Much like with guitar stands, guitar picks (properly called a plectrum or plectra) aren’t exactly the first thing you think of when you start playing. If you opt for a beginner guitar kit, they usually toss a few in there to get you started. Generally, these are standard, plain celluloid picks of medium thickness.
Once you start getting a feel for your playing and develop your technique, you’ll probably revisit the pick in order to hone either your tone or your comfort level while playing. That means deciding what you want among the different materials, shapes, and thicknesses out there. A smooth, medium thickness plastic pick might work just fine for you. You’ll never be far away from one of them, since that seems to be the choice for anyone who gets complimentary picks made with their guitar-related business logo on them. In fact, you could probably arrange it so you never pay for a pick following a particularly good visit to a guitar trade show.
For those that want something more specialized, though, there are a number of options out there. While the idea of the pick has been around for thousands of years, you’ll still find very many players who eschew them entirely. This decision largely comes down to the discipline you learn when you begin playing or your preferred method of attack. Hybrid picking blends the two, and a whole host of picking styles heavily rely on the pick.
In the late 19th century, the dominant pick material was actual tortoiseshell, which is where the name you see associated with picks and pickguards comes from. Specifically, the shell of the hawksbill sea turtle provided the raw materials for many of these pieces, which in part explains their Critically Endangered status. Even before the outright ban in 1973, the use of celluloid as pioneered by D’Andrea Manufacturing in 1922 began to find favor with players. Today, most picks are made from celluloid, nylon, or Delrin/Acetal (polyoxymethylene…