FEATURE > HOW TO PICK YOUR PICK
BY JAMES ROTONDI
It’s kind of ironic, but it may be that the smallest and most affordable piece of gear we guitarists own—ounce for ounce,
and dollar for dollar—has the biggest impact on both our tone
and our technique. We use the pick (or “plectrum”) to strike the
strings, and that sets our entire audio signal in motion—whether
it’s through airborne acoustic sound waves or a signal path full of
stompboxes feeding blaring amps. The material, thickness, texture,
and shape of that pick have an outsized impact not only on the
sound we create, but also on our phrasing and articulation.
Indeed, a pick can strongly influence our musical decision-making: Do we play linear, single-note lines in a more legato fashion because we want to minimize the crisp attack our heavy pick
imparts, or do we crank out melodic double-stops because that
same pick attack pushes them over the top in such an addictive
way? Do we add upstroke ghost notes to that rhythm part because
our thin pick gives them an ethereal subtlety, or just keep a battery
of eighth-notes going because the understated feel helps build tension? Regardless of the genre of music you play, and the musical
applications you’re attempting to serve, your choice of pick will
provide a tonal foundation for your sound and your technique.
Fortunately, it’s a good time to explore picks, because there’s a
smorgasbord of varieties available today. In addition to the big pick
kahunas that’ve been around for decades—companies like Fender,
Dunlop, D’Andrea, and Ernie Ball—a slew of smaller manufacturers are making top-notch picks in a variety of styles and materials.
These new companies include Red Bear Trading Company, Steve
Clayton, V-Picks, Wegen, JB, BlueChip, Golden Gate, PickBoy,
Wedgie, and more. If, like most players, you’ve been using the
same pick for years, perhaps now’s the time to experiment with
shapes and materials you’d never considered before. You may be
amazed at what a sharper tip, a heavier gauge, or a more unusual
material might bring out of you. And it’s a helluva lot cheaper than
shelling out for another guitar, amp, or even a pedal.
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