I have lost so many guitar picks over the past 10 years!
I try to always make sure I have several spares.
But I’ve still run out numerous times.
That’s when I reach for my trusty guitar pick alternatives.
What can I use as a guitar pick and still get the same sound and feel?
Nothing. Any alternative will feel and sound a bit different.
But that does not mean they don’t work. And sometimes, the different sound and feel actually helps your creativity.
Keep reading to learn all about some of the best alternatives to use when you don’t have a guitar pick around.
Table of Contents
What Can I Use As A Guitar Pick?
An array of household items can substitute for an actual guitar pick, such as metal coins, bottle caps, old DVDs, plastic rulers, etc. Most of these items can be used as-is, but even the cheapest guitar picks are better.
With basic DIY skills and creativity, it is possible to fashion improvised picks of cardboard pieces, chunks of thin wood, or plastic. Metal is, by far, the worst material when it comes to improvised guitar picks, because it can damage the strings.
The best alternatives to guitar picks are your hands and fingers. Whether it be chord play, playing single notes, or fast strumming, you can do it all wherever and whenever with your hands alone.
But not everyone wants to play with their fingers and hands, and sometimes you just don’t have any picks around.
It’s safe to say that all guitar players are at least somewhat familiar with the “missing pick” phenomenon. You dropped it on accident, and now it’s nowhere to be found.
Being so small, they’re easy to misplace. And unless you have at least a few spare picks, or you can quickly buy new guitar picks, you’re left wondering what you can use to play your guitar.
Over the course of more than a decade, I’ve used pretty much anything handy whenever I ran out of picks. I’ve tried using coins, SIM cards, cigarette lighters, bottle caps, and even pens and broken pieces of plastic.
All of these items were convenient simply, because I didn’t have an actual pick. But as mentioned, my guitar never sounded exactly the same as it did with an actual pick. It doesn’t feel the same, either.
But that does not mean it doesn’t work. And if you want to give it a shot, or you have to because you can’t find any picks, I’m going to share some of my experiences, so that you know what to expect.
‘Fingerstyle’ is a guitar-playing style that relies solely on your fingers. You can pull, pluck, or strum the strings exactly as if you had a guitar pick. Moreover, you can bring your index finger and thumb together (as if you were holding a pick).
The point that connects the nails is the closest substitute for a guitar pick I can think of. However, this particular style of guitar playing isn’t for everyone. Not only is it hard to master, but it can also be a bit painful, especially for beginners.
Even so, if you learn the basics, you’ll never have to rely on any accessories or tools to play your guitar again. And you can do some cool things playing fingerstyle. Just look at Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac.
Tiny metal coins can help you in a pinch, but you should not use them as a long-term solution. The engravings on all coins can cause more traction, which means that keeping a steady tempo can be difficult at times.
Furthermore, the metal will grind your guitar’s strings much faster than a regular guitar pick would. This means more frequent broken strings. At the very least, they will ear down faster.
There are a couple of benefits to using coins as picks, though. First of all, they’re somewhat heavier than most small-sized household accessories, meaning that they’re usually easier to control.
Some guitarists even like the metallic ring that coin picks add to the tone, although your cleans are likely to suffer from it.
More importantly, no matter how hard you’re strumming, the coins won’t break where a pick would. However, I don’t recommend cutting or modifying your coins since you probably won’t be able to use them as money later.
Plastic bottle caps are about as small as regular-sized coins. They’re flimsier but can endure years of use, although the sides will eventually wear. Bottle caps are a lot lighter than coins, and it can be tricky to place your fingers while assuming the picking stance.
On the upside, you won’t damage the strings, and since plastic is much easier to cut than metal, it shouldn’t be too difficult to clip unwanted bits. If your bottle caps are rough around the edges, a bit of sandpaper can make them smoother.
Pieces Of Thin Wood
I used to be a skater as a teenager, and right around the time I picked up my guitar, I was breaking boards almost on a monthly basis. I’d collect small pieces of wood just in case, and I eventually realized that I could fashion a pick from these, too.
Breaking thin wood into even smaller bits should be simple. Use grip tape or sandpaper to make the end you’ll hold smooth, and carefully inspect the piece for splinters. It’s important to ensure that the bottom end isn’t too sharp. If you’re using heavy-gauge strings, they should be able to endure.
Using a pen as a guitar pick is arguably one of the least practical solutions, but it is possible. Even though they’re unwieldy, the bottom ends of pens are pointy enough to serve as a pick while their base was made for a comfortable grip to begin with.
This may require a bit of trial and error, but start by holding the pen as you normally would. Adjust the angle of your wrist, and try to position your hand in the normal picking position. Move the pen a bit so that it doesn’t touch the guitar’s body (or the strings you don’t want to pick).
Using a pen as a guitar pick isn’t a good solution for fast-picking techniques, and controlling it probably won’t be easy. It’s still a good option if you don’t want to risk grinding your strings with a coin or if you don’t have any bottle caps or wood chips handy.
Old CDs Or DVDs
Virtually no one uses CDs to listen to music anymore, so if you have some laying around, they could serve as your temporary guitar picks.
The worst thing about this approach is that CDs & DVDs are much bigger than a standard guitar pick. You won’t be able to assume the regular picking stance with your fingers unless you cut the CD into smaller pieces.
When I discovered this guitar pick alternative, I took a broken CD that I was just about to throw into the trash. Whenever you break a CD by hand, it will almost never break into even bits.
Pick up the smaller ones and decide which one resembles a guitar pick the most. Again, use grip tape to smoothen the edges, and you’ll have a fancy tool to serve you.
Guitar Pick Alternatives: Final Thoughts
You can use just about anything as a guitar pick, but the suggestions above are the ones I’ve found the most handy and useful. None are a perfect replacement for a pick (of course, otherwise picks wouldn’t need to exist), but they work better than most other guitar pick alternatives.
Of course, they are far from the only things you can use. And perhaps there are even better alternatives out there that I haven’t tried yet myself. If you know of one, please feel free to let me know in the comments below.
Now, if you’re into shredding, no alternative is really going to cut it. You’ll want to make sure when you buy guitar picks for shredding, you get plenty of spare ones.