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Like most guitarists, I'm sure, I have both preferred thicknesses and brands of guitar pick. I have always liked using Jim Dunlop Tortex picks, for instance, as I like the way the plastic wears smoothly. Following these I'm happy to use the generic "shiny-black" picks (e.g. Gibson picks), although these seem more prone to chipping. I don't like using nylon picks, but I can understand why other guitarists like them, particularly when playing acoustic guitar. And I definitely don't like using any type of picks from "pick-cards"; they seem barely better than yoghurt-pot plastic.

Are there significant differences in the types of plastic used for different types/brands of pick?

Are there significant differences in the manufacturing process of different types/brands of pick?

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Thanks for the edit @seseorang. I prefer the way you worded the title too! I was trying to follow the advice of this page: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/10647/… but reckon your style is better! –  Bob Broadley Jun 21 at 18:32

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Are there significant differences in the types of plastic used for different types/brands of pick?

Yes. If, for example, you compare the material properties of the nylon family to the polyoxymethelene family (Of which delrin (or ‘tortex’) belong) you will see they vary considerably.

The main properties that influence how they perform are:

Friction coefficient – how well the pick ‘slides’ across the strings (and slides out of your grip!).
Hardness – resistance to wear.
Fracture toughness – energy absorbed up to fracture (‘Brittleness’)
Young’s modulus – stiffness.
Fatigue Limit – pick strokes until failure (chipping or snapping).

The problem is that the pick manufacturers generally don’t specify which specific material they use. There are many polymers within the nylon family and their properties vary considerably. If you are interested, asking the manufacturers nicely may get you the specific polymer used, then you can compare pick properties directly somewhere like matweb.com

Or you could ask actual guitarists but you’ll have a hard time getting any data that isn’t biased and subjective.. eg What a guitarist may interpret as the pick 'gripping' the string may be due to the geometry of the pick and how they hold it rather than the coefficient of friction of the pick material.

Are there significant differences in the manufacturing process of different types/brands of pick?

Handmade picks aside, no. Nearly all picks will be hot pressed from sheet stock. (Imagine putting a sheet of plastic in a waffle iron, that is basically hot pressing. If you change the geometry of the iron you can make plastic picks rather than plastic waffles). Even though they are all manufactured by the same process there are many variables within that process. Stamping pressure, stamping speed, temperature, rate of heating, rate of cooling (among others) will all effect the final product in some way. After that finishing processes may also be done, coating, printing, smoothing etc

I guess some picks may be injection moulded as not all materials can be hot pressed but I would expect this to be rare or not occur at all.

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Thanks, @Fergus. This is just the kind of info I was looking for! It has always surprised me just how different the various kinds of pick plastic feel. I'm going to try to find out a bit about the picks I really like (mostly out of interest), but this information gets me most of the way there. –  Bob Broadley Jun 21 at 18:28

I'm a huge fan of Jazz III's, and I've managed to get them in 4 kinds of plastic. I will give my opinion of these:

Red - Nylon

The classic Red Jazz III is the warmest sounding of the lot, and has the most friction against the strings. These are my favourite as I feel more in control, and prefer the tone. Some people complain about the grip - I've never had issues.

Black - Stiffo

Curiously named "stiffo", they have a brighter sound than the Reds, and feel smoother against the strings. Slightly better grip. Not majorly different overall.

Translucent Yellow - Ultex

The brighest sounding, and these slice through the strings! Shred-heaven with these, if that's your thing. Plenty of attack; the dynamics of your picking are very clear. I don't wear picks out very much, but these are basically indestructible. They don't wear. I loved these when cramming as many notes into a beat was the standard thing to do, but nowadays when I prefer control, I feel these go through the strings a little too well for me. These tend to get a bit slippery during playing, too.

Purple with everyone's favourite tortoise - Tortex

Also a bright sounding pick, and of course a bit different to the usual tortexs given the Jazz III shape, but it's got the same character. Much better grip than all the ones before.

Overall to answer question 1

In my experience, alongside these picks having identical shape/size, the type of plastic used has considerable consequences. I've always been curious about Red Bear picks. These are inexplicably expensive picks which come with a warning to not let them get wet, but they claim to be something to the effect of 'the next best thing to tortoise shell' and it's all apparently down to their unique material. I've never had the luck to try a tortoise shell pick, but given how prized they were, Red Bear picks are certainly enticing.

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