About Those Expensive Picks . . .

UPDATE: I’m proud to announce that the first part of my report on high-end picks has been selected to appear in the debut issue of Pure Guitar, a new digital guitar mag whose editorial staff includes my two music journo mentors : Tom Wheeler and Jas Obrecht. Also on board: jazz ace Wayne Goins, session superhero Tim Pierce,  Nashville’s leading guitar tech, Joe Glaser, and other preeminent axe experts.

You’ll find my article here — but frankly, I recommend starting at the homepage of issue #1 and reading all the way through!

Congrats, guys, on the new mag. I’m psyched to be part of it.  :beer:

27 comments to About Those Expensive Picks . . .

  • DohminSemper

    Great test Joe!

  • el bjorch

    Stainless steel is good on stiffness (great playability) but the pick gets way too thin (lacks bottom end). I think that the problem with hard plastics is that they are more elastic than metal and you hear the string “bouncing” on the pick, but probably I’m wrong. Since the shape of the tip of a pick affects playability I have never get used to a coin, those guys are hardcore 🙂

  • I’ve used bell brass before. However, I use those glow in the dark EBE medium picks with the alien eyes on them. Everything else I ever try to play just feels funky on my fingers… not sure why tho.

  • Matt Seniff

    Great post on picks. I am mainly a fingerstyle player, i gave up picks when I found myself playing toofast and with an excessive amount of notes. I still keep a big collection of picks I use for special sounds mostly when recording. I also use a pick occasionally with a European style free improv trio I play and record with, it shakes things up and helps create new directions. I have mostly used a massive agate pick off and on for 25 years (can’t figure out how I never lost it). Lately I’ve been using some wood picks made by a guy on Etsy especially on my new Wechter acoustic guitar.
    I also have found a cool pick design that can be 3D printed at Shapeways you should check it out (photo attached):
    It is nicely ergonomic and almost drop proof. I have several that are plastic and the others are “stainless steel” (not sure how they are made but they are very sturdy). They actually have 2 different thickness available for picking at either end and the curve wraps it self around you finger & thumb. The same designer also has a new one I haven’t tried that is shaped like a regular pick but has a 45 degree turn from the top to bottom. 
    Other than that I have been occasionally using some big fat rubber picks called Wedgies that have almost no sound of their own sort of like the big felt ones used on autoharps.  I also used to like those shark fin picks from the 80’s that had a serrated edge for “bowing the strings” but they are hard to find nowadays. 
    BTW there is a great typo above “the titles who escaped the pick factory” which would be a heck of  a name for a band or even a CD. 🙂
    On a side note have you ever tried a quill from a turkey or goose?  I had a friend that played gut stringed lute at renaissance fairs and he used them amazingly (I managed to break them mostly myself). He also used a quill of some kind on acoustic guitar with steel string and they lasted quite a while. He said it was all in having a light touch at the proper angle (I probably just created a lot of bald geese before I gave up).

  • Jon

    I really like Red Bear picks, can’t say I’ve tried some of the exotic picks you mention above but I imagine they are similar to the graph tech as they supposed to sound and feel like tortoise shell, they are ultra smooth!

  • Oinkus

    I like to try out different picks in varying shapes, thickness and size. Generally use a tortex 1mm due to ease of access..Tried the Stoneworks because a friend was enchanted by them and came to the same conclusion that there is a less noticeable difference with electrics.The Tusq picks look to be $5.95 for 6 in .72,.88 and 1mm or 72 for $56.95. Big fan of the Tusq XL nuts.Dunlop has been making the Teckpick for a long time,first metal pick I ever saw for sale in a store. I was under the impression that to make a pick with a quarter you flatten with a hammer off center depending on how much more  or less you want the thick edge,and then you shape the thin part to the standard triangular pointed shape. Joe not losing picks requires a good 10 years of intense training and then you have to designate a pick area and never touch them again if you really don’t want to lose them.

    • joe

      Oh, I’m glad to hear the Tusq picks are relatively inexpensive! If you don’t want to blow a lot of money on the top-shelf stuff, they’re effective at getting a tortoise-shell-type sound. Even the thinnest gauge feels nicely stiff.

  • I’m definitely going to buy some of those buffalo horn picks…I can’t believe how nice they sounded on these clips.  I’ll probably train my dog at the same time to learn their scent should I lose one and it needs to be found.

    For the past few years I’ve been using Dunlop Ultex picks.  They definitely have more attack and clarity than other picks I’ve played.

  • Sam Geese

    I’ve been trying out V picks-( v-picks.com ). Got 2 of them.  They’re rather thick and you can tell a difference between those ans say, a Fender Heavy.  And they’re “only” $4 or so a piece.  They feel great and sound good, also.

  • Sam Geese

    Does that ^ count as a “secret”?

  • Coley Caldwell

    I tend to use thick picks with rounded ends. They add a darker tone, to my ears. However, I’m a big fan of Ani Difranco and I purchased some picks from her website (even though she uses her fingers lol). They’re the gigantic triangular shaped ones. I love them. They have a very precise attack and are dense and inflexible. Plus, they’re so big I don’t drop them as I am prone to do lol.

  • Eugene Chadbourne uses sea shells for picks. He likes thin scallop and clam shells a lot. I had to go find some for him once when he was playing in town and hanging out at my house. But then Eugene is an amazing but very idiosyncratic guitarist (banjoist, and player of toaster, bird cage, plunger etc.) so YMMV.

  • This is a really cool set of tests.

    There was a time I was experimenting with every kind of pick I could get my hands on.  I went pack to the Fender X-heavy Confettis (i.e. what Henry Kaiser refers to as the “clown vomit” color) out of comfont and then just tailored my tone around that as a given.

    For those of you into ULTRA rare picks – here’s a brief story about the Pickboy Speed King


    Despite the name, this is hands down, the best sounding pick I’ve ever used.  Ultra smooth pick attack.  The post explains why you can’t get them any more – but I keep hoping someone will re-release them.

    Also, I play a bit of oud.  The picks get lost easily and are a pain to replace,  When all else fails I either use the plastic insert of a dress shirt collar or I get a x-acto knife and cut a similar shape out of a 2 liter soda bottle.  In terms of timbre, they’re interesting and very different from “traditional” pick materials.  Part of it is the difference in the picking stroke as well, but may be worth exploring….

  • Brett Husebye

    Billy Gibbons no longer uses coin per his guitar tech.  Easier on the tech as well.  Eats guitars. :pill:

    • joe

      Yeah, the reason I said “allegedly” is because I’ve always heard mixed things about it. Back in the ’80s, my former Guitar Player magazine colleague Jas Obrecht solicited picks from many great players, all of which were depicted on a poster in the mag. Billy sent a Mexican coin (I forget which peso value). He’s always had a flair for the dramatic. 😉

  • kermit

    coconut one, is great for acustic

  • Ben

    Great post and thread! When it comes to tone, everything maters.
    I lose a lot of picks, too. I mostly use Fender heavy because long ago a friend of mine who worked for Fender gave me a big box full (I mean BIG) and I haven’t run out in 20 years!  I do have one real tortoise shell pick I keep safe (given to me by a friend long ago), so maybe I’ll be able to AB with the Tusq when i get some.
    What a cool site!

  • Derek Vadneau

    I use Jazz III 1mm red, sometimes black. I just love the shape and stiffness. I’ve tried others, but that shape just works for me.
    I was able to get someone to make me a steel Jazz III. They took a Jazz III and made a mold from it.
    I’ve since lost it. I don’t normally lose picks at all. It’s just that I stopped using the metal one. It was way too harsh. I only play electrics, so I can’t imagine something like that on acoustic. Yikes.
    I’d be VERY interested in trying the GraphTech picks. I have their nuts on 3 of my guitars, the other 2 have Floyds, or they’d get the treatment. I recently did the switch on my Epiphone LP and discovered something interesting. I accidentally dropped the GraphTech nut on the cement floor and it sounded like I dropped a piece of glass – more like a mix of glass and another material. That immediately caught my attention. I dropped the plastic nut that came on the Epi, and it sounded like a piece of plastic – no surprise. I dropped a graphite nut (from WD Music) and it sounded like a piece of plastic – about the same as the other nut. But the GraphTech nut was distinctly different.
    I didn’t notice a real difference when playing the guitar, although I don’t play open strings a lot, and I typically play with overdrive and distortion (Digitech 1101 set to AC30, JCM900, and Twin Deluxe patches).
    Using that material as a pick sounds very interesting…

  • Eddie

    I made a pick from an aussie 10 cent coin once.
    It sounds a bit harsh but I like the feel of it, it’s great for fast picking.

  • Double D

    Like some of the other posters, I went through the pick experiment phase years ago and settled on Dunlop 500’s 1.14, which I thought had pretty good rigidity and relatively little string noise.  A friend of mine hipped me to sharpening them up on nylon carpet; a couple of swipes along the playing edge smooths off any burring and can reshape the playing end.  As a result, I’ve purchased picks a mere handful of times in ten years, constantly recycling all the picks I’d retired due to wear.  

  • Dusty Dave

    Careful with those casein picks. I had a red bear that sounded amazingly like tortoise shell.
    It got damp and warped, so don’t use it anymore.
    Keep ’em dry! 

  • Philip

    I got some mahogany picks the other day and I love them.  If you like darker, softer, jazzier tones they sound amazing.  The only problem is that they wear out very quickly!  Still, I’m definitely going to keep a load around even if they are just for ‘Sunday best.’

  • Oinkus

    Got a sample Tusq pick with my last nut purchase and when I took it out of the bag I tested the flexibility on it with barely any pressure and it broke in half. Was the A3 or .88 mm. Such a shame because the pick itself has some pretty nice sounds in it, makes a very musical chimey bing when dropped on the desk. Oh well guess we go back to the rule of “don’t give anything to the aggressive guitar mangler !”

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