Pick noise and how to avoid

Avoiding Pick noise

We have all experienced some kind of noise when picking the strings of your guitar. These scratchy sounds, called pick noise or string picking noise, is what some love, some hate.

But what causes this high frequency scratching noise and how to get rid of it?
In this blog we’ll tell you the ins and outs of this so-called pick noise.

11 ways to get rid of pick noise

1: Pick farther from the bridge

2: Change to new on a regularly base when using cheap and soft picks

3: Switch to mid- or neck pickup instead of using the bridge pickup

4: Improve your picking techniques: (pick slanting, economy picking)

5: Try different picks, including some boutique guitar picks

6: Try different strings

7: Adjust tone setting on your guitar first, followed by amp settings

8: Use a compressor

9: Practice synchronization between picking- and fretting hand.

10: Don’t grip too firmly

11: Try picks with sharp tips vs. round tips; try to find out what works best for you.

2 different reasons, 2 different sounds of scratchy noises

First of all, it is important to know what exactly you are hearing when you experience picking noise.

Regarding this, know that there may be:

  • Sound of the string bouncing against the pick, before actually picking the string.
  • The string gliding off of the plectrum, while the plectrum surface is damaged or a bit jagged increases pick chirp.

String bouncing against the pick

The reason for a string to sound is the fact that it vibrates in a variety of frequencies or Hertz (Hz) per second.

The frequency rate determines the pitch of a sound wave. In fact, the A (5th pos. on the high E-string) usually has a rate of 440 Hz. One octave higher (high E-string 17th fret) the

frequency increases up to ca. 880 Hz and so on and on. So, in this case you will never be fast enough hitting the string without the string slapping back against the pick a few times. The only thing you can do is lessen the sound it creates.

Bouncing against the string and pick material

While the string may vibrate up to 1 – 2 kHz (and even more), the string may bounce a few times against the guitar pick, before finally “picking” the string. As a result of this, the guitar pickup will also amplify the sound of the string slapping back against the plectrum. Especially when picking fast while keeping the plectrum very close to the strings. No matter if the plectrum is made out of a softer or harder material.

(un-) wanted under- & over tones

Besides the vibrations of a certain tone, the string has also different vibrations which gives the tone “color”. As a result of this, there are under- and overtones as well. For now, it is unimportant if these are pleasant or not. Read about this at: Change the picking position up and down the neck.

Jagged pick surface causing pick noise

Here we’ll talk about the other scratching noise you may experience.

Jagged edges cause pick noise Especially guitar picks made out of softer materials like celluloid, acrylic, nylon or tortex, may be damaged by the extremely harder material of the metal strings. Especially when the picks have been abusively played, like shredding metal riffs etc.

Although you might not see immediately, but the surface may have been jagged on a microscopic level.
This jagged surface will produce a pronounced scratching sound and in this case the guitar pickups will amplify this as well.

Buy new picks more often when using cheap picks

Using already used picks will produce more noises, since they get a jagged edge. Referring to this using cheaper guitar picks may become more expensive than using a higher quality guitar pick, which might be made out of a harder or dense material.

In most cases higher quality guitar picks often are made of a harder material. Harder materials result in less wear and a glossier surface.

The closer to the bridge the louder the picking noise

We already spoke about the high frequencies, which amplify the plectrum noise the most.

Closer to the bridge and using the bridge pickup, the picking noise has a strong presence in the overall guitar tone. And the more distortion or (natural) overdrive has been used, the pick noise will be heard more clearly. The reason for this is that high gain tones have more high frequencies. These have more presence than mid- and bass tones in the overall sound.

Is pick noise always unwanted?

No, but that is totally up to anybody’s preference.
In many cases it gives kind of personality to your tone, but it must not sound like overkill.

Just a small amount of picking noise may sound very nice. That said, when there is absolutely no picking sound, the guitar sounds too flat in most situations. 
In my opinion a nice percussive pick attack sounds very nice when strumming and playing solos. For instance, Yngwie Malmsteen plays with a lot of pick attack and in my opinion that does not sound bad at all.

Pick noise can add texture and character to a guitar’s sound, contributing to the overall tone and feel of a performance. Some guitarists embrace pick noise as part of their playing style, others may want to minimize it.
Some boutique picks create a very pleasant kinda pick noise.

Boutique guitar picks in general

All of our picks classify for boutique guitar picks, which is a term for picks with a certain shape and made out of special materials. The sound of these picks is clear and bright and it works well on how to make your guitar sound better.
We wrote an interesting article about boutique guitar picks in general. Read more here.

How to get rid of pick noise in general

Upon checking guitar forums on the internet, many people explain what the reason is for that scratchy noise. And they all know how to solve the problem.
The problem is that actually there’s not one reason that causes the noise and so there is not one way to solve the “problem”.
To reduce the scratchy noise made by a guitar pick, you can try several techniques.

Work on your picking technique:

To avoid the scratching noise using a flat pick, there are some different techniques that may help. Pick slanting in different ways may help playing faster, but it might not always be the way to solve the problem of picking noise. I.e., using pick slanting wit softer material picks, cause more jagged edges to these picks. ChickenPicks guitar picks are made of the hardest plastic material available. This makes them very adaptive to pick slanting.

Use your mid- and/or neck pickup instead of the bridge pickup:

This instantly will lessen the chirp or pick noise, because the bridge pickup will amplify the higher frequencies more than the other pickups.

When playing solos in the higher regions of the fretboard many of the professional guitar players switch to the neck pickup to avoid high frequency scratchy tones.

Switching to the neck pickup, the high notes will sound rounder instead of very aggressive and unpleasantly loud.

Not only the tones in the high positions will sound more pleasant. Also the scratchy picking noise may be tamed a bit.

You might also think of reducing the volume on your guitar. But again, these techniques will affect your tone immensely. You may wonder if this is desirable for the tone you’re looking for.

Pick slanting: Trailing edge picking vs Leading edge picking

Angling the downward or upward and the force applied, gives a smaller point of contact with the strings. With this technique only the edge contacts the strings, instead of the large flat surface.

This might be a well working way to pick strings faster with less effort. This means that you are picking with an angled pick position.

  • Trailing edge picking means that the side of the pick closer to the bridge hits the strings first.
  • Leading edge (also reverse slant) picking is the opposite; you hit the strings first with the side of the pick that is closer to the neck of the guitar.

Using both Leading- or Trailing edge picking might create more picking noise on wound strings. So, use less “edge” picking on lower strings. 

Change the picking position up and down the neck

To stop the scratching noise, try to pick your strings farther from the bridge. Playing this way may get you little fewer high frequencies in picking attack.

In other words, when you pick your strings closer to the “neck pickup”, there might be no picking noise anyway.

Harmonics: nodes and Antinodes

You will notice different sounding picking noises every few millimeters you pick up and down the strings near the bridge. This is caused as strings vibrate as a sinusoidal wave. They’re moving in almost infinite patterns, called harmonics.

The resulted sound depends on the placement of the pickups along the vibration pattern of the string (scale).

The points where the strings do not move are nodes. The peaks and valleys are “antinodes”. Nodes and Antinodes

Each successive partial harmonic is a progressive mathematical set of the fundamental note.
The second harmonic, for example, is nothing more than the fundamental divided into two parts that correspond to the first octave. This has a node in the center of the string (the harmonic that we normally use to tune the octaves).
That said, the string has many nodes (and antinodes) near the bridge and much of the noise created may be just harmonics.

It is important to understand that the sound of that string is not only made by the fundamental. Also all the subsequent partial harmonics that vibrate at the same time determine part of the tone.
(image courtesy: www.frudua.com/how-guitar-string-vibrate.htm)

Economy picking vs alternate picking

Some people think that the key to prevent from picking noises could be reached by changing the picking style. In other words, economy picking might cause less noise in relation to just using alternate picking. Economy picking could be subscribed as less alternated picking over different strings.

Imagine a certain riff played as follows: DOWN-UP, DOWN-DOWN-UP, DOWN-DOWN-UP, DOWN-UP etc. etc…

But these kinds of techniques may be very difficult to become the standard of your playing, especially when you already play in your own style for many years not using this technique.

Try different picks:

Different shapes, a variety of thicknesses and different materials may differ the way you play. And as a result, your sound may be changing as well. This may attribute to less picking noise as the materials and shapes of guitar picks all affect your tone. You might think that a guitar may not be important to the overall tone of your guitar, but the opposite is true.

Thickness and material of the pick determine which tones of your strings will ring the most. In this case high- midrange- or lower bottom-end tones.

Usually, the best guitar tones have a nice combination of all these tones together. In other words, a nice distribution of the total tonal spectrum will ring out when hitting the strings.

You will find the right pick for you at ChickenPicks guitar picks. These picks won’t disappoint you in terms of pick noise.

Bermuda III Pointy .      ChickenPicks Light, Regular and Shredder         Badazz III guitar picks

Pick abrasion to avoid pick noise or chirp

Some higher quality picks provide an A-symmetrical wear pattern added during production. This gives you already flattened pick edges in one way.

This might help you lessen picking noise while playing lower strings. The edges are not as sharp as usual. A-symmetrical wear pattern

On the other hand, you might have a problem with these picks when you are playing in slanted positions.

ChickenPicks guitar picks always have abrased sides all over. So, slanting the pick in any way won’t be a problem and you won’t have these annoying pick noises. At ChickenPicks guitar picks, we these symmetrical kind of wear patters “beveled edges”.

Explore pick alternatives to lessen picking noises

Most guitar players use flat picks, but you might consider other ways of playing guitar. Think about fingerstyle playing or thumb picks to avoid picking noise.

Consider using different strings:

Using other strings, or thicker strings may help a bit, but in most cases it’s not the strings that cause the problem. So go and check some other variables as well.

Adjust tone setting on your guitar:

Especially when using the bridge pick a lot of brightness may cause increased unwanted overtones. Drop some midrange in the EQ and you will lessen the pick attack. After dropping down the tone knob on your guitar, you might consider turning up the highs on your amp. Most of the pick scratching and snapping sounds are high frequency, so it lessens them quite a bit by not letting them into signal chain in the first place. This works better than compensate for them afterwards.

As a result, your tone alters with it. So, if this won’t solve the problem, please check other suggestions that may help avoiding scratching pick sounds.

Use a compressor:

Electric guitars in particular create a very dynamic sound, especially when playing loud with clean tones. A compressor will flatten the peaks and valleys in the tone spectrum. So, it might help using a compressor to push extreme picking noises to the back as well.

But as for many of the answers, this might not solve your problem. This is because a compressor may change the tone of your guitar into something you do not want.

Scratching noise due to the plectrum surface:

Make sure your pick is in good condition, because picks will always wear.
As a result, wear creates a rough texture. Rougher surfaces increase pick noise or so-called chirp.
Some playing styles cause picks to wear very fast, others not as much, of course.
And referring to this, when using extended techniques like pick slides or scrapes, your picks can become very damaged almost immediately.

Practice synchronization between both hands:

A lot of inconsistency and extraneous noise often attributed to “picking hand technique” actually is an issue of synchronization between both the left- and right hand.

If your fretting-hand finger is not making it to the note early enough, you will get a “clack” from the right hand if it leaves the note too soon. In this situation you’ll might get extraneous noise as well.

Practicing you legato slowly and make it feel effortless, may solve this problem.

More ways to avoid guitar pick noise:

You might try to hold your guitar picks with less tension. To make this happen easily, you need a thicker plectrum with more mass. Otherwise, with a thin pick holding it loose, the pick may slip out of your hands. And you’re missing midrange and bottom-end tone this way as well.

To avoid the chirping sound or pick noise, it may help to use thicker picks as mentioned. Thinking of that, it’s important to have a more beveled edge for letting the plectrum easily slide through the strings. Also try if you reach a good result with sharper tip picks like the BADAZZ III, or rounder tip pick like the SHREDDER or the REGULAR And LIGHT.


What others say about ChickenPicks guitar picks

Musikhaus Thomann
Chicago Music Exchange


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