Plectrums: Finding Your Pick of Destiny
The guitar pick. A tiny, humble object that has a revered place in the hearts of all guitarists and some bass players too. Even Hollywood knows about this magical relationship. The success of the cult-classic film Tenacious D and The Pick of Destiny is just one small nod to our obsession with these small pieces of plastic.
Of all the tools we have at our disposal to coax magical sounds from our guitars, the humble guitar pick is often the most overlooked. If you’ve ever had to use a quarter, your fingers, or borrow a friend’s pick after dropping yours at a gig, you’ll have made the discovery that what you use to pluck your strings makes a difference in how your guitars sounds. Interestingly enough, a lot of players don’t think twice about their pick – many use the same material and shape as the first pick that was handed to them at the music store when they bought their first guitar. We invest so much money upgrading the various electronics and hardware components of our guitars, or using different strings in order to get the best tone.
It sounds almost too good to be true, but let’s look at how making a cheap, easy change like switching guitar picks can make you a better guitar player.
I, like many, started out using a standard-shaped pick made of nylon. It was a medium gauge pick and I got it with my very first guitar. I remember that it had the name of the store stamped on one side. I also remember that it constantly slipped out of my hand.
When I got to my first guitar lesson, my teacher handed me a Dunlop Tortex pick that had a matte finish. I had a lot less of a problem with dropping that one, and up until very recently, I used that familiar light blue pick for all of my guitar noodling in spite of experimenting with many others. Seeking out the tone of my guitar heroes, I started to investigate the types of picks that they used. I figured it would be kind of “cool” to use the same pick and see if it made a difference. When you’re 17, this makes perfect sense.
The good thing is if we choose to allow that teenager within us all to live on, we aren’t afraid to try something new when we come across it. That’s why when I found out that Lita Ford uses a homeplate-shaped guitar pick, I had to try one out for myself. When I did, my guitar-playing world changed. The pick just felt, for a lack of better words, “right” in my hand. No slippage, and best of all, it allowed me to play a little bit faster through my scales. Eureka! I had unlocked the secret to playing faster – the one that my 17 year-old self had longed after. That I was now comfortable using the same pick as one of my guitar heroes made me smile. Having her hand one to me just made it that much better. Especially to my 17-year-old inner self.
The shape of the pick I now use allows me to do things that I struggled to do with a traditional pick. I thought I was just never going to be able to achieve some of my guitar-playing goals. Truth is, all I needed was a different pick. I didn’t stop there. I started experimenting once again with any pick I could get my hands on, and realized that any little difference, whether in material or shape, made some difference in my playing.
I also learned it’s okay to use different picks for different jobs. You wouldn’t use the same screwdriver for all home improvement jobs, so why use the same pick for all guitar-playing jobs? I have no problem using a traditional light gauge pick if I’m playing my acoustic guitar and strumming some heavy-duty open chords, but if I need to get my shred on and hit those pinch harmonics in a heavy metal band, I turn to my home-plate or small teardrop-shaped picks. Just need to chug along with some power chords? A very thick traditional shaped Delrin pick with extra grip is where it’s at for me. I use a metal pick to execute some nasty sounds on my Black Winter – equipped SG if I need them.
Just like we reach for a single-coil based guitar for one gig and use our humbucker-equipped guitar for another, the pick we use becomes a part of our tonal identity. My home-plate picks are hard to find at most music stores and I have to order them, since only one company makes them, but they’re what I feel most comfortable using, along with the similarly-sized teardrop picks. I never thought that would be the case, having spent the better part of my guitar playing life using a traditionally shaped pick. Sometimes change is a good thing.
What is your “Pick of Destiny”? Have you always used the same one or did making a switch revolutionize your playing? Share your story in the comments below!