Monday, April 18, 2005

Of Guitar Picks and Men

Dunlop Tortex PlectraI thought I'd vary from the traditional formula today and talk about something guitar specific rather than the usual band related goodness.

I've been a guitar player for 16 years now, so it stands to reason that I may have learned a thing or two about playing the bloody thing. One thing I've learned is that all guitar picks (it's plectra, if you're nasty) are not the same. Another revelation is that there are a hell of a lot more variety of picks out there than any sane human being might expect - at least fifty to suit each one kind of playing style. And, most importantly, the type of pick one uses can actually make a fairly noticible difference in guitar tone.

Early on in my playing "career" (at my most sucky) I started with medium thickness, but quickly gravitated towards light in a variety of flavors. Light picks tend to be easy to manipulate, especially when playing fast notes in rapid succession on the high strings. I used "tortoise shell" ones (they're actually celluloid) by Fender until I got sick of the wear pattern, because they tended to get very sharp, pointy, and jagged with time. I then went to nylon picks by Jim Dunlop since they had a nice gripping surface. But I didn't like the way those wore out too fast.

So after more searching (strangely enough, never considering delrin, which is a favorite among many), I finally settled on Dunlop's Tortex picks. These suckers wear really evenly, last longer than the cheaper types listed above, and have a nice grippy surface (which, unfortunately, wears off immediately). Somewhere in here I also started using heavy picks almost exclusively as well. They provide a harder attack, which makes heavy metal power chords sound more authoritative. I then found their line of Gator Grip picks, which have a non-slip surface that tends to last longer than the one on the Tortex picks. All was good.

Then at some point a number of years ago my parents, on a trip to Arizona, bought for me a sterling silver pick fron someone selling Native American jewelry. This thing was too cool - gleaming metal, heavy mass, 100% inflexible, and it was engraved with a bear claw (actually, the design around the claw is engraved. The claw itself is cut out, so it's easier to hold onto the pick). When I played with it, the attack was much softer than the hardness of a plastic pick. And the sound: bell-like tones from the guitar. Plastic based picks tend to snap, click, and thwack as they hit metal strings, but the sound of silver on steel is like the soft notes of wind chimes. There's a smoothness as one plays that, once one gets used to the insane hardness of the material, allows one to pick bit faster.

I've never used anything since. And at the time I got the thing, no normal manufacturer was making anything similar on a large scale. So I firmly clutched my own personal "precious", hoping no Dark Lord would ever come to take it from me.

It does seem as of late, however, that companies are making picks out of metal en masse. So last week I ordered four different styles to see how they compare to my sterling silver pick. Three were from Musician's Friend:
And one really exotic number: a Big West Creation titanium pick, imported from Japan by Guitar Pick Central. This one should be a big change for me since it was only available in "jazz" shape, which I never use.

Pick shape lesson: "jazz" picks are smaller and pointier than the traditional pick shape, which is commonly referred to as "the Fender pick", "the Fender 351", or having "the 351 shape". As near as I can tell, this is due to Fender, undoubtedly responsible for making this shape popular, embedding "351" in the part number of all their picks with this shape.

I received my Musican's Friend package today and have played with them for a bit. When I've had time to thoroughly work them over I'll post a review. Hopefully I'll get the titanium plectrum soon as well.


Anonymous AJB said...

Have you noticed the metal picks causing undue wear and tear on the guitar? Or the strings, for that matter? While the silver pick is definitely softer than the steel strings, the titanium pick will have the 'edge', in the hardness category.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Hollow Man said...

I was going to get into this when I do reviews of the picks, but the short answer is that my silver pick does create deeper scratches in my guitar's finish than the plastic ones ever did. I've never noticed it causing a problem with the strings.

9:31 AM  
Anonymous Flynn_42 said...

HM has left out LePik. I am not sure why. Perhaps he is intimidated by the sheer brilliance of its design? He simply will not admit to the glory of LePik. And yes, mine is made of Fibylon ©.

LePik Front

LePik Back

6:56 PM  
Blogger Hollow Man said...

LePik defies description. Its name alone, however, is sheer brilliance. But tell me, how often to you use LePik, hrm?

9:48 PM  
Anonymous anita said...

Hi, HM. Ajb wanted me to see the cool pix flynn_42 put up of the, I must say, AWESOME LePik. So I thought I'd play editing police while I was at it. Picture me saying this in pretentious and elitist tones: First of all, there *is* a hell of a lot more variety of picks. And second, it's "noticeable." That is all. I'm done now. :-)

7:13 AM  
Blogger DRGUITAR said...

Dear Hollowman,

I would like to invite you to visit my website concerning METAL GUITAR PICKS....

Thanks, David Reasoner

7:16 PM  

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