Do Professional Guitarists Use Picks?

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When playing guitars, you may think about using a pick at some point. Regardless of what you think about picks, they have been used to play guitar or other stringed instruments for over 2,000 years. In fact, many guitar players use them today too. However, do professional guitarists use picks?

Many professional guitarists use picks, and some do not use a pick. Those that use picks see that they help them to play more accurately and clearly. Depending on their preference, the guitar they use, and the genre of music they play, they may be using different styles of picks.

This article discusses if professional guitarists use picks. It will also look at things such as the pick itself and what kind of picks professional guitarists are using.

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Do Professional Guitarists Use Picks?


What Is A Pick?

Guitar picks are flat, triangular tools that strum or pluck guitar strings. They are typically constructed of plastic, but metal, wood, or stone picks are also popular. Guitar picks are popular among musicians because they provide a more accurate and controlled tone to their guitars.

A pick’s actual, proper name is a Plectrum, but most people recognize it by its picking function, hence the nickname “pick.” Picks are typically small and gripped only with the fingers. Players then strike the strings of their guitars with their picks to make sounds. 

Originally, guitar picks were fashioned of stone or wood. In the late 1800s, musicians discovered that the shells of Atlantic Hawksbill sea turtles make great picks. This gave rise to the ‘tortoise shell’ picks.

However, animal protection laws make tortoiseshell picks very rare today. Picks today are mostly made of nylon, polyethylene plastic, bone, metal, wood, horn, or stone. 

Picks can vary in thickness, material, and shape. As a result, many guitar players spend time experimenting with pick combinations to get the best sound they like. Your decision of picks may also be influenced by the music you play. 

If you play jazz, chances are you will like thin, nylon picks. If you play heavy metal, you may use thick, large metal picks for that loud, heavy punishment you give your strings. 

Why do Professional Guitarists Use Picks?

Professional guitarists may use picks because it helps them to achieve a more precise, consistent, and punchier sound. Picks also help them to play faster and allow them to focus on the fretting finger more. Picks also help professional guitarists to keep their fingers and nails protected.

If you wonder if professional guitarists use picks, yes, they do. In fact, you can see users across all spectrums of musical genres. There are several reasons that made them keep using picks:

They Get Bright, Punchy Sounds

Compared to fingers, picks are less flexible. As a result, when you strike a guitar string with a pick, picks hit the strings hard. This causes the strings to react more quickly and forcefully, producing a more ‘violent’ vibration. This, in turn, provides a greater signal to the pickup.

This naturally results in a louder sound with more punch on the amps. In fact, famed guitarist Brian May of Queen favors metal coins over picks because they are thick, very strong, and produce a loud and punchy sound. The Canadian six-pence coin is his choice.

They Get Better, Consistent Controls

If without a pick, most professionals may strum with their fingernails or fingers. One issue with using fingers and nails is the guitar does not ring loud. That’s because the fingers are muting the strings.

Another issue is the angle of contact between the strings, fingers, and nails. This results in a rather inconsistent sound when strumming. 

Imagine that when a professional guitarist plays a live concert in front of thousands of people and produces muted, inconsistent sounds. The boos and flying bottles from the fans can be really bad.

Picks can fix problems like this. Players are more secure in ‘digging’ their picks deeper when strumming, resulting in a better angle of attack on the strings. Furthermore, because there are no fingers to soften the string’s vibration, the pick may aid in reducing muting.

This, in turn, contributes to brighter, louder strums. The strumming sound would be more consistent as well.

They Can Focus On The Fretting Hand

With the strumming and picking hand producing accurate, consistent sound, professional guitarists can now put more focus on the other hand, the fretting hand.

In general, the fretting hand requires a lot more precision since the fingers are needed to press down the strings. The fingers also move a lot more, moving up and down the fretboard. 

By freeing their focus on the strumming hand, professionals can focus on executing the difficult and complicated solos and licks and driving the crowd wild with their playing.

They Can Play Fast And Hard

If you notice, most fast guitar players use picks, such as those playing punk or trash. Their preference is because the picks hit the string hard, producing loud, punchy sounds.

The guitar pick also does not absorb or dampen the strings, resulting in a clear and bright tone. This allows players to change notes quickly while still being able to hear all the notes played. 

Picks also help keep consistent 16th-beat downstrokes, allowing them to focus on singing, harmonics, and getting their fretting hand right. 

If you need some example, imagine how hard it may be for Johnny Ramone to play as fast and as hard as he did if he does not use a pick.

Keeps Their Fingers And Nails Protected

Imagine if you are a professional guitarist playing heavy metal on tour. You play every night for hours and hours. You also play hard, plucking and striking your guitar hard. 

Imagine if you are not playing with a pick but instead relying on your fingers and nails. Think about the potential damage you could be doing to your fingers and nails. 

This could be the reason why many professional guitarists use a pick. It is a better way to protect their fingers and nails, allowing them to keep playing longer. It could save them from angry fans too.

What Picks Do Professional Guitarists Use?

Do Professional Guitarists Use Picks?

Guitarists tend to use picks that suit their play style and musical genre. The harder and louder the music, the thicker and bigger the picks are. Electric guitarists may also use thicker and bigger picks than acoustic players.

GuitaristPick Of Choice
Tom DelongeDunlop Tortex Standard 0.6mm
Dave GrohlDunlop 0.73mm Gator Grip 
Carlos Santana3.0mm V-Picks
Eric ClaptonErnie Ball 0.94mm
SlashDunlop Tortex 1.14mm 
James HetfieldCustom Jim Dunlop 1.0mm – 1.14mm
John Mayer0.88mm green Tortex
Steve Vai1mm Ibanez

Looking at the list of some of the picks these professional guitarists use, you may notice that hard, loud music guitarists tend to use thicker picks, which is understandable. They need that hard-hitting pick to produce loud, punchy sounds for their music.

Tom Delonge: The vocalist and guitarist for the pop-punk band Blink 182 are known for their fast, loud, no-nonsense approach to playing. However, he surprisingly prefers to use a pick with standard thickness. This may be because the band does not do too many solo guitars, so he does not need to play individual notes hard. 

Dave Grohl: Dave Grohl is currently the vocalist and guitarist for the Foo Fighters, but who can forget his drumming days with Nirvana? He is known to use Dunlop 0.73mm Gator Grip picks. This pick has a textured surface to make it non-slip and is known to make a thicker, tougher sound. 

Carlos Santana: This legendary Latin guitarist from Mexico is remembered for songs such as ‘Black Magic Woman’ and ‘Samba Pa Ti.’ He surprisingly loves thick picks, using a 3mm thick pick from V-Picks. Perhaps that explains how loud and direct he sounds when he rocks his guitar.

Eric Clapton: You may remember Eric Clapton by his slow songs, such as ‘Tears in Heaven.’ His pick of choice? An Ernie Ball 0.94mm. A 0.94mm thick pick should help pick individual strings, producing loud, clear notes. In turn, Eric gets to play bright and clean sounds.

Slash: The lead guitarist for the band Guns and Roses and the unofficial frontman for Guitar Hero is known to use a thicker pick. His preference is the Dunlop Tortex 1.14mm pick. A thick pick lets him strike clear notes, which is important when cracking out his legendary solos.

James Hetfield: Loud and heavy music? Metallica it is. James Hetfield, the band’s guitarist, uses a custom-made pick. Observers believe it to be a Jim Dunlop, with 1.0mm to 1.14mm thickness. Before this, he was seen using the Dunlop Tortex 0.88mm pick in a tortoiseshell shape.

John Mayer: Suppose John Mayer also treats his fingers like a wonderland since he uses picks. In his case, it is the medium thickness Dunlop Tortex 0.88mm, in green color. The medium thickness should strike a balance between steady strumming and still being thick enough to produce loud individual solos when picking.

Steve Vai: The legendary guitarist is known for songs like ‘For The Love Of God’ and ‘Still Of The Night.’ He is also adored by fans worldwide for his long, creative, elaborate solos and great showmanship on stage. He enjoys using a thicker pick of 1mm in a normal shape. His picks are made by Ibanez. 

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