Guitarists have a love-hate relationship with their guitar picks. We love how they help us articulate notes and strum chords. But we hate losing them – which happens more often than we’d like to admit.
Suddenly finding yourself without a pick before a gig or practice session induces a special kind of panic. But don’t fret. With some creat ivity and flexibility, you can improvise a replacement from common household items using this guide.
We’ll explore various effective guitar pick alternatives to keep your guitar practice and performances uninterrupted so you stay calm and carry on with the show.
Why You Might Need a Pick Alternative
Guitar picks are small and easily lost, especially in moments of peak musical intensity. Instead of interrupting your practice session or live performance to search for a stray pick, having a backup on hand is wise.
Dedicated guitarists often litter their homes, cars, cases, and pockets with picks to avoid being caught pick-less. But mistakes still happen, necessitating creative workarounds.
Thankfully, many household items can temporarily function as standby guitar picks.
Unconventional and Best Guitar Pick Alternatives
Coins can serve as handy guitar pick replacements if you’re in a bind. However, not all coins make good picks. Size, thickness, and texture impact playability and tone. For best results, test a variety of coin sizes and textures to find one well-suited to your needs.
Professional guitarists like Brian May of Queen and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top actually prefer using modifying coins over picks. When using unmodified coins, stick to temporary playing to avoid damaging your strings prematurely from the metal edges.
Personally, when I tested coins as a pick, I didn’t like them.
The wire shape of paper clips allows them to easily fit between fingers for picking notes, similar to a regular guitar pick.
However, the thin metal also bends fairly easily. So, heavy strumming and intricate solos might prove difficult for long stretches.
For added strength, double up two paper clips or use a plastic-coated version.
3. Folded Paper, Business Card
Surprisingly, the paper offers more versatility than you might expect. Simply fold a rectangular sheet into a firm triangle to mimic a pick’s shape. Index cards, receipts, sticky notes, magazines, junk mail…virtually any paper will do.
Customize stiffness and thickness to your liking by adding more folds. Carefully cut paper with scissors to achieve beveled pick corners
The main drawback is durability – prolonged playing may deteriorate the quality. So it works better as a very temporary fix.
4. Uncut Plastic Cards
In true last resort cases, an old gift card, store loyalty card, or credit card pulled straight from your wallet can work as an improvised guitar pick. The flexibility and thickness match commercial picks nicely.
Using a plastic card directly without altering its shape can result in an awkward grip and playing experience. So use the rounded edges when possible. And after a couple of songs, you’ll likely yearn for a true guitar pick replacement.
A regular flat toothpick can be substituted as a skinny guitar pick ideal for intricate solos and picking individual notes on different strings with accuracy.
The wood/plastic won’t stand up to aggressive strumming across steel-wound strings. But for jam sessions or solo practice, toothpicks get the job done nicely.
6. Bottle Caps
You can often scavenge bottle caps at bars or venues in a pinch. Flatten any raised edges with some quick sanding or grinding. The unnatural shape and thickness hinder intricate solos though. So mostly rely on these for chordal songs.
7. Beer Can Tabs
The small, flat aluminum tabs used to open soda and beer cans have just the right thickness for guitar playing.
File any sharp edges smooth before attempting quick strumming motions, however. The metal also gives these tabs a brighter tone than plastic picks.
8. Bread Bag Clips
When you’re in a bind, look no further than the kitchen drawer for a bread bag clip.
Its grippy shape and semi-rigid plastic make an easy last-minute pick to clip onto your guitar strings when you’ve lost or forgotten your regular one.
If anyone in your band or audience wears a pendant, ask politely to borrow it for your set! Flat pendants of sturdy metal or plastic often emulate the size and shape of real picks surprisingly well.
Just avoid thin or ornate jewelry at risk of damage. And return any borrowed accessories with profuse thanks after the show!
If nearby keys have a largely flat, beveled edge, transform house, office, or apartment keys into temporary picks.
Metal produces a brighter tone, while plastic-coated keys sound closer to default guitar pick acoustic properties. Just don’t use the keys you need for later!
11. SD & SIM Cards
The thin rounded edge of SD cards, SIM cards and flash drives resembles a guitar pick profile. Plastic edges provide warmer tones that many guitarists enjoy over the default bright metal click of coins.
But know these items can break more readily than metal substitutions.
12. Scrap Hardwood
With some basic woodworking know-how, you can carve high quality wooden picks at home.
Various exotic hardwoods like rosewood or ebony provide incredible warmth and resonance. Sand and polish them to glossy perfection. Then add personal art or monograms with a woodburning pen.
13. Lego Piece
In a true pinch, a thin Lego piece can be substituted as a makeshift guitar pick with decent functionality.
Despite the hard plastic edges, a Lego pick grasps strings adequately for basic playing, though the unusual proportions hinder comfort and control during complex solos.
DIY Guitar Picks You Can Make Quickly
While all of the above will certainly work, none provide ideal playability and tone. Instead, consider crafting homemade guitar picks for reliable performance through entire practice sessions and gigs.
With minimal tools and materials, you can create a surprising variety:
Old credit Cards, Gift Cards, Loyalty Cards, Student IDs, Library Cards, etc.
Slice uniform triangles out of any plastic card with scissors or a utility knife. Then smooth the edges with fine grit sandpaper. Voila – homemade picks ready to impress!
For rapid, mass pick production without laborious cutting and sanding, a pick punch tool is the best bet. These affordable devices work like hole punches to stamp guitar pick shapes from plastic sheets.
Nobody uses physical discs much anymore. So put that old media stash to work!
Use a lighter to heat and separate the two layers. Then cut uniform pick shapes out of each thinner layer. The clear plastic achieves that signature “pick attack”.
Trace real picks or custom templates onto cardstock sheets, stacking 5+ cutouts with glue for added thickness and durability. Decorative designs or patterns applied before gluing cardboard pick layers contribute unique visual flair.
Don’t throw out old puzzles just yet – those interlocking pieces can pinch hit as playable picks when needed.
File and trim puzzle pieces to round off edges for a makeshift pick that works in a jam, though the cardboard material lacks the tonal clarity and durability of real plastic picks.
Plastic Bottle & Containers
Nearly any household plastic junk can transform into picks. Carefully cut customized triangles out of items like milk jugs or yogurt cups using scissors or razor blades. Then polish the edges smooth with a metal file or sandpaper.
Plastic rulers yield great results too using this DIY cutting method.
When All Else Fails…Fingers!
Question the very need for traditional guitar picks by developing your bare finger picking skills. Many legendary guitarists like Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) strictly use fingers to play guitar masterfully.
Use callused finger pads and trimmed nails to pluck strings with precision far surpassing most household stand-ins. Alternatively, grow out and shape your nails to mimic a hard pick.
While challenging at first, familiarizing yourself with finger picking opens up new musical techniques that can really impress audiences. Soon you may even prefer the organic sounds and connection finger playing creates.
Get “Pick Proof” with Proper Preparation
While makeshift picks work fine temporarily, prolonged use can prematurely degrade strings and provide less articulation over time. So strive to keep multiple real backup picks on hand to preserve your guitar’s sound quality.
With ample preparation, you can rescue even the most pick-prone player. Stash backup picks across all cases, bags, pockets, cars, and even under furniture at home for easy access.
Ask friends and bandmates to help remind you to restock picks everywhere. Attaching picks to keychains and necklaces also ensures you have one available anytime.
In true emergencies, humorously ask the audience for a pick or seek leftover picks where other acts may have dropped them. Venue staff may also hold onto lost picks.
Make a habit of scattering extra picks across your performance area as insurance too. Ultimately, maintaining mass pick stockpiles solves most absentminded losses!
So, what non-traditional guitar picks have you used over the years? Did any of these alternatives in the article surprise you? Share your thoughts and experiences below!
About the Author
Gustavo is a music teacher and classical guitar player from Brazil, currently residing in Dublin, Ireland. He holds a graduate degree in Classical Guitar Performance from the Federal University of Pelotas. In 2020, Gustavo successfully completed a Master's degree in Sound Engineering from the Academy of Sound in Ireland.