We have all been there, you want to play the guitar, but you don’t have a pick. Whether it is lost, or you are in a music store with no plectrum in your pocket, nothing is more frustrating. Although, as you dig deeper into your pocket you find something else and wonder, can you use a coin as a guitar pick?
Yes, a coin can be used as a guitar pick, long or short term. The sound will be different from any plastic or molded pick, but it may be a tone that you like.
Coins are the perfect thickness and have a somewhat smooth surface that makes them ideal for strumming chords and picking notes.
Can You Use a Coin as a Guitar Pick?
The first thing many guitarists wonder is if using a coin as a plectrum will be bad for the strings. You know that it is much stiffer than a regular pick, and striking the string would create more friction. And you would be correct by this conclusion.
Using a coin as a pick is indeed harder on the strings. And in some cases, the coin will break thinner strings, but perhaps not as much as you would think. There have been many players who have used metal picks, even coins, and didn’t have as much trouble as you would think.
In fact, besides some metal filings that need to be cleaned from the guitar, the strings would hold up quite well. While the strings do wear sooner than they would with a plastic pick, they get changed quite frequently. By the time they are worn out, it is probably time to change them anyway.
So this makes it possible to use a coin as a pick. And if it turns out that you like the sound, then the extra string changes will be well worth it if that is what needs to be done.
Damage Caused by a Coin Pick
So what kind of damage can a coin pick do to your guitar?
Many players do use a metal pick, but normally they are very smooth with beveled edges. Coins have ridges and impressions on them that can create damage to a string, especially with aggressive playing. These impressions and ridges work like a file, removing bits of metal with each strum.
The other issue is that coins have edges. When you use a coin as a pick, the edges can be sharper when hitting the strings. This will cause more wear and tear than if you were using a rounded pick. Over time, this does damage and removes metal and plating from the strings.
Another thing that can happen, is scratching on the guitar body’s finish from the coin. If your guitar doesn’t have a pickguard, and you hit it with the coin, it will more than likely scratch. Over time, this can begin to make the guitar look bad.
Benefits of Using a Coin as a Pick
There are some benefits to using a coin as a pick. One is that coins are normally in a person’s pocket or a jar nearby. You can find one quite easily if you look around your house. This is incredibly convenient as a plastic pick seems to always be lost!
They are also the perfect thickness for playing, which is why they make great picks for guitar. If you are the type of player who likes a thicker plectrum for the feel or sound, this is a great alternative.
In addition, the sound of a coin being used as a pick is different from any other material. It has a brighter tone that some guitarists like. And with some impressions and ridges on nickels and quarters, this can also help with tone and volume, creating a more aggressive attack.
So if you are looking for a different sound, or are in a bind and don’t have a pick, using a coin as a plectrum may be the way to go. They also don’t wear out like a plastic pick and will last a long time! Just be aware of the potential damage that can happen, and take precautions when playing.
Artists that Use Coins as a Pick
Brian May, the guitarist for the rock band Queen, has been known to use a coin as a pick. A sixpence to be accurate. He preferred them because of the sound they made, creating a tone that gave the guitar a different voice. The edges were the magic to the sound and because they were much harder, they also help him with speed.
Billy Gibbons, of the rock band ZZ Top, also uses a coin as a pick. He has been seen using a Mexican peso to play his guitar. And like Brian May, he likes the sound it gives his guitar.
These are just two examples of well-known artists that use coins as a pick. Many other players have found that this is a great way to pick up their guitar and create a unique sound. So if you are looking for something different, or are in a bind and don’t have a pick, using a coin may be the way to go!
Type of Coin to Use as a Guitar Pick
A nickel or quarter is a good size to start with. Avoid using dimes, as they are thinner and won’t be easy to grip like nickels and quarters. Softer materials like silver will be easier on your strings. It might be harder to find coins made of pure silver these days, and so you may have to settle on something else.
If you are looking for a specific sound, experiment with different coins to see which one gives you the tone you are looking for. And if you are wanting a more aggressive attack, try finding a coin that has some sharper edges.
Just be aware of the potential damage that can happen when using a coin as a pick, and take precautions when playing. And if you just can’t quite use a coin but like the sound of a rigid object in which to strike the strings, try a metal pick made for the task!