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A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is usually called a pick, and is a separate tool held in the player's hand. In harpsichords, the plectra are attached to the jack mechanism.


Plectra wielded by hand

Guitars and similar instruments

A plectrum (pick) for electric guitars, acoustic guitars, bass guitars and mandolins is typically a thin piece of plastic or other material shaped like a pointed teardrop or triangle. The size, shape and width may vary considerably. Thin items such as small coins, bread clips or broken compact discs and credit cards can be used as substitute plectra. Banjo and guitar players may wear a metal or plastic thumb pick mounted on a ring, and bluegrass banjo players often wear metal or plastic fingerpicks on their fingertips. Guitarists also use fingerpicks.

Guitar picks are made of a variety of materials, including celluloid, metal, and rarely other exotic materials such as turtle shell, but today delrin is the most common[citation needed]. For other instruments in the modern day most players use plastic plectra but a variety of other materials, including wood and felt (for use with the ukulele) are common. Guitarists in the rock, blues, jazz and bluegrass genres tend to use a plectrum, partly because the use of steel strings tends to wear out the fingernails quickly, and also because a plectrum provides a more 'focused' and 'aggressive' sound. Many guitarists also use the pick and the remaining right-hand fingers simultaneously to combine some advantages of flat picking and finger picking. This technique is called hybrid picking.

A plectrum of the guitar type is usually called a pick (or a flatpick to distinguish it from fingerpicks).

Non-Western instruments

The plectra for the Japanese biwa and shamisen can be quite large, and those used for the Arabic oud are longer and narrower, replacing the formerly used eagle feather. Plectra used for Chinese instruments such as the sanxian were formerly made of animal horn, though many players today use plastic plectra.

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