or coconut shells.
  • The bone and stone picks tend to be inflexible and unsuitable for strumming, but you can get a lot of definition for your single-note lines.

Guitar-Pick-Thickness

Wood picks have a little more give, can be elegantly and usefully shaped, and produce a lovely warm tone. They can also wear out a bit more quickly than standard pick materials.

Some picks are made of metal, including Brian May’s famous sixpence piece.

  • Metal picks are a bit of a one-trick pony, but they definitely give you the bright chiming tone you’re looking for in your Queen cover band.
  • These aren’t the best traditional guitar pick alternatives, but they do their thing very well!

different-guitar-pick

Pro-Tip: Guitar picks are by no means the biggest investment you need to make in your guitar.

 

Having said that, it’s worth experimenting with one or two more expensive picks that you have to take care not to lose. The difference in sound can be a game-changer!

Take a look at acrylic guitar picks like the ones made by Bailey Instrumental in Canada.

Their attack is super sharp and precise, and the tone you can get from acrylic material is super crisp when you get used to it.

diy-guitar-pick

The Tone Factor In Your Guitar Pick Alternatives

One thing to keep in mind in this guide is the tone of whatever you use to play the guitar.

Every type of material has a different style of string attack, and a different reactive tone against the strings.

These guitar pick alternatives are super cool, but we encourage you to experiment with the things that sound like what you like. That can be anything, but make sure it sounds good!

Pro Tip: If you like recording yourself and have a setup for recording at home, try recording yourself with different guitar pick alternatives to see what you like and dislike.

 

This will give you a lot more insight into what you want to sound like!

 

Recording yourself with your phone works too, but won’t give you the same amount of detail as a direct recording will.

guitar-pick-size

Different Shapes!

A little difference in shape can make a big difference in sound, and one of these weird guitar pick alternatives just might become your favorite!

The most common modification to a traditional guitar pick shape is putting a pointier tip on the business end of the pick.

This is known as a jazz pick, and the point gives you greater speed and brightness.

There are a few other common modifications to guitar pick shapes and dimensions. Here’s a nifty picture of some guitar picks through history!

how-to-play-without-a-pick

There are some guitar pick alternatives that really stand out for their distinctive look, feel, and tone. They might take a little digging to look for, but you’ll want to try them at some point!

Wegenpicks are made from some mysterious material!

  • They’re insanely thick – three to five millimeters – and are primarily used for gypsy jazz.
  • They produce a nice warm tone. There are also different bluegrass and jazz picks!

F-Major-Scale-Guitar

Dragon’s Heart guitar picks are made from polyamide-imide, with options for fiberfill, graphite, or fiberglass. They tend toward a brighter sound and they’re pretty thick, but they have three different edges for you to experiment with, and for what it’s worth, they are super cool-looking.

The Jellifish pick is like a little brush for your strings.

  • These were pretty popular a decade or so ago because they add a chorus tone to your strumming.
  • They don’t seem to be manufactured any more, but are still sold on the used market.

diy-plectrum

If you can get your hands on one, it will make for an interesting afternoon with your guitar!

Felt picks are made of hardened, felted wool. Like wood picks, they wear out easily, but while you have them, they create a warm and easy tone when you strum your guitar.

Sharkfin would like you to know that their picks have been used for decades, even by the Beatles!

  • They’re shaped like shark fins, made from plastic of different thicknesses.
  • The plastic material is interesting because as you play, it warms up in your hand and becomes less of a foreign object.

guitar-plectrum-alternatives

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With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again.

It’s A Stringed Instrument, After All…

Some guitar pick alternatives are true to the name because they do not at all resemble a guitar pick.

Jimmy Page was not the first to use a bow on his guitar, but he was certainly the most famous at the time.

  • Bowing a guitar produces the kind of sound you just cannot get from your standard music store-issued guitar pick!
  • When paired with a reverb and/or delay pedal, some incredible ambient tones can be achieved quite easily. Bows are still favoured by many ambient and post-rock musicians today.

guitar-pick-replacements

Bows seem like great guitar pick alternatives when we first think about it, but it can be a little bit problematic without some crucial information ahead of time.

  • You can buy a bow for the price of about 300 guitar picks. So, there’s that.
  • The strings of a bow require rosin to create sufficient friction on the strings of your instrument, and rosin isn’t great for guitar strings.
  • You’re going to want to wipe your guitar down after each time you use the bow.

Additionally, instruments like violins are designed to be used with a bow in that the necks are arched, which is not standard guitar design.

Wouldn’t you know, someone has already thought of this and come up with guitar pick alternatives in the form of a bow-gadget: the e-bow! You can find a short explanation and demo of the e-bow here.

how-to-find-a-guitar-pick

Give Your Guitar Pick Alternatives Some Extra ‘Bite’

Perhaps using a bow, or an e-bow, on a guitar just seems a bit too pedestrian for you in the 21st Century.

If you have decent dental insurance, you can try one of these two alternatives:

  • Jimi Hendrix started his guitar on fire, and played the guitar with his teeth, but not at the same time.
  • Steve Vai has played the guitar with his tongue, so that’s an available body-part option, although you may want to wipe your strings down beforehand.

best-guitar-pick-alternatives

Paul Gilbert was not afraid to combine home improvement with guitar pick alternatives, as you can see in his signature drill solo.

Here’s Tom Morello, using a pick, but only when he has to.

Finally, here’s R.J. Ronquillo, summing up his favorite alternatives, including some excellent use of a chopstick!

The moral of the story is that guitar pick alternatives can be whatever you want them to be, so long as they sound good!

guitar-plectrum-replacements

All Of Your Guitar Pick Alternatives

Finding guitar pick alternatives can be frustrating if you’re in a gig emergency situation.

It can also be endlessly fascinating to pick up whatever’s around the house, bar, or stadium, and see whether you might be able to play the guitar with it.

Short of electrocution, bloodshed, or emergency dental work, you can pick up just about anything with sufficient stability to work guitar strings and use it.

There might even be a new song in there!

Recommended Resources

If you enjoyed this guide to guitar pick alternatives, you’ll love our additional lessons below:

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