If you’re a new guitarist, you’re probably curious about your guitar picks wearing out. You might be wondering how often you’ll have to buy picks, or maybe you’ve even started to see signs of wear on the picks you’ve been using.
So, do guitar picks wear out? Guitar picks will usually wear out following 15-20 hours of active use. However, factors such as strumming technique, pick material, pick gauge and grip technique can prolong or shorten the lifespan of a guitar pick.
Keep reading for a full FAQ on pick wear:
What Causes Picks To Wear Out?
There are several factors that contribute to pick wear:
- Pick material: Certain materials (such as celluloid) can wear out faster than other materials (such as acetal).
- Pick thickness: Thinner picks (0.60mm or under) will generally wear out faster than thicker picks.
- Pick angle: If you hold your pick at an angle, it’ll usually wear out at an accelerated rate (due to the edge of the pick making direct contact with the strings). However, holding the pick flat can decelerate wear.
- Strumming technique: Both forceful and fast strumming can cause a pick to wear out quickly. Soft, slow strumming will often cause picks to wear at a slower pace.
- Pick slides: As great as pick slides sound, they can create grooves in the edge of the pick.
- String contact: Picks naturally erode through repeated, direct contact with the strings.
- Grip: When gripping the pick, your thumb can sometimes erode the pick’s logo. However, this will not affect its usability.
How Long Do Picks Last?
The lifespan of a pick is very much dependent on:
- Your technique
- The material the pick is made of
- How often you play
As a general guide, I’ve found a well-chosen guitar pick will usually last between fifteen and twenty hours of actively playing.
How Will I Know When A Pick Has Worn Out?
Over time, picks will usually display three distinct signs of wear:
- Rounding: Becoming more round (like a coin) as opposed to being triangle-shaped.
- Frayed edges: The edges of a plectrum will start to become frayed.
- Grooves: Grooves will usually appear in the edges of the pick (usually from angling and pick slides).
A pick will have reached the end of its lifespan when:
- You’re struggling to pick individual notes: Rounding makes it much-more-difficult to pick individual notes
- The strings are getting caught on pick grooves: Strings can often get caught in plectrum grooves, hindering playability.
For reference, here’s a picture of two very worn-out picks:
How Can I Prolong A Pick’s Lifespan?
If you’re finding that your picks wear out quickly, there are several things you can do to prolong a pick’s lifespan:
- Avoid celluloid and nylon-based picks: In my experience, celluloid and nylon-based picks wear out very quickly. Instead, I’d recommend opting for acetal guitar picks such as these ones available on Amazon. Acetal is a highly-durable plastic that degrades as a much slower rate than celluloid or nylon.
- Opt for a thicker pick: This is particularly relevant if you’re a rhythm guitarist. Opt for a pick that’s above 0.60mm in thickness.
- Avoid angling your pick: Angling your pick not only causes it to wear out, but also thins your tone (due to limited contact between the body of the pick and the strings).
BONUS TIP: Sharpen your picks using a carpet!
A little-known trick for prolonging a pick’s lifespan is to sharpen it on a carpet. Sharpening a pick on a carpet can effectively eradicate rounding, frayed edges and grooves. All you have to do is drag each side of the plectrum across the carpet several times.
Should I Be Worried About Pick Wear?
It’s important to understand that pick wear (much like string wear) is an inevitable aspect of guitar playing. Whilst there are certain things you can do to prolong a pick’s lifespan, it will wear out eventually. As a result, I’d advise against adapting your technique or playing frequency in order to try and prolong a pick’s lifespan.
The vast majority of picks cost next-to-nothing and it’s not a huge deal if they wear out relatively quickly.
What Should I Do With Old Guitar Picks?
There are several things you can do with worn-out guitar picks:
- Throw them away
- Recycle them
- Use them for arts-and-crafts (i.e. make a necklace)
If you’re opting to go down the recycling route, it’s worth checking if your local recycling center can actually recycle the material your picks are made out of.
- Are guitar picks and ukulele picks the same? No. Ukulele picks are often made of synthetic felt, whilst guitar picks are made of plastic. Using a guitar pick to play ukulele can often create an unwanted percussive sound.
- Do guitar picks break? Guitar picks can break when employing an overly-aggressive grip or strumming technique. However, picks are much-more-likely to wear rather than break.
- Why does my guitar pick slip? Guitar picks usually slip when your fingers are sweaty. They can also slip due to a non-forceful grip or poor technique (such as angling the pick). The best way to guard against slipping is to use guitar picks with a matte finish rather than a glossy finish.
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