If you play with guitar picks, after a while, you may notice that your picks are not performing the way they used to. They become less responsive, lose shape, and may have frayed edges.
Picks wear out over time, similar to many things in life. However, you may wonder if your guitar pick is wearing out prematurely. Why do guitar picks wear out so fast?
Guitar picks may wear out faster than normal if they are not made of the right material for your style of play. If you like to perform pick slides, your pick may also wear out faster. If you play aggressively or like to hit the strings at the wrong angle, your picks may wear out prematurely too.
This article looks at why your guitar picks wear out fast and what you can do to avoid this from happening.
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How To Know When Picks Have Worn Out?
Generally, worn-out picks may look rounder than usual and display frayed edges. There may also be grooves appearing on the edges of the pick. When playing a worn-out pick, you may miss some strings, or your pick may be caught in the pick grooves.
Guitar picks do show distinct signs when they have worn out. They may also disrupt your playing.
Rounding: Most picks come in a unique shape. Most will have at least one sharper, angled side that helps you pick on the strings easily. When picks are worn out, these uniquely sharp edges may have been worn away, so you may notice your pick is turning rounder instead of a triangle.
Frayed Edges: Fresh picks usually come clean and sharp at the edges. However, the edges may lose their bond and fray as you play and pick. Frayed edges can make it harder to strike a clean note on your guitar and may even cause you to miss some string pickings.
Grooves: If you like to perform a lot of pick slides and angling, you may notice your pick start to form grooves at the edges. Pick slides are when you slide your pick on the strings to create a specific sound effect. Angling is when you strike the strings at an angle instead of perpendicular.
As a result, when playing with a worn-out pick, you may notice that as you play, you could be missing out on notes or having your pick caught between the grooves on your pick. This means you should quickly discard a worn-out pick and instead pick up a new one.
Why Do Picks Wear Out Fast?
Picks may wear out fast due to playing style that does not suit the pick material. Picks may be thinner than usual, and you may be gripping the pick hard. Certain playing angles and strumming styles can also cause picks to wear out prematurely, and pick slides also can cause picks to wear out faster.
Not all pick materials are made the same. Some are hardier and can take abuse well, while others wear down faster. Picks made from materials such as celluloid or nylon, for example, may not be long-lasting.
Long-lasting picks include those made from stone, bones or hardier plastic materials such as Tortex. Tortex picks are also well appreciated by many professionals such as Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) and Tom Delonge (Blink 182)
This may be rather straightforward, but thin picks will wear out faster than thicker ones. This is because thinner picks may have more ‘give’ and eventually become unable to hold on to their structural integrity compared to thick picks.
This is even more prominent if you use the pick to play hard, fast, and abusive ways, such as performing pick slides.
Certain pick shapes may wear out faster. For example, suppose your pick has a rather sharp and elongated edge. In that case, that edge may wear out much faster since that is the edge that interacts with the guitar strings.
Picks in these shapes include teardrop, pointy, jazz, and more.
If you like to hold your pick at a certain angle when playing, you may wear out the picks faster. This is because the pick’s edge directly interacts with the strings. This issue may further accelerate if you play hard and fast.
If you use your pick to play hard, fast strumming, you will wear out your picks faster. Genres of music that may require fast and hard strumming include punk, trash, or speed metal.
These music genres often require you to hit 16th downstroke strumming patterns, which can significantly speed up the wearing-down process of your pick.
One of the things electric guitarists love to do is to slide their pick over their strings to create that sliding sound effect. As much as pick slides are fun, they increase pick wear down much faster.
This is because by sliding the pick directly on the string, you are directly using the strings to break up the layers of materials on the pick’s edges. As a result, your pick may show frayed edges or edge grooving.
Your sweat may wear out the pick faster if you have sweaty fingers. The wearing out is not on the playing edge but on the surface where your fingers are holding the pick. The wearing out may be faster if you have acidic sweat.
However, the good thing about wearing out on this end is that it usually does not affect the playing edge. You may lose the logo printing on the pick, but your pick will still play fine.
Certain guitar strings are known to wear down picks faster. Generally, thicker strings place more strain on your picks and significantly increase wear. You may see picks for bass guitars wear out faster for this reason.
How To Avoid Picks From Wearing Out Fast?
To slow the wearing out of your picks, start using thicker picks made with tougher materials. You can also use pick shapes with multiple striking edges, such as triangles. Using thinner strings can also help.
In general, picks are not expensive pieces of hardware. This means many guitar players are happy to treat them as consumables. They buy large amounts, use up a pick, throw it away, and use a new one instead.
However, suppose you prefer to find ways to slow down your pick wear. Consider these four options:
Use Thicker Picks
In general, thicker picks would wear down slowly over time. This is because by being thick, these picks have more ability to handle the contact with the strings and have more to ‘give’ before wearing out.
Thicker picks generally start from around 0.8mm onwards. They may, however, behave slightly differently on the strings, which you may need to get used to. This is more so if you are used to playing guitar with thinner picks.
Use Tougher Materials
Picks are made from a wide variety of materials. Some are softer, while some are tough as nails. Softer materials may be preferred by players for making certain sounds for playing feel, and they accept that these picks usually wear out faster. Materials like this include nylon or celluloid.
Harder picks may be made from non-plastic materials, such as metal, bone, horn, etc. For plastic-based material, consider checking out Tortex or Delrin. These are harder plastic picks that last longer.
Use Picks With Multiple Striking Edges
One way picks wear out is when the string edge can no longer perform its job. If the pick only has one striking edge, once the edge wears out, then the pick needs to be discarded. Pick shapes with a single striking edge are teardrop, jazz, or pointy.
You can help your pick to last longer if you use picks with multiple striking edges, such as triangles. If one edge wears out, you can always change to the other one to continue playing with the same pick.
Use Thinner Strings
Thinner strings help to reduce wear on your picks, as it does not take too much from the pick to strike and ring the strings. You can consider this option if you want to reduce pick wear but still prefer to use thin picks.
Thinner strings are basically strings with a smaller gauge. When replacing your strings, check with your local music store for strings like this the next time you go shopping.
So Not Abuse Your Pick
Perhaps the easiest way to reduce your pick wear is not to abuse your pick. This means to play gentler if you use a thin pick and only go hard with thicker picks.
If you are going to play hard and fast, then by default, you should use thicker picks and leave the thin ones aside. A thin pick may come in if you are picking up an acoustic to play casual strumming songs.
Holding back from doing things like pick slides or angling your pick while playing may also be a good idea. These can significantly reduce wear on your pick.