Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Plectrum (thanks for the title AJ)
While in Kentucky several weeks ago, my oldest son showed my youngest son a very strange lookin guitar pick. I'm sure you can pick which one I'm referring to in the above photo. I was intrigued and decided to contact the maker of these oddball picks to see if I might be allowed to sample a few and compare them to the more traditional picks I use.
I've been almost completely oblivious to any other shape over the 40 or more years that I've been playin and pickin acoustic guitar. I've fashioned a quick pick from various objects when the need arose: some plastic lids can be carved into nice pointy picks; one of the thicker pointy tines from a plastic comb will do in a pinch; old style pull tabs from aluminum cans were used as emergency plectrums (losing a pick in grass during a new moon at midnight constitutes an emergency to some pickers); remember paper matches? I've used the empty packet, folded a few times; wooden match sticks, gently plucked, will pick; a flat, smooth, ultra thin rock, and many other forgotten picks made from whatever was on hand have all been picks to this picker.
But I've never used a fully rounded pick, 360 degrees of round, until about a week ago when I received a sampling from the folks at Pointless Picks/Completely Oblivious. Doug and Beverly Larson and John Pallister - thanks for the samples.
My sampling included three different guages of thickness. I don't know the exact measurements so I'll use thick, medium, and thin. I use mostly medium guage picks for acoustic guitar, and thin for electric, which I rarely play. The heavier guage thick picks were never to my liking, although I've heard they were one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's most used guages (I think he also used heavy guage guitar strings as well).
As a bluegrass guitar picker, the round, pointless picks didn't give me the same "feel" or sound I was used to getting from the pointier picks, especially when doing what is called flatpickin. Tony Rice can show you what I mean by that, so can Doc Watson (Doc played a large role in popularizing the flatpickin guitar style used by many top name bluegrass guitar pickers). I make no claims as being anywhere near as good as the two pickers I just mentioned, but I've been at it long enough to know when I'm using an appropriate pick for my style.
Unfortunately for the folks at Pointless Picks, I didn't find their discoid plectrum a suitable match for my method of pickin. Which isn't to say Pointless Picks are pointless. If you're a picker who mostly strums, using a pointless pick might be to your liking. I found it somewhat likelier that I would use such a pick for strumming or playin rhythm guitar. I think it has something to do with the dynamics of sound made from a pointy object plucking a string, as compared to a curved, or mostly rounded object. There's a certain distinction of clarity I felt and heard when doing my comparison picking.
However, you should note that many musicians and gobs of gardeners tend to give subjective reviews when blogging about any particular plants or picks they might be considering for their gardens or pockets. And since Pointless Picks was voted "Best in Show" at last summer's NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show, it's obvious objectivism still exists.