Pick One!
Written by GoofyDawg   
On my blog at GuitarGear.org, I recently wrote an article entitled, “Gear That Has Changed My Life.” In that article, I discussed eleven specific types of gear that have had a profound effect on how I approach guitar playing. But even after writing that article, I felt there was still more to say, especially with respect to picks.

Players who’ve experienced the effect of a great, handmade or high-end pick will understand what I mean, while those who haven’t will naturally ask something along the lines of: “How can something as diminutive and as seemingly insignificant as a pick have the effect of changing your life?” Admittedly, it may not be a life-altering experience, but playing with a handmade pick really does have a significant effect on how you approach your playing. I know, hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve been playing guitar for almost 40 years. I’m not a great guitarist by any stretch of the imagination. But I will tell you this: If I had discovered great picks earlier, I’d be a way better guitarist today. So in this article, I’m going to share different aspects of high-end picks and what using a great pick has done for me, then wrap it up with a discussion of my favorite picks.
Note that for now, I’m calling them “high-end picks” partially because I can’t think of a better term, but also to distinguish them from your normal “five-for-a-dollar” variety of picks. High-end picks cost anywhere between $2.00 to $30.00 each. Before you start hyperventilating, let me say that after upgrading to high-end picks, I can confidently state that they are worth every penny. Let’s move on!

  1. Using a high-end pick will make you a better player.

    Most high picks are generally thicker than your garden-variety picks, and in almost all cases are fairly rigid, offering little to no flex. Now this thickness might seem antithetical to improving your play, but a thicker, more rigid pick makes you more accurate and precise in your playing. Almost all great guitarists that I know use a fairly thick pick precisely for the accuracy they give you; and improved accuracy means equates to better playing.
  2. Playing with a high-end pick makes you more expressive.

    When you play with a high-end pick, picking literally becomes so effortless that you no longer think about the pick. You just play, and focus on your musical expression. This is kind of hard to explain. Vinni Smith of V-Picks describes this as maintaining the continuum between thought and feeling and action while playing guitar. When you don’t have any hindrances getting in the way of your playing, you don’t think about anything but what you’re playing, and how you can express your musical message.

    I shared this experience with Vinni the other day, where I was playing a solo in a gig, and literally playing with pure expression. He said, “It’s because you’re not thinking about the pick or any mechanics.” I was going to push back on that, but I realized that what he said was true. I was striking notes, and just playing – and a lot of that had to do with pick I was using!
  3. Using a high-end pick will make you faster

    Again, because of the rigidity of a high-end pick, it seems antithetical to playing faster, but high-end picks typically have a bevel that makes the pick slide over the strings. Not only that, because of a high-end pick’s rigidity, it forces you to hold the pick lightly. This has the effect of loosening the muscles in your hand, thus you play much more relaxed. The more relaxed your hand is, the faster you can move it.
  4. Using a high-end pick will make you sound better.

    Most high-end pick users will agree: A high-end pick will give you the tone your guitar was meant to produce. Unlike flexible picks, high-end picks produce sound much more rapidly because they don’t give. Flexible picks on the other hand well, flex first before producing sound. But that flex can also have a dampening effect. Frankly, this is one area that a lot of people who haven’t played with a high-end pick debate. My response is that you have to play with one to understand what I’m saying here. But this point is probably the most significant aspect of playing with a high-end pick.

    For instance, when I first starting playing with a high-end pick, I was completely blown away by the tones my guitars were producing! They never sounded so good! One of my guitars is a shallow-body Ovation acoustic-electric. Ovations are known for their bright, almost tinny tone. But played with a high-end pick, I’ve never heard the beautiful, complex tones this guitar could produce – even with worn strings! It’s amazing!
Finally, I’ll wrap this up with the high-end picks that I use.

Red Bear Trading

I discovered Red Bear picks while shopping at a local music store and tried one out. These are $20 picks, and I bought two after trying a couple out. I was thinking to myself, “Damn! I just spent forty bucks on two picks. I must be crazy.” But the sound these picks produce completely overshadow any concerns of their cost. These picks are real special. They look and feel like natural tortoise shell, but they’re actually made from a polymer based on a milk protein called TortisTM. I use Red Bear picks exclusively for acoustic guitar. Even the V-Picks (which I’ll discuss below) don’t sound as good – at least to me – on acoustic guitar. Check them out at Red Bear Trading. You also might give Dave Skowron a call to talk to him about his picks. He’s a real character that with whom you’ll enjoy speaking.

V-Picks

My picks of choice for playing electric guitar are V-Picks. I’ve tried out most of Vinni’s line of picks, and my favorite picks are “The Snake” model, both pointed and rounded corner. These picks are 4.1mm thick. That’s right, they’re beefy, but the bevel that Vinni’s made with these picks make them super fast! I was a bit dubious about playing with a pick this thick, but now that I’ve been playing with them for a few weeks, I’m not ever going to use anything else! Check out the V-Picks web site. He’s just about to release a new site, so please excuse the “old school” look of the current.

Brendan Delumpa is a professional web engineer by day, but his alter ego is GoofyDawg, a singer/ songwriter, webmaster of GuitarGear.org, and self-styled guitar gear freak-o-maniac!
 
 

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