Alternate picking, tremolo picking, shredding, sweeping, and playing fast for any guitar player, takes practice and time to master (with bouts of frustration.)
Building a solid technique takes hours, practice, and patience for progressing up to an impressively high level of speed and accuracy.
With that said, an important factor sometimes overlooked by some guitar players is their choice of pick. The reason?
Why Plectrum Choice is Important
The correct plectrum can assist your technique giving you that extra bit of picking performance to improve your playing ability.
All aspects of pick design have got super fancy in recent times. Everything from optimal: shape, size, thickness, material, flex are all factors to achieve a more efficient plucking rhythm.
What You Will Learn
In this post, I will recommend the 5 best guitar picks (my opinion of course) for technical players who want the extra edge for improving speed and picking performance.
Shredders, speed demons and heavy lead players alike, whether its for metal, jazz, blues, rock, or any genre of music.
Before we get into the choices, first it would make sense to describe what makes the ideal pick for shredding and fast lines.
Best Picks for Speed And Precision
There are many different picks that are optimal for certain types of playing.
And with this, the pick can sometimes be an overlooked aspect when trying to reach a high plucking bpm.
When in actual fact, plectrum choice is important so don’t choose to overlook it.
I have narrowed down 5 important factors to consider when choosing a pick to improve your accuracy and precision.
Plectrum shape is important in order to utilize it to suit your playing style.
For playing fast, technical, and precise lead focused playing, a pick with a sharper tip promotes more precision and control optimizing the plucking speed and efficiency than a blunter tip.
Keep in mind, an overly pointy tip is more difficult for strumming so it’s best you find a tip and overall shape so it feels comfortable for lead and rhythm.
Smaller plectrums have less drag when raking across the string compared to bigger picks. Allowing for quick and more efficient strokes.
Keep in mind, you will need to compensate with a tighter grip as there is less surface area to firmly grip and hold the plectrum.
The traditional “351” plectrum has always been the standard plectrum size. However, smaller plectrums are known to be favored for increasing speed and precision.
The standard bevel on a plectrum has rounded edges promoting smoother string contact resulting in less drag and more efficient strokes increasing speed.
You will notice with most picks some edges are rounder and more prominent than others.
Rounder bevels allow for more efficient plucking speed and have differences in tone compared to straighter beveled edges.
A thick gauge pick is always the standard for lead orientated playing. The minimum plectrum thickness I recommend for lead playing is a thickness of at least 1mm.
A thicker gauge will promote less flex which is better suited for single note plucking. Hence why picks for rhythm playing are always thin and flexible making them better suited for strumming.
A plectrum with grooves and ridges on the face allows for better skin contact and thus better grip and control for playing fast.
Especially when playing a gig if you get sweaty palms having that extra grip is handy when you need it most.
The material of the plectrum will also come into play, as a pick with a smooth acrylic surface will be more slippery than a pick made from a material with a rougher grainy finish.
Remember To Experiment
Now we have discussed the traditional requirements, keep in mind, I recommend you play and experiment with as many picks as possible.
The reason is so can discover the “perfect plectrum” for you! Suiting your preferences and integrating best with your playing style.
Let’s not forget, picks are so inexpensive so it’s definitely a good idea to experiment with as many as you can discover your ideal pick.
Now let’s look at a selection of the best picks for shredding and lead playing…
1# – Dunlop Jazz III (Standard & XL)
- Available Materials: Nylon, Tortex Ultex, Carbon Fiber
- Thickness: 1.38mm
For decades the Dunlop Jazz III has been known as the king of fast plectrums.
When released it was originally marketed for silky jazz players, but due to its optimal shape, size, and performance, it has been snapped up by technical players in all types of music.
The technical virtuosos that are known to have used this plectrum are none other than Eric Johnson, Zakk Wylde, and Joe Bonamassa to name a few.
The reason why the Jazz III (Reverb.com) continues to be one of the standard picks for shredding, speed, and fast single-note playing is due to its innovative design and performance.
The Jazz III pick is a diamond shape compared to the larger “351” standard plectrum. The size is also much smaller with a pointier and sharper tip.
These elements notably give players the added feeling of precision and control when plucking compared to a larger standard pick with more bulk and real-estate.
Combine this with the thick gauge promoting less flex creates a legendary plectrum that is optimal for technical players for accuracy and precision ideal for shredding and fast technical playing.
The thickness also ensures it will be sturdy and resistant to wear lasting for long periods of time meaning the tip will not blunt requiring a replacement after a few sessions of playing.
This perfect combination of size, shape, and bevel makes it so effective for playing fast and shredding in all genres of music.
Hence why the name ‘Jazz III’ shape is now in a category of its own similar to the “351” plectrum.
Jazz III XL – A Bigger Version
The Jazz III also comes in an ‘XL’ size which is a slightly bigger version than the original.
The Xl size is the best shredding pick for players who like the design and feel of a Jazz III with a larger size similar to a standard “351” size plectrum.
There are many material variations such as Ultex, Tortex, and Carbon fiber variations each offering a different feel and tone which will come down to your personal preference.
2# – Dunlop Max Grip Jazz III Carbon Fiber
- Material: Carbon Fiber
- Thickness: 1.38mm
The Jazz III Max Grip Carbon Fiber (Reverb.com) is the perfect solution for a grippy shredding pick while still retaining the key features as the original Jazz III.
Many players will be familiar with the Max Grip version from Dunlop with the standard “351” pick.
As good as the original Jazz III pick is for fast lead playing, the only gripe that players have with the original is the lack of grip due to the material and the fact there’s so little to hold on to.
Luckily, Dunlop listened to the masses of online feedback and released the awaited Max Grip Carbon Fiber Jazz III.
This plectrum is regarded as the perfect answer for fast playing guitar players and is even regarded by some players on the online guitar community as the “perfect shredding plectrum.”
Max Grip = Max Playing
The textured face and grooves on the base of the pick allow your fleshy thumbs to dig in and hold on for alternate picking and speedy technical playing without losing your grip and rhythm.
You can be thankful for this feature when playing live with sweaty palms.
The familiar beveled edges allow for perfect string roll with minimal drag and resistance while the pointy edge offers precision and accuracy the key features of the original Jazz III.
The Max Grip Jazz III (as the name suggests) is also infused with carbon fiber making this one tough and stiff, a key feature for a pick perfect for fast playing.
The material also affects the tone giving it a slightly brighter sound compared to the original Jazz III.
When it comes to differences the pick is slightly thinner compared to an original Jazz III and a fraction bigger for a little extra to hang on to.
You may prefer this feature compared to the smaller Jazz III the pick that is best for you comes down to your personal preferences.
3# – Ernie Ball Prodigy (Standard & Mini)
- Material: Delrin
- Thickness: 1.5mm & 2.0mm
The Ernie Ball Prodigy (Reverb.com) is no doubt a pick optimized for shredding and fast technical playing.
This plectrum features a sharp pointy tip for accuracy and precision for optimal roll over strings for decreased drag.
The best feature of this pick, however, is the prominent bevel along the sides which are smoother than a regular pick for optimal roll and glide over strings optimizing fluency and performance.
The bevel also produces some notable differences in tone including more brilliance and articulation than a standard pick. This is due to the contact on the strings producing more attack in combination with the higher frequencies.
Meaning this plectrum can be great when used in combination with a muddy tone to give it more clarity and bite. The Prodigy pick is a great choice for the lead players you must try out. It also comes in two size variations…
The ‘Standard’ version (Reverb.com) is similar in size to a regular “351” plectrum but features the Prodigy shape and prominent bevel which gives this pick the edge over other plectrums.
The ‘Standard’ offers the best choice for players who want a familiar sized pick with the modifications for allowing the most speed and precision.
The ‘Mini’ version (Reverb.com) is as it sounds a much smaller version and similar in size to the Jazz III pick if you happen to be a fan.
The ‘Mini’ version is somewhat faster and is so small doesn’t even feel like you are holding a plectrum.
I will admit, it will take some getting used to if you have never played a mini pick before.
It also may not be the best choice for acoustic rhythm but definitely shines for lead focused playing on the electric. It’s best to try them both out and test which one best suits your playing.
4# – Gravity Picks
- Material: Acrylic
- Thickness: 1.5mm – 6mm
Gravity Picks (Reverb.com) is a ’boutique’ pick company specializing in manufacturing custom handmade plectrums in the US.
Each individual pick is laser cut, shaped, and hand filed for the perfect plectrum for comfort, speed, and performance.
To think every bevel is shaped by an actual human for the best surface, string contact and performance.
The edges promote less friction and drag for playing techniques such as alternate picking and shredding.
When it comes to selection, Gravity Picks come in a wide variety of shapes and gauges. The most popular being the Standard, Razar and Mini versions which are the best for accuracy and fast playing.
There is also a Rob Chapman Signature plectrum being another popular pick out of the bunch (no pun intended.)
On first glance, you will be curious to know what space-age material they are made from?
The answer is Polymethyl Methacrylate, a quality synthetic acrylic differing tonally from standard plectrum materials.
This unique material offers a brighter sound with added high-end dynamics and prominent attack compared to standard plectrum materials.
This type of acrylic also has a non-slip surface meaning it promotes a solid grip for fast plucking and strumming.
The plastic is notably thick meaning it is incredibly durable ensuring the tip will not wear down and blunt after a few hours of playing.
A downside to these plectrums is that they cost more due to the manpower that is involved with their production.
Gravity picks are designed for control, speed, and precision offering a large selection of shapes to suit your playing style and preferences.
They look cool play great and definitely worth trying for players with fast and technical playing styles.
5# – Jim Dunlop Flow Series
- Material: Ultex
- Thickness: 0.73mm – 2.0mm
The Jim Dunlop Flow picks (Reverb.com) are another great option for a fast and reliable pick perfect for control and accuracy.
The bevel on this series of plectrums is worn into the perfect shape for great string roll for lead playing and technical lines.
Secondly, the edges are polished to promote a smooth contact for strings so they don’t stick causing drag.
When it comes to size, the Dunlop Flow is slightly bigger than a Jazz III but smaller than a standard “351” plectrum.
This combination of size and shape is ideal for players who want something in between with enough material but not over excessive for a nice blend optimizing speed and precision.
The flat surface does have a slight grip texture for the fleshy thumbs to dig into but not overly textured which can put off certain players.
I would say there’s plenty of grip combined with the non-slip surface for plenty of room for manipulation.
These picks mostly come in a thick gauge ideal for plucking and rock solid to the touch being made from Ultex.
Ultex is a tough material combined with the thickness make this a tough and durable choice of pick.
If it’s good enough for both these shredmasters then it will be good enough for you right?
These picks are highly regarded in the online guitar community as great picks for technical players and playing all reincarnations of fast techniques.
The version that is best for you comes down to your tastes, personal preferences, and playing style.
I would definitely give the green light for trying these picks out if your style leans towards fast and technical.
After giving you a selection of the best picks for all types of lead focused playing, mainly shredding, speed, alternate picking and more.
The take-home point is well… there is no best pick for playing fast!
The best pick is the one that suits your playing, preferences and feels the most comfortable in -between your finger and thumb.
With this in mind, I recommend to try out and experiment with as many plectrums as possible to find the perfect pick to combine the best with your overall playing.
But definitely give some of these choices I have mentioned a try!
Technique = Speed
Lastly, being able to play fast and fluently has a lot to do with technique and your ability. Plectrum choice certainly helps, but more importantly, practice makes perfect!
Thanks For Reading
Before you go, I recommend you read my post…”Do picks wear out over time?” this post is the quick guide to understanding which plectrums are the most durable and which ones to avoid with reliability in mind.