The Influence of Famous Guitarists on Guitar Pick Design

Last Updated on September 9, 2023 by Justin

Guitar picks, though small in size, play an integral part in defining a guitarist’s sound and playing style. The design of a guitar pick can significantly impact how a guitarist plays, the tone they produce, and the overall musical expression they can achieve. Over the years, many famous guitarists have influenced guitar pick design, either by developing their signature picks or by popularizing certain pick styles and materials. In this article, we explore how iconic guitarists have shaped the evolution of guitar pick design.

The Birth of Signature Picks

The concept of the “signature pick” is an interesting phenomenon in the guitar world. Signature picks often reflect the technical requirements and personal tastes of the artists they are associated with, providing fans with a tangible connection to their guitar heroes and potentially influencing their own pick preferences.

  1. Kirk Hammett Jazz III Pick: The lead guitarist for Metallica, Kirk Hammett, collaborated with Dunlop to create this pick. It’s a version of the Jazz III pick, but with a V-shaped cutout for better grip, making it ideal for fast, intricate playing.
  2. James Hetfield Black Fang Pick: Another member of Metallica, James Hetfield, also has his signature pick. The Black Fang Pick is made from tough, sturdy Ultex material and features a sharp point and sculpted edges for fast, precise picking.
  3. Steve Vai Signature Ibanez Picks: Steve Vai, known for his virtuosic guitar skills, has his own line of Ibanez picks. They feature a rubber grip surface and a unique, three-sided shape, providing versatility and control.
  4. Zakk Wylde Signature Dunlop Picks: Zakk Wylde, the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne and the founder of Black Label Society, has his signature Dunlop picks. These picks are larger and thicker than standard picks, offering a powerful attack suitable for heavy rock and metal.
  5. John Petrucci Primetone Jazz III Pick: John Petrucci, the guitarist for Dream Theater, collaborated with Dunlop to create this pick. Made from premium Ultex material, this pick offers a smooth release and a beveled edge for precise picking. Another option is the regular Primetone Jazz III which is also great
  6. Dimebag Darrell Signature Dunlop Picks: Late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell’s signature picks are made from durable Delrin material and feature a sleek, sharp shape for fast, aggressive playing.
  7. Marty Friedman Signature Ibanez Picks: Marty Friedman, known for his work with Megadeth and his successful solo career, has a signature Ibanez pick designed to his specifications. It features a rubber-grip surface for improved control.
  8. Yngwie Malmsteen Signature Dunlop Pick: This pick is designed for speed, precision, and high-volume shredding, embodying the neo-classical metal style that Yngwie Malmsteen is famous for
  9. Paul Gilbert and the Ibanez Plectrums: Paul Gilbert, renowned for his impressive speed and precision, worked with Ibanez to develop the Paul Gilbert signature picks. These thin guitar picks feature a sand-grip surface for better control and a pointed tip for precise picking. Gilbert’s use of a larger pick size for fast, accurate playing has made it a popular choice among shredders.
  10. John Mayer Signature Pick: John Mayer is known for using a variety of picks depending on his musical context, but he’s often associated with the Dunlop Tortex 0.88 (green9 pick for its flexible feel and warm tone. Recently, PRS, in collaboration with Mayer, released a special pick as a part of his Silver Sky model guitar launch. These are medium-heavy, celluloid picks, providing a balance between durability and a smooth playing feel.
  11. The Edge Herdim Picks: As mentioned earlier, The Edge of U2 has a unique approach to his pick usage. He prefers the German brand Herdim, and he uses the Standard Nylon pick in the medium gauge. However, what’s interesting is how he uses it: instead of holding the pick in the conventional way, The Edge turns it around and uses the grip side to strike the strings, which adds a distinct texture and brightness to his tone. This unusual technique contributes to his signature, chime-like guitar sound. In recognition of this, Herdim released picks bearing The Edge’s signature, though they remain the same as the standard Herdim picks in terms of design and material.

These are just a few examples of the many signature guitar picks available today. Each of these picks has been specifically designed to match the playing style and tonal preferences of the artist, offering fans and other musicians a chance to get a taste of their guitar heroes’ sound and style.

Guitarists Influencing Pick Materials

Famous guitarists have also played a role in popularizing certain pick materials due to the unique sounds and playing feel they offer.

Brian May and the Sixpence

Queen guitarist Brian May is famous for using a sixpence coin instead of a traditional guitar pick. The metal coin offers a distinctive feel and a bright, clear tone. While not everyone has adopted coin picking, May’s unconventional choice has encouraged guitarists to experiment with different pick materials to achieve their desired tone.

The Revival of Tortoiseshell by Blues Players

Tortoiseshell was a popular pick material until the mid-20th century when it was banned due to conservation laws. However, many blues and folk guitarists, including Doc Watson, have expressed a preference for the warm tone of tortoiseshell picks. This has led to the development of faux tortoiseshell picks made from various synthetic materials, such as Tortex, mimicking the feel and tone of real tortoiseshell.

Shape and Size Preferences of Iconic Guitarists

The shape and size of a pick can significantly influence a guitarist’s technique and tone. Some guitarists have popularized certain pick shapes through their playing.

Django Reinhardt and the Large Triangle Pick

Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt favored large, triangular picks. These picks offered a larger gripping surface and multiple picking edges, suiting his aggressive strumming style. Many Gypsy jazz guitarists continue to use large triangle picks to achieve the genre’s signature sound.

The Jazz III and Rock Guitarists

The Dunlop Jazz III, a small, sharp-tipped pick, has been endorsed by many famous rock guitarists, including John Petrucci and Kirk Hammett. The Jazz III’s precise, controlled playing feel has made it a favorite pick for genres requiring fast, technical playing.

In conclusion, the preferences and requirements of famous guitarists have undeniably shaped guitar pick design over the years. From the development of signature picks to the popularization of certain pick shapes and materials, these artists’ choices continue to influence the picks available to guitarists today. Whether you prefer a large triangle pick like Django Reinhardt or a Max-Grip Nylon Jazz III like Eddie Van Halen, there’s a pick out there to suit your playing style and musical needs.

The Impact on Pick Manufacturers

The demand for signature picks has had a substantial impact on pick manufacturers. Companies like Dunlop, Fender, and D’addario now have extensive artist rosters and offer a wide range of signature picks. The production of signature picks has allowed these companies to diversify their offerings, cater to niche markets, and associate their brand with famous musicians.

The birth and evolution of signature picks provide a fascinating insight into the connection between musicians, their gear, and their fans. Whether catering to a guitarist’s unique playing style or serving as a keepsake for a devoted fan, signature picks hold a unique place in music history and culture.