Red Bear Trading Co.
Dave Skowron’s New Tortis picks are handmade
from a hard, protein-based material, and are
designed to emulate the characteristics of real
tortoise shell. They are very stiff and have no
flex, but they are fast, smooths picks with a nice
warm, bright tone. The click is really there. The
polished surface feels different, glossier, than
plastic varieties, but even though they’re not
sticky I had no trouble keeping traction. You
have to let go to drop one.
Since the picks are made from such hard material, Skowron creates the speed bevel himself
(right-handed or left-handed). The density, feel
and tone make them excellent for acoustic
flatpicking, but they’ve been making me pretty
happy on the electric as well. You might break
one if you try to flex it, but it takes a lot of
effort, so unless you’re a monster you’re not
going to break it by playing. People around
the PG offices really liked the look of the turtle
shell with engraved Red Bear logo, but they’re
offered in other colors, as well as a good selection of shapes and sizes.
As I said, I have not been adventurous when
it comes to pick selection, and have tended
to stick to whatever’s been working. But since
I’ve always liked the Dunlop nylon .88s and
the tortex 1mm picks, I thought it would be a
good idea to try the ultex picks. It turned out
to be a very good idea. The ultem material is
harder than a tortex pick of the same gauge,
and much denser than the same gauge in
nylon, but it’s still got flexibility—and even
more of a snap. I like they way they feel, and
the sound is brighter. They’re not hard to
keep control of, despite the fact that they’re
quite smooth. I’ve been finding myself going
for the 1mm ultex picks a lot lately.
A Fingerpicker’s Perspective
BY LANCE KELTNER
I used to use a pick, in the mid-eighties.
I found I was tucking that sucker into my
palm and using my thumb and three fingers
instead. It was an involuntary motion, not at
all based on the style of music I was playing,
as I was in a rock band in Texas, then played
with Tim Karr (EMI) and Phil Lewis from L.A.
Guns in the early nineties. Neither of these
bands’ sonic landscapes would conjure up
images of someone gently fingerpicking a
How could such a bizarre (and seemingly
wrong) change in technique take place by
itself? I honestly couldn’t figure that out,
but it felt great and actually sounded really
good. I found I could control the dynamics of my tone with much more precision
by using my fingers. If I was using a really
touch-sensitive amp, the effect of playing
sans pick was greatly magnified.
ing out with a gang of New York players at
China Club in the eighties when Jeff Beck
showed up. He was a gracious, friendly guy
who really didn’t want to talk guitars—more
of a hot rod guy really—but he did indulge
me for a moment before changing the subject to the thirties-era Ford street rod he
was working on.
Jeff’s hands look like two small war zones.
They look like those of a dedicated mechanic (which he is), and several fingers look as if
they’ve been mashed by auto parts (which
they have). I asked him, “So why did you
quit using a pick?”
“Well you’re a singer, right?” he replied,
“and you have a mic stand handy all of the
time that you can put some tape on with
some picks, right?”
When I answered, “Yeah, I do,” he said, “Well I
usually don’t and I would get sweaty and drop
my pick and have to dig around in my pocket
for another, so one day I just said to myself…
Jeff, you can’t drop your finger, can you?”
Just give it a try. Put the pick down for a
second, or hide it in your palm. Experiment.
Some players, like Beck, use their thumb a
lot. I use my thumb for down strokes, and
my fingers in an upward motion (think banjo
player). You’ll notice if you work on it that
your speed will increase and you’ll be able
to play things that you just can’t pull off
with a pick. I feel more attached to the rig
when I’m sans pick. I get a tactile connection to the tubes and speakers that I just
can’t muster with a piece of plastic between
my fingers and the strings.
You will tear up your fingers a bit in the
beginning, until you get a comfortable technique. During one tour, I cut myself up so
badly that I had my right hand taped up like
a boxer for about four gigs. That hasn’t happened since I’ve figured out what works for
me. It feels normal and natural now. Give it
a try; you’ll find some tonal variations and
some riffs in your hands that you didn’t
know were there.