The humble 'Plectrum'

Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
OK Good Folks in Guitar Land, I've started this thread, out of both personal interest, and perhaps to shed a little more light on the humble 'Plectrum'. (Plural 'plectra'.) If you're a guitarist, whether it be acoustic or electric, guitar or bass, you've most probably got one, some or even many! Did you know that a plectrum can change the entire sound of your guitar?Or that there are picks which are ideally suited to increase your speed and accuracy?And that certain picks are ideal for arthritic, or painful when playing, picking hands? After a lifetime of playing and countless 'different' instruments, I've learnt to buy a bunch of various picks whenever I've bought a new guitar. Why?The same as every instrument has a unique timbre, so does a pick and it can equally alter the sound of an instrument - completely! In fact with a selection of 3 picks, you can move from screaming fusion, to funk, to smooth jazz, just by changing picks, not even moving a single control on the guitar or amp! When I started, tortoise shell was 'the thing' and a variety of plastic/celluloid picks that resembled the credit card plastic of today. (Which I understand can be used to make your own picks - out of date is best!) (Tortoise shell was generally banned in 1973.) Most of them were pretty similar in size and shape too. Plectra have been, and still are, made from celluloid, nylon, bone, shell, wood, metal, amber, stone and semi-precious stones/crystals and a wide range of modern/named materials such as: Acetal/Delrin-Tortex, Ultem, Lexan, Acrylic, and Delrex - used as the nearest to replace tortoise shell.  The common pick shape and use of 'celluloid' for plectrums was originally created in 1922 by Luigi D'Andrea. Their family company is still going, but how many of us have ever heard of them? Not that they make a knowingly, (meaning popularly used), superior pick or anything. Names like 'Dunlop', 'Fender', 'Gibson', 'Planet Waves/D'Addario', Ernie Ball, have taken over from solely manufacturers of plectrums. However there are new companies now including: Red Bear Trading Company, Steve Clayton, V-Picks, Wegen, JB, BlueChip, Golden Gate, PickBoy, Wedgie and more. I'm going to be buying some new picks from America - where most of these companies seem to be. In my own case they will be non-flexible, A) as I tend to play chords by picking the necessary strings more than straight strumming across the neck, (partly because I play in Perfect Fourth tuning), B) as I play a lot of solo work. I have used Jim Dunlop 'Jazz III/black' and occasionally 'JD Stubby' mainly in recent years, with 9-42's string weight. I have been playing hollow/semi hollow bodied jazz guitars with this set up. I liked the over solidness of the sound, not too bright but clean. About to purchase a new guitar, so I am looking into the type of guitar/sound and even style of music that I'm now playing - which is different than before - to better select a plectrum that is ideally suited to all these things.Having said all that, before I splash out on some of the picks I like the look of from the USA, ranging from between $4 and $40 - a pick! - I'll select a few cheapo's from my local store that are different from Jim Dunlop's to start the ball rolling. I need a pick that will be: ideal for quick soloing, (and possibly increase my speed with aging hands!), small to medium in overall size, *thick in the body, with a finer point for accuracy.*Thicker picks are ideal if you get wrist pains and can also speed up your playing! They also add extra 'mid' to your sound and often volume too.This is apparently due to the overall 'mass' of the pick. (I talking here of a pick that's a minimum of 4mm's thick!) I also don't like the 'chirp' of many of the acrylic type picks, especially when using distortion, so will be avoiding them! What are your parameters/favourite pick and why?  http://www.premierguitar.com/a...ow_to_Pick_your_Pick(Short but quite reasonable article about picks.)   

Comments

  • Green NinjaGreen Ninja Posts: 412Member

    Not fussed on brand but like it to be as thick as possible, can't stand flexible ones.  Think my current ones are Planet Waves.

     

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by Green Ninja:

    Not fussed on brand but like it to be as thick as possible, can't stand flexible ones.  Think my current ones are Planet Waves.

     

    Hi Green Ninja,

     

    Absolutely agree. Flexible picks I guess are fine for those who play a lot of rhythm perhaps, but for articulate runs they simply lag behind. Yes like them thicker too.

     

    Perhaps, and I'm not saying that this is fact - just a thought that if you use a thin pick, once it has passed over a string, it rests just beyond that string. A thicker pick will rest somewhere closer to the next string and closer still if thicker again.

      

    pickthing

     

    Obviously for this illustration I've rested the pick directly after the string, but of course it would be much further in. 4 to 5mm picks are not uncommon these days either!

     

  • dharma66dharma66 Posts: 829Member

    4/5mm picks! I just can't imagine that!

     

    I have some wooden picks that are about 3mm thick where held, but are tapered to a point. As I play with only the last mil or two of the pick, they are effectively only around 1 mil thick at the point of contact, but I still find that too much for fast runs.

     

    I've tried hundreds of different picks, but always come back to jazz III reds.

     

    I think how you hold the pick and attack the strings has way more impact on tone than pick material. I have a whole selection here, and with a bit of adjustment to my picking technique, I can make anything from a 3mm ebony to a 0.25mm tortex sound exactly my favoured jazIIIs. I favour the jazz IIIs simply because they give the tone and control I want whilst I use my natural picking style.

     

    Only thing that I think has a real distinct difference is metal, such as Brian Mays sixpence.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by dharma66:

    4/5mm picks! I just can't imagine that!

     

    I have some wooden picks that are about 3mm thick where held, but are tapered to a point. As I play with only the last mil or two of the pick, they are effectively only around 1 mil thick at the point of contact, but I still find that too much for fast runs.

     

    I've tried hundreds of different picks, but always come back to jazz III reds.

     

    I think how you hold the pick and attack the strings has way more impact on tone than pick material. I have a whole selection here, and with a bit of adjustment to my picking technique, I can make anything from a 3mm ebony to a 0.25mm tortex sound exactly my favoured jazIIIs. I favour the jazz IIIs simply because they give the tone and control I want whilst I use my natural picking style.

     

    Only thing that I think has a real distinct difference is metal, such as Brian Mays sixpence.

    Hi Dharma66,

     

    As you rightly say, the thicker picks are not all thicker at the point/edge, some yes, and they have fuller/rounded mid sound than my black JD Jazz III's.

    ('V' Picks, have one called 'Insanity', aptly named at 11.85 mm thick!!! Shown below.) 

     

    Of course you're bang on about 'technique/holding/adjusting' the pick and playing position too. The material/thickness etc of the pick does appear to add different nuances, so I guess rather than adjust anything, if there's a pick that will give a different sound but without changing style/technique, that can't be a bad thing either. 

     

    So many people mention the Brian May 'sixpence' as a unique pick, and of course, sound. Being rounded too helps with the speed as there is far less resistance than a point, but I suppose it has to be a well worn one too, to be smooth enough, if I remember correctly it had a fine serrated edge? 

    Bit hard on the strings though.

     

    "The Insanity Pick from 'V' Picks..."

    New Insanity

     

     

  • Mark PMark P Posts: 2,303Member

    I've tended in the past to choose picks on the basis of playing comfort primarily. I'd found larger picks slowed me down, and as I play at the speed of an old tortoise anyway that was no good. I've had a preference too for picks with some sort of serration or indent where they are held twixt thumb and finger - the less effort needed to grip the thing then the less tension in the muscles and the more fluid the playing.

     

    Generally I've preferred thicker and smaller picks - the 3mm Dunlop stubby became a favourite for use with electric guitar, though most of the time I just used fingers.

     

    I have a collection of wooden picks - they do bring a different sound with less of a sharp impact sound in particular. The difference in sound between ebony and mahogany picks say is pretty large. Which is best depends on the natural sound of the guitar and the type of music.

     

    I have found with acoustic playing, which I only got into at the end of last year, that the difference to sound from different picks is more extreme. The thin pick does come into it's own on a 12 string - remarkable how different the sound is as a result. Oddly those Dunlop stubbys that do the job for me on the electrics just don't work for me sound-wise on acoustics.

     

    With acoustic and playing finger-style I've got into thumb-picks (skin problem on thumb means I can't play using the flesh / nail). The ideal one for me has been the Fred Kelly thumb-pick made from Delrin - a very natural sound, way closer to the sound that a thumb or finger would be that I can get from plastic. Spinning off from that a got some Fred Kelly Delrin picks too, and they're very good on acoustic instruments and way better than most of my plastic picks.

     

    Lastly - I thought the type of pick made a bigger difference with acoustic guitar v electric but with the mandolin family of instruments the difference is massive. A thin pick, like with a 12 string guitar is often better, particularly on the instruments with more lower register notes - like the cittern. But a mandolin plus a thin pick can be just way too much treble for my old ears. The cittern with a thick pick turns into muffled mush.

  • SteerSteer Posts: 132Member

    The only slightly unusual plectrum I have ever used regularly is the Dava Control ones, which are thick at either end, and thin / flexible in the middle. So depending on where you grip it, it can be made more or less flexible. I've gone through phases of using them, and then abandoning them. To be honest nowadays I tend to stick with a more regular plec'.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Mark thanks for the heads up on the wooden picks, and the Fred Kelly picks, never used them, but I can certainly imagine the wooden ones give a 'warm' sound. I like the 'Stubby' too for feel, but with distortion they can be a little too 'chirpy'.

     

    Nice comment about the 'Delrin' being a more 'natural' sound. I'm certainly going to give them a go for electric.

     

     

     

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Steer, yes I've seen the publicity for the 'Dava Control' picks. Thought it was an interesting idea. Don't know how I would enjoy them after years of thicker and non flexible picks, but it is an interesting concept.

     

  • JockoJocko Posts: 6,986Member, Moderator

    I hate thick picks.  For years I have used a Jim Dunlop "Riffs" 0.73mm but my tutor got me to go to a thicker pick for better accuracy. I now use a Snarling Dog "Brain" 1.0mm pick and I have gotten use to it.  Initially I hated strumming with the thicker pick but I have now gained a feel for it. But a half inch thick pick!  That's not a pick, that's a hammer.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    I hate thick picks.  For years I have used a Jim Dunlop "Riffs" 0.73mm but my tutor got me to go to a thicker pick for better accuracy. I now use a Snarling Dog "Brain" 1.0mm pick and I have gotten use to it.  Initially I hated strumming with the thicker pick but I have now gained a feel for it. But a half inch thick pick!  That's not a pick, that's a hammer.

    Jocko, I reckon it's more of an 'axe' than a hammer, judging by the 'V' pick photo above!

     

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    For those interested 'Snarling Dog 'Brain' picks are made by D'Andrea.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by Graham George:

    For those interested 'Snarling Dog 'Brain' picks are made by D'Andrea.

    PS: Just out of further interest, Dava Picks make a Delrin pointed pick, and also a 'Poly Gel', (whatever that is), that has been reviewed as a faster tip - for the speed merchants, or just wanting to increase speed/accuracy.

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    I've got some 30 year old Jim Dunlop Tortex 0.5mm picks that I've always used.

     

    But recently I've been using a Pro Picks thumbpick and using that for strumming and lead lines as well.  I particularly like the Pro Pick design as it has the Delrin (I think), pick part, which can be filed how I want, riveted to the metal piece that I can shape absolutely exactly to my thumb meaning I can do upstrokes as well as downstrokes without having to support the thumbpick (maybe it's my thumbs, but I could never do that with a plastic thumbpick).

     

    But I've found recently that I've had more success with growing out my own nails so have also been using thumb and forefinger nails more like picks as well.

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • JockoJocko Posts: 6,986Member, Moderator

    As I have said elsewhere I have a Gulf War pick.  During the first Gulf War, the company I worked for made laser protection lenses the troops could pop into their gas masks. Supplied with the lenses were picks used to prize the lenses out when not needed.  They were supplied in the thousands from somewhere in the States.  They were everywhere at work. On the floor, behind the coffee machine under desks.  And I got ONE as a souvenir!  I still have it in my "picks" box.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by Reg Sox:

    I've got some 30 year old Jim Dunlop Tortex 0.5mm picks that I've always used.

     

    But recently I've been using a Pro Picks thumbpick and using that for strumming and lead lines as well.  I particularly like the Pro Pick design as it has the Delrin (I think), pick part, which can be filed how I want, riveted to the metal piece that I can shape absolutely exactly to my thumb meaning I can do upstrokes as well as downstrokes without having to support the thumbpick (maybe it's my thumbs, but I could never do that with a plastic thumbpick).

     

    But I've found recently that I've had more success with growing out my own nails so have also been using thumb and forefinger nails more like picks as well.

     

    Cheers, Reg.

    Hi Reg,

     

    Thanks for the idea/your choice too, of the 'ProPik' thumb picks. 

    Here is a link to some images of 'Propik' picks, and yes Reg it's a Delrin tip!

     

    (I don't have a problem growing nails but I find they go through the washing up gloves - lol . . . so I keep them short!)

     

    Note there is a list of 30 other pick manufacturers in the left hand column.

     

    Take a stroll through those if you're looking for ideas!

     

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,088Member

    An interesting subject (for us guitar nerds at least! ) - myself, I decided a year or so ago that I would like to use a pick, for a bit more speed/articulation when soloing, and also to make certain types of rhythm strumming more possible/better. Previous to this, for about 25 years or more, I have not used a pick at all, and instead played fingerstyle, or used my index fingernail in a "pick-like manner" - a lot of people used to assume I was using a pick when I wasn't, and I do have a fair bit of fluency playing like that. Since I made the effort though, and it has taken me some time and work to get there, I do find the pick makes some things possible that weren't before, plus it gives a certain kind of tone that I can't get otherwise. I now alternate between my old no-pick approach (usually on slower numbers, or latin bossa style things) and using a pick for faster jazz numbers.

     

    Re what pick I use, I find I am very fussy - almost any pick I can buy will not work for me. For one thing, I find I can't stop them moving in my hand. In the end I came to the conclusion I would have to make my own - and then started a period of making various designs and variations. At some point, I made this one, out of a piece of delrin (type of plastic) which I find really good:

      

    DSCF2729

    DSCF2731

    DSCF2733

     

    You can see grooves across the front, and a diagonal groove across the back - this allows me to hold it consistently. I can't get on with picks that are too thin at the pointy end - the 3rd profile shot shows that my pick still has quite a bit of "meat" to it behind the point, and just tapers to a kind of rounded point. The pick is about 4 mm thick, or a little more.

     

    The way I position my hand, I usually have the pick almost exactly flat/parallel to the string (i.e. not angled), and I think the thicker taper near the point helps the pick to glide over the string efficiently. I guess I like a fairly smooth attack too, which I think the technique/pick combination helps with. I don't have much of the pick protruding below my fingers, and the underside of my thumb lightly brushes against the strings when I use a pick, which I find helps prevent me trying to push too much of the pick through the strings. 

     

    Next two shots try to show how I hold the pick. The 2nd one shows (I hope) that my index finger does not have the end joint sitting in the diagonal groove - instead the tip just rests at a point along the groove. But having the groove still helps and feels right somehow.

     

    DSCF2736

    DSCF2737

     

     

    One factory pick I can just about get by with now, is this type of Dunlop 2mm pick, also made of delrin. But it's nothing like as good.

    DSCF2738

     

     

    When I was re-developing my pick technique, after decades of not using a pick, I decided to throw away anything I'd ever done before, and start with a fresh slate, and just go all out for speed and efficiency. To that end, I was very influenced by this Guthrie Govan clip, although he apparently likes quite sharp, pointy picks, which I would not. But I still like what he has to say in general - it certainly has helped me a lot:

     



     

    Anyhow, I've waffled on far too much in a nerdy way, I'll leave it there and hope something I've said might have some interest for someone! 

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Graham Hi,

     

    Waffle no, great insight there and especially that as yet we haven't really approached the 'make one yourself' topic.

     

    I'm toying with the idea of 'knocking a few out' to see what I can come up with.

     

    One thing that is beginning to show up, is the like for 'Delrin' as a pick material . . interesting!

     

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Okay folks,

     

    Is this the most peculiar pick you've ever seen?

     

    31pBKkPk+eL

     

    Answers to this thread, and keep your picks coming this is so interesting!

     

    Perhaps too you've got a homemade pick, failure or success, either way we'll know what to do!

     

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,088Member
    Originally Posted by Graham George:

    Okay folks,

     

    Is this the most peculiar pick you've ever seen?

     

    31pBKkPk+eL

     

    Answers to this thread, and keep your picks coming this is so interesting!

     

    Perhaps too you've got a homemade pick, failure or success, either way we'll know what to do!

     

    Certainly one of the most peculiar, although I did see some other design a few months back, that had a hole to fit the thumb through, and the idea was that it would put and hold the picking tip in the perfect position/angle, and take tension out of the hand by relieving the need to grip the pick in the usual way. Looking at these sort of things though, I'm very dubious - you really have to buy into someone else's concept of what the ideal pick technique is, and the problem is that I don't want to do that! Also prevents me from experimenting with different materials. Having tried delrin and buffalo horn (both good I find), I'm next going to try making some picks from coconut shell...

  • JockoJocko Posts: 6,986Member, Moderator

    Think it is really just intended to be "un-droppable".

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,088Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    Think it is really just intended to be "un-droppable".

    Fair enough, I misunderstood there, although I still don't like the design! Actually I did find the one I was thinking of: http://www.pykmax.com - there is no hole for the thumb on this one, so I have a bad memory. But it is a pretty weird-looking invention! Not for me, but interesting none the less.

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member
    Originally Posted by Jocko:

    Think it is really just intended to be "un-droppable".

    I'm trying to visualise whether you could just flip/spin it round so it rests on the back of the knuckles so you can quickly change between flat picking and finger picking without it getting in the way when finger picking.  I think I'll stick with my propick for that use.

     

    BTW - I think Graham G. forgot to insert the link to a picture of a propick so here's one:

     

    thumb_picks-0315.jpg

     

    Cheers, Reg.

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Graham, Jocko and Reg,

     

    Thanks for the continued input and thanks Reg for the photo of the Propick!

     

    Graham thanks too for the "Pykmax" reference/link, which I hadn't seen before until your mention of it, (with that spelling of 'Pyk' not surprising really, if one's searching for 'picks'), it's revolutionary for sure and well worth a look! Especially if you suffer hand discomfort!

     

    The pick part is also 'Delrin'!

    Examples on their website include acoustic and electric guitar videos - impressive!

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Thanks to Graham (Megi), I was inspired to knock up a pick from "aluminium".

    (A little crude in workmanship but a fun morning!)

     

    Before you ask why, because I had some at 3mm which is the same thickness as one of my favourite picks "Dunlop Stubby!"

     

    Below are the pics, pun intended!

     

    The aluminium was left over from when I de-constructed the bigsby from the original guitar and chopped it up for the metal parts I needed to rebuild the instrument. (Hey it wasn't a 'real' one, just a 'licenced to' version. (You'll see on the back of the pick the guitar makers name, or what's left of it - no comment.)

     

    And I'm pleased to announce that having played with it this afternoon, it was a classic and overwhelming 'FAIL' . . . LOL!

     

    I was hoping for a little less 'chirp', so I left it satin polished, as I know that picks with the unfinished edges give less 'chirp'. (More of a brushing sound, which is a little less irritating than hearing the chirp louder than the note.)

     

    What sound did I get - well ummm, "Cage full of budgies comes to mind!"

    Interestingly though, the flat side - the back - had less of a chirp, so I maybe onto something there - or not!?!

     

    Feels nice in the hand and if it had worked, I was intending to add a 'thumb-hollow' to the back - ah well back to the drawing board. I've got some 'lignum vitae' somewhere, so I think that's next!

     

    IMG_0012

    IMG_0013

    IMG_0014

    IMG_0015

     

     

  • martinsmith99martinsmith99 Posts: 368Member

    The `plectrums' I use are Pickboy 1mm type.  I get comments about the thickness from other guitarists so I'm amazed to see the thicker `plectrums' to be popular here.

     

    From Wiki...

     

    "Plectrum" has both a Latin-based plural, plectra and a native English plural, plectrumsPlectra is used in formal writing, particularly in discussing the harpsichord as an instrument of classical music. However, plectrums is more common in ordinary speech. In vernacular speech the abbreviation pleck or plec is sometimes used.

     

  • MegiMegi Posts: 7,088Member

    Interested to see about your self-made aluminium pick Graham - this is similar to my experience - i.e. I made a pick, then perceived things that weren't right, so I made another, and then another, and so on - the design evolved over time until I had something that was really working for me. I could give my pick to another guitarist, and they'd probably hate it, but for me, those "random" dimensions are actually finely tuned - exactly why, I could not say, but I know the pick is natural for me to use, helps my technique, and sounds the way I like. So I'd encourage you to try making a few more picks, and see where that takes you... image

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member
    Originally Posted by Megi:

    Interested to see about your self-made aluminium pick Graham - this is similar to my experience - i.e. I made a pick, then perceived things that weren't right, so I made another, and then another, and so on - the design evolved over time until I had something that was really working for me. I could give my pick to another guitarist, and they'd probably hate it, but for me, those "random" dimensions are actually finely tuned - exactly why, I could not say, but I know the pick is natural for me to use, helps my technique, and sounds the way I like. So I'd encourage you to try making a few more picks, and see where that takes you...

    Graham Hi, yup I'm going to be experimenting with some more designs. Everything in the house is closer scrutinised at the moment to see if it's 'pick' material or has conversion possibilities! And I have a weird one coming up, so watch this space!

     

    Actually your pick reminds me of the Django Reinhardt story that he played with a trouser button. I believe that there was only one photograph of him where a pick showed clearly and he was using a small 'Dunlop Stubby' type/sized pick that was at least 3-4mm's thick.

     

    Interestingly enough there appear to be two companies that make a 'Django' pick. One is based on the story, the other I think on what he most likely used!

     

     The viscoloid repro:

    D Button

     

    Made from Turtle shell: 

    mediator

     

    Ah well, back to looking for plectra material!

     

  • Graham GeorgeGraham George Posts: 496Member

    Now this one is different!

    And it's something you CAN try at home! 

     

    Here's one I prepared earlier . . .

     

    pick2

     

    It's a deodorant bottle!

     

    1. Remove cap, and cut off top section.

    2. Without the whole top.

    3. Important - the scalloped/waisted section at the top is included when cutting it out from the side.

    4. That section having been rounded at the top, shown here where I positioned my template, as this was the most comfortable to hold - for me! 

    5. The bottle having two sides available, I made another, using a different part of the waisted curve to see if that was any more comfortable - it is the smaller/on the left - of the two.

    6. On its side. The white arrow shows the longest curve to the playing point of the pick - left of the picture, for the thumb. The black arrow - the opposing curve, for the finger. 

    7. The pick between thumb and finger, showing the top curve against the finger, the point of the pick wraps around the thumb facing left.

     

    And guess what it worked - no chirp!

    Very comfy, no slipping motion with it at all, in fact after playing with it a short time, it sticks to your fingers.

     

    For playing straight though, it's quick because of the fine point.

     

    Sound is articulate and slightly louder too, which I was surprised at.

     

    Only one thing against it though, difficult to play 'pinched harmonics'.

    (So I shall now be working on this model to improve that - if it's possible to have one's cake and eat it!)

     

    More on the way!

     

  • JockoJocko Posts: 6,986Member, Moderator

    Does it stop your fingers from sweating?

  • Reg SoxReg Sox Posts: 3,121Member

    No, just stops them smelling from the garlic bread included in the rider.

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