DIY Guitar Picks & thoughts on picking in general

Well guys, are you ready for another totally random episode of DIY with Shelby? I had this grand plan to write up a post about my picking progress and the things I’ve learned and all the stuff that got me frustrated… I even wrote most of it on the sly at work. But, fuck it. We’ll do this the more seemingly random Shelby sort of way.

As those of you who’ve been following along know by now, I’ve been really struggling with picking.  For a while. I’ve gone on and on about how much no progress I’ve been making. What you may also know by now is that I’m kinesthetic (tactile) learner, which makes off-the-cuff DIY projects kind of par for the course.

I was going to write this uncommonly well-planned post detailing my experience with video lessons, and why none of them were helping. Sufficed to say, google and youtube managed to help me make an incredibly long list of things that were NOT the root of my picking problems. But, with an incredible amount of variables, that really didn’t help narrow down what was the problem. Still, if you fling enough shit at the wall…well, eventually you’ll want to stop throwing shit, clean up the mess, and analyze why the hell you’ve been throwing shit around in the first place, really.

I spent a lot of time trying to practice other people’s advice. I spent a lot of time trying to rigorously stick to someone else’s system and practice and practice and force it to work. I spent a lot of time forcing myself not to analyze why the standard way is the standard way. What makes it better? Why is it better? Where are the flaws in it? What are the advantages?  Which is stupid, because analyzing is what I do. I’m a born troubleshooter, so the fact I’ve spent months forcing myself to NOT do that, and instead just drown myself in endless articles and videos that really only proved to me that no one has any fucking idea what they’re talking about because no two people seem to agree on ANYTHING where picking is involved…is a supreme blindspot of idiocy on my part. Taking things at face value is just not how I roll, so why I decided to do that for months is a complete enigma.

So, I stopped. I stopped with the endless stream of articles and message boards and videos…and I sat down with my guitar, and my picks, and my anatomy and decided I was going to throw away all my presumptions and just work it the fuck out.

I knew I kept getting caught on the strings. I knew the pick felt like it stuck out to far, or alternatively that it jammed up my knuckle, that there was something about the length of my thumb vs the length of my fingers, versus my relaxed hand position, versus the universe as a whole that just made picking nightmares happen. I didn’t know why, but I knew it was time for some out-of-box thinking if I was ever going to get past it.

If the pick seemed to pointy and too long, then, I thought to myself, “Self, why not just turn the damn thing around and pick with one of the less pointy corners? Worth a shot, right?”  Yes, it was. And while the tone is different, the difference in strum quality and speed was immediate. Having the pointy end of the pick pointed toward the inside of my hand added instant stability. Check – the problem with picking has to do with the stability of the picking position. Turning the pick around resolved it, but the tone is different enough that it’s not something I’m planning on entirely at the exclusion of the normal way.  Still, the “normal” way was really problematic.

I started to wonder if maybe the shape of the pick was my problem. That led me head first into the DIY project. Making picks couldn’t be that hard with the right materials. What if I just…made a pick in a different shape to resolve my weird issues with them. Would that fix it?

It was back to google then, to google how to make guitar picks. My goal here wasn’t so much a full tutorial as figuring out what people were using as their base. I don’t have the tools necessary to work with wood, but there had to be some kind of plastic…THING I could use, surely. Something from around the house, or that I could get at the dollar store.

Sure enough, people are making guitar picks out of old credit cards. Coincidentally, two of mine just expired and, because I’m lazy, I hadn’t disposed of them yet. They were sitting on my desk waiting to be cut up and thrown away.  So, I drew a few templates, a few ideas, I tested them out in cardboard since I had a limited amount of credit card plastic to work with.  There was only one that seemed to have potential, but in the end, I did decide the teardrop shape was better.

But, there’s the catch – the experiment showed me why the teardrop shape is so popular. Having tried a few other shapes in hand, it was like ‘ah, I see.’  Now, does that mean I’m going to think the teardrop shape is perfect until the end of time? Of course not. If it was perfect I wouldn’t have spent the past several months doing battle with it just to create a sound that doesn’t make my cats look offended and my ears bleed. But, I can at least see that it’s no easy task to design something in a shape and size combination to improve upon the design.

The funny thing about this, after making a handful of picks…suddenly I’m able to play with the damn things.  Granted, I’m glossing over a few key points in the learning process involving differences between wrist position and hand proximity to the strings between holding a pick and not holding one, but I’m sort of doing that intentionally, because understanding those things didn’t make me able to play with a pick; making half a dozen picks with scissors, a sharpie, and a nail file, did.

The super simple DIY Pick How-To that you can find in a bazillion places on the internet: 


  1. Get some variety of thick plastic.
  2. Grab a sharpie, and a pick (that you don’t care about much. you’re going to get marker on the edges unless your hands are made of magic), or a template that you’ve made in a generally pick-ish shape.
  3. Trace said pick or template onto the plastic thing.
  4. Cut out with scissors.
  5. Use some manner of file or sandpaper to smooth the edges.

See, simple. Funny thing, I actually like the feel of them better than my other picks, which is neat, because I believe in not paying for anything I can make just as well at home for free.  Tonight was a good night for it, too, since I’m sitting here listening to this live webcast of Amanda Palmer + string quartet and…stuff.  So I spent most of the show cutting and filing picks.  They may not be the prettiest things in the world (well, the one with the lightning bolt is kind of neat.), but they’re a bit thicker than my tortex, and seem to have better grip than my wood pick. And the tone. Wow. I would never have guessed a bunch of garbage plastic would have made such a nice sound. It’s like they fill a sound hole my other favored picks just don’t quite hit. They’re punchier, louder, and brighter than the tortex pick, which pulls a tone out of my acoustic guitar I didn’t know it had in it.

I should do a sound comparison for you, I know. Maybe I’ll do a mini-post on the subject later. But, as I mentioned above, I’m currently listening to a live webcast, so recording isn’t going to happen at the moment.

Until Next Time, I made stuff! …and now I can actually fricking play with a pick without it sounding like someone’s being murdered. Wohoo! Progress!

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