The plectrum or pick as it is also known is an ideal playing tool for strumming chords and picking out notes while playing an acoustic guitar solo. The plectrum produces a crisp and percussive sound which is fantastic for certain guitar styles, but is a distinct disadvantage while trying to play other guitar genre.
The plectrum protects your hand from repeated strumming against the metal strings of the acoustic guitar and if it ever splits or wears down it can be discarded and replaced with a new one, unlike your hand which can never be replaced. But despite the obvious advantages to using a plectrum when playing guitar, there are countless musicians, acoustic and electric alike, that choose not to use a plectrum at all. What could be the reason for this?
Mention a plectrum, pick or ‘flat-pick’ to a classically trained guitarist or a Spanish flamenco guitarist and you would be committing ‘blasphemy’. Their nylon-strung guitars are specifically designed for ‘fingerstyle’ techniques and a plectrum would have no place in their repertoire. Even some electric playing ‘rock gods’ think the plectrum impedes their touch and prefer to make contact with the strings by fingers alone.
For other guitarist though, the problem with the plectrum is the simple fact that it stops them from playing all the notes they need at the same time. The plectrums inability to pick out more than one note at a time makes it nearly impossible to use when trying to play certain ‘folk’ songs or elaborate guitar solo work where the ability to simultaneously pluck two or more non-adjacent notes may be called upon at any time.
While the plectrum has its place in guitar playing there are certain jobs it just can not do. Take playing flamenco for example. Flamenco guitar players tend to favour a dynamic and powerful sound and to accomplish this they use a variety of specialist guitar techniques. Rasgueado and tremolo are two perfect examples of flamenco flare. Rasgueado is a unique strumming pattern created by ‘fanning the fingers across the strings to generate a circular effect, this could simply not be achieved by using a plectrum. A tremolo involves playing a single note repeatedly and very swiftly with the ‘picking’ hand fingers to produce long, sustained notes. Again this would be almost impossible to achieve while playing with a plectrum.
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. What should really count is the style and sound of guitar music you are trying to play. Can the style of music I want to play be achieved by using a plectrum? If the answer to this is yes and you would prefer to use a plectrum, then that is the right answer. The choice should always be dictated by the guitarists own preferences and the style of music to which they are playing.