Guitar pick

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Various guitar picks. Clockwise from top: A standard nylon pick; An imitation tortoise-shell pick; A plastic pick with high friction coating (black areas); A stainless steel pick; A pick approximating a Reuleaux triangle; and a Tortex "shark's fin" pick Guitar picks-KayEss-1.jpeg
Various guitar picks. Clockwise from top: A standard nylon pick; An imitation tortoise-shell pick; A plastic pick with high friction coating (black areas); A stainless steel pick; A pick approximating a Reuleaux triangle; and a Tortex "shark's fin" pick
A guitar pick with a custom drawing Volkswagen Bus Pick Guitar.JPG
A guitar pick with a custom drawing

A guitar pick (American English) is a plectrum used for guitars. Picks are generally made of one uniform material—such as some kind of plastic (nylon, Delrin, celluloid), rubber, felt, tortoiseshell, wood, metal, glass, tagua, or stone. They are often shaped in an acute isosceles triangle with the two equal corners rounded and the third corner less rounded. They are used to strum chords or to sound individual notes on a guitar.

Contents

In British English, guitar picks are referred to as plectrums, reserving the term pick to identify the difference between this and finger picks. [ citation needed ]

History

Musicians have used plectra to play stringed instruments for thousands of years. [1] Feather quills were likely the first standardized plectra and became widely used until the late 19th century. At that point, the shift towards what became the superior plectrum material took place; the outer shell casing of an Atlantic hawksbill sea turtle, which would colloquially be referred to as tortoiseshell. [1] Other alternatives had come and gone, but tortoiseshell provided the best combination of tonal sound and physical flexibility for plucking a taut string. [2] Prior to the 1920s most guitar players used thumb and finger picks (used for the banjo or mandolin) when looking for something to play their guitar with, but with the rise of musician Nick Lucas, the use of a flat "plectrum style guitar pick" became popular. [3]

There have been many innovations in the design of the guitar pick. Most of these were born out of the issue of guitar picks slipping and flying out of the hand of the player. [4] In 1896, a Cincinnati man (Frederick Wahl) affixed two rubber disks to either side of a mandolin pick, which made it the first popular solution to the problem. [5] Over the next two decades more innovations were made, such as corrugating the rounded surface of the pick or drilling a hole through the center to fit the pad of a player's thumb. [6] A more notable improvement was attaching cork to the wide part of the pick, a solution first patented by Richard Carpenter and Thomas Towner of Oakland in 1917. [6] Some of these new designs made picks undesirably expensive. Eventually, pickers realized that all they needed was something to sink their fingerprints into so the pick wouldn't slip, such as a high relief imprinted logo. Celluloid was a material on which this could easily be done. [7]

Tony D'Andrea was one of the first people to use celluloid to produce and sell guitar picks. In 1902 he came upon a sidewalk sale offering some sheets of tortoise shell colored cellulose nitrate plastic and dies, and eventually he would discover that the small pieces of celluloid he punched out with the dies were ideal for picking stringed instruments. [8] From the 1920s through the 1950s, D'Andrea Manufacturing would dominate the world's international pick market, providing to major businesses such as Gibson, Fender, and Martin. [9] One of the main reasons celluloid was so popular as guitar pick material was that it very closely imitated the sound and flexibility of a tortoise shell guitar pick. The practice of using Hawksbill turtles for their shells would become illegal in 1973 as a provision of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), forcing musicians to find something else to pick with. [2]

Musicians had been partial to shell picks, and when D'Andrea provided an alternative, D'Andrea Manufacturing became very successful and gained renown as the guitar pick of choice through the 1960s. [10] Celluloid provided a good alternative in many ways. Tortoise shell was rare, expensive, and had a tendency to break. Celluloid was made from cellulose, one of the most abundant raw materials in the world, and nitrocellulose combined with camphor under heat and pressure produced celluloid. Though originally meant as a replacement for ivory billiard balls, celluloid began being used for many things for its flexibility, durability, and relative inexpensiveness, making it a natural candidate as a material for guitar picks. [11] Later, other materials, such as nylon (and less commonly wood, glass, or metal) would become popular for making guitar picks for their increased grip, flexibility, or tonal qualities. [12]

Styles

Pick shapes started with guitarists shaping bone, shell, wood, cuttlebone, metal, amber, stone or ivory to get the desired shape. Most of today's guitar pick shapes were created by the company that made the first plastic pick in 1922, D'Andrea Picks.[ citation needed ]

D'Andrea Picks was the first company to create custom pick imprinting in 1938, allowing customers to order imprinting up to 12 block letters. One of the first to make the player imprint popular was guitarist Nick Lucas in the early 1930s. [13]

Sound

Playing guitar with a pick produces a bright sound compared to plucking with the fingertip. Picks also offer a greater contrast in tone across different plucking locations; for example, the difference in brightness between plucking close to the bridge and close to the neck is much greater when using a pick compared to a fingertip. [14] Conversely, the many playing techniques that involve the fingers, such as those found in fingerstyle guitar, slapping, classical guitar, and flamenco guitar, can also yield an extremely broad variety of tones.

Thickness

An extra heavy pick 2 mm thick Pick thickness.jpg
An extra heavy pick 2 mm thick

Generally, a heavier pick produces a darker sound than a lighter pick, but the shape of the tip has the most influence on the sound. A pointed tip produces a brighter, more focused sound, while a rounded tip produces a rounder, less defined sound.

Most pick manufacturers print the thickness in millimeters or thousandths of an inch on the pick. Some other brands use a system of letters or text designations to indicate thickness. Approximate guidelines to thickness ranges are presented in the following table:

Text descriptionApproximate thicknessOther possible marks
mminch
Extra light/thin≤ 0.44≤ 0.017"Ex Lite" or "Extra Light"
Light/thin0.45–0.690.018–0.027"T" or "Thin" / "L" or "Light"
Medium0.70–0.840.028–0.033"M" or "Medium"
Heavy/thick0.85–1.200.035–0.047"H" or "Heavy"
Extra heavy/thick≥ 1.50≥ 0.060"XH" or "Extra Heavy"

Materials

Plastics

Most common mass-manufactured picks are made out of various types of plastic. Most popular plastics include:

Metal

Example of a brass guitar pick handcrafted by artisan picksmith Dustin Michael Headrick of Master Artisan Guitar Picks and Nashville Picks. MASTER ARTISAN GUITAR PICK.jpg
Example of a brass guitar pick handcrafted by artisan picksmith Dustin Michael Headrick of Master Artisan Guitar Picks and Nashville Picks.

Picks made from various metals produce a harmonically richer sound than plastic, and change the sound of the acoustic and electric guitar. [16] Some metal picks are even made from coins, which give players a unique tone as the alloys used in various coinage from around the world vary greatly. [17] Playing guitar with a silver pick gives a unique, rich and bright sound, very different from normal plectrums (Brian May of Queen often plays with a silver sixpence). [18] Picksmiths such as Master Artisan Guitar Picks are widely recognized for handcrafting metal guitar picks from coins and antique metals. [19]

Horn, bone, leather (Animal)

Example of an animal horn guitar pick handcrafted by picksmith Dustin Michael Headrick of Master Artisan Guitar Picks and Nashville Picks. Animal horn guitar pick handcrafted by picksmith Dustin Michael Headrick of Master Artisan Guitar Picks and Nashville Picks.jpg
Example of an animal horn guitar pick handcrafted by picksmith Dustin Michael Headrick of Master Artisan Guitar Picks and Nashville Picks.

Plectrums crafted from natural animal byproduct are the oldest materials known due to their availability and durability [1] , and are still regularly used by picksmiths to craft guitar, bass and mandolin picks. [20] The tonality produced by each type of natural animal material varies greatly, and is further enhanced by the thickness and shaping of each material. [21]

Wood

Each guitar pick made of wood has its own unique properties and signature sound as a result of differences in density, hardness and cellular structure. Most wood picks produce a warmer tone than plastics or metals. [22] To withstand the rigors of picking and strumming only the hardest woods are used for picks—including hardwoods like African Blackwood, Bocote, Cocobolo, Lignum vitae, Rosewood, and Zebrawood. While the thick and sometimes rough edge of a wooden pick may create a fair amount of drag at first, wooden picks are generally easy to break in and may even do so quicker than plastic picks. After a couple of hundred strokes, the metal guitar strings wear down the edge and create a smoother pass over the strings.

Glass

Glass is relatively hard and heavy in comparison to metal or plastic and therefore produces a greater range of tone[ citation needed ] than these materials. Glass can be polished to a smooth or rough texture depending on the grit of sandpaper used. Likewise, factors such as size, shape, and weight have a much more dramatic effect on the overall tone making each individual glass pick sound and feel unique.

Other

Shapes

Some picks have small protrusions to make them easier to keep hold if the fingers start to sweat, which is very common on stage due to the hot lights. Some picks have a high-friction coating to help the player hold on to them. The small perforations in the stainless steel pick serve the same function. Players often have spare picks attached to a microphone stand or slotted in the guitar's pickguard.

The equilateral pick can be easier for beginners to hold and use since each corner may be used as a playing edge. [23] [24]

The shark's fin pick can be used in two ways: normally, employing the blunt end; or the small perturbations can be raked across the strings producing a much fuller chord, or used to apply a "pick scrape" down the strings producing a very harsh, scratching noise.

The sharp edged pick is used to create an easier motion[ citation needed ] of picking across the strings.

Some guitar pick shapes are patented. Usually those patents claim ornamental design.

Technique

Picks are usually gripped with two fingers—thumb and index—and are played with pointed end facing the strings. However, it's a matter of personal preference and many notable musicians use different grips. For example, Eddie Van Halen holds the pick between his thumb and middle finger (leaving his first finger free for his tapping technique); James Hetfield, Jeff Hanneman and Steve Morse hold a pick using 3 fingers—thumb, middle and index; Pat Metheny and The Edge also hold their picks with three fingers but play using the rounded side of the plectrum rather than the pointed end. George Lynch also uses the rounded side of the pick. Stevie Ray Vaughan also played with the rounded edge of the pick, citing the fact that the edge allowed more string attack than the tip. His manic, aggressive picking style would wear through pickguards in short order, and wore a groove in his Fender Stratocaster, Number One, over his years of playing. Noted 80's session guitarist David Persons is known for using old credit cards, cut to the correct size and thickness and using them without a tip. [25]

The motion of the pick against the string is also a personal choice. George Benson and Dave Mustaine, for example, hold the pick very stiffly between the thumb and index finger, locking the thumb joint and striking with the surface of the pick nearly parallel to the string, for a very positive, articulate, consistent tone.[ citation needed ] Other guitarists have developed a technique known as circle picking, where the thumb joint is bent on the downstroke, and straightened on the upstroke, causing the tip of the pick to move in a circular pattern, which can allow speed and fluidity. Many rock guitarists use a flourish (called a pick slide or pick scrape) that involves scraping the pick along the length of a round wound string (a round wound string is a string with a coil of round wire wrapped around the outside, used for the heaviest three or four strings on a guitar). The first use of the pick slide is attributed to Bo Diddley and can be heard in the opening of his song "Road Runner."

The two chief approaches to fast picking are alternate picking and economy picking. Alternate picking is when the player strictly alternates each stroke between downstrokes and upstrokes, regardless of changing strings. In economy picking, the player uses the most economical stroke on each note. For example, if the first note is on the fifth string, and the next note is on the fourth string, the guitarist uses a downstroke on the fifth string, and continue in the same direction to execute a downstroke on the fourth string. Some guitarists learn economy picking intuitively and find it an effort to use alternate picking.[ citation needed ] Conversely, some guitarists[ who? ] maintain that the down-up "twitch" motion of alternate picking lends itself to momentum, and hence trumps economy picking at high speeds.[ citation needed ]

Notes

  1. 1 2 3 Hoover, pp. 11-12.
  2. 1 2 Bouchard, Brian. "Tortoise Shell Guitar Picks." Pick Collecting Quarterly. Accessed March 5, 2013.
  3. Hoover, pp. 22-23.
  4. Hoover, p. 26.
  5. Hoover, p. 27.
  6. 1 2 Hoover, p. 29.
  7. Hoover, p. 30.
  8. Hoover, pp. 31-33.
  9. Hoover, p. 33.
  10. "D'Andrea USA History." Archived 2012-08-01 at the Wayback Machine D'Andrea USA. Accessed March 5, 2013. [ better source needed ]
  11. Hoover pp. 16-18.
  12. Hoover, pp. 9-12.
  13. Hoover, pp. 84–85.
  14. [ better source needed ]
  15. "World's Thinnest Guitar Pick". PickHeaven.com. Retrieved 4 March 2016.[ better source needed ]
  16. "Guitar Player Magazine". GuitarPlayer. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  17. "Guitar Plectrum", "Keen Kord Guitar"[ better source needed ]
  18. Laura Jackson (2011). "Brian May: The Definitive Biography" Hachette UK, 2011
  19. "PickSmiths".
  20. "PickSmiths".
  21. Hubbard 1967
  22. "Guitar Pick Zone". 2017-10-09.
  23. "Guitar Picks – a guide to plectrums". GuitarFact. 21 August 2011. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  24. "Time To Pick – Guide to Guitar Picks". Making Music Magazine. 23 January 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2016.
  25. Interview in Austin Music Weekly, December 1981 issue

Related Research Articles

Banjo Musical instrument

The banjo is a four, five, or six stringed instrument with a thin membrane, stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by African Americans in the United States, adapted from African instruments of similar design. The banjo is frequently associated with folk and country music. Banjo can also be used in some rock songs. Many rock bands, such as The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in African-American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz.

Classical guitar acoustic wooden guitar with wide neck, strings made of nylon

The classical guitar is a member of the guitar family used in classical music. An acoustic wooden string instrument with strings made of gut or nylon, it is a precursor of the modern acoustic and electric guitars, both of which use metal strings. Classical guitars are derived from the Spanish vihuela and gittern in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which later evolved into the seventeenth and eighteenth century Baroque guitar and later the modern classical guitar in the mid nineteenth century.

Guitar Fretted string instrument

The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that usually has six strings. It is typically played with both hands by strumming or plucking the strings with either a guitar pick or the fingers/fingernails of one hand, while simultaneously fretting with the fingers of the other hand. The sound of the vibrating strings is projected either acoustically, by means of the hollow chamber of the guitar, or through an electrical amplifier and a speaker.

String instrument Musical instrument that generates tones by one or more strings stretched between two points

String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when the performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.

Plectrum small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument

A plectrum is a small flat tool used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument. For hand-held instruments such as guitars and mandolins, the plectrum is often called a pick and is a separate tool held in the player's hand. In harpsichords, the plectra are attached to the jack mechanism.

Slapping (music) Musical technique

Slapping and popping are ways to produce percussive sounds on a stringed instrument. It is primarily used on the double bass or bass guitar. Slapping on bass guitar involves using the edge of one's knuckle, where it is particularly bony, to quickly strike the string against the fretboard. On bass guitars, this is commonly done with the thumb, while on upright bass, the edge of the hand or index finger may be used. Popping refers to pulling the string away from the fretboard and quickly releasing it so it snaps back against the fretboard. On bass guitar, the two techniques are commonly used together in alternation, though either may be used separately.

<i>Shamisen</i> Japanese plucked stringed instrument

The shamisen or samisen (三味線), also sangen, is a three-stringed traditional Japanese musical instrument derived from the Chinese instrument sanxian. It is played with a plectrum called a bachi.

Fingerpick type of plectrum used most commonly for playing bluegrass style banjo music

A fingerpick or thumbpick is a type of plectrum used most commonly for playing bluegrass style banjo music. Most fingerpicks are composed of metal or plastic. Unlike flat guitar picks, which are held between the thumb and finger and used one at a time, fingerpicks clip onto or wrap around the end of the fingers and thumb; thus one hand can pick several strings at once. Generally three are used: one for the thumb, and one each for the middle and index fingers. Fingerpicks worn on the thumb are generally called "thumbpicks". Most players use a plastic thumbpick while using metal fingerpicks. Fingerpicks come in a variety of thicknesses to accommodate different musicians' styles of playing. Thin picks produce a quieter, more delicate sound, while thick picks produce a heavier sound.

Fingerstyle guitar technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips

Fingerstyle guitar is the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or picks attached to fingers, as opposed to flatpicking. The term "fingerstyle" is something of a misnomer, since it is present in several different genres and styles of music—but mostly, because it involves a completely different technique, not just a "style" of playing, especially for the guitarist's picking/plucking hand. The term is often used synonymously with fingerpicking except in classical guitar circles, although fingerpicking can also refer to a specific tradition of folk, blues and country guitar playing in the US. The terms "fingerstyle" and "fingerpicking" also applied to similar string instruments such as the banjo.

String (music) Sound producing musical instrument component

A string is the vibrating element that produces sound in string instruments such as the guitar, harp, piano, and members of the violin family. Strings are lengths of a flexible material that a musical instrument holds under tension so that they can vibrate freely, but controllably. Strings may be "plain", consisting only of a single material, like steel, nylon, or gut, or wound, having a "core" of one material and an overwinding of another. This is to make the string vibrate at the desired pitch, while maintaining a low profile and sufficient flexibility for playability.

Pickguard

A pickguard is a piece of plastic or other material that is placed on the body of a guitar, mandolin or similar plucked string instrument. The main purpose of the pickguard is to protect the guitar's finish from being scratched by the guitar pick.

Zhongruan Chinese plucked string instrument

The zhongruan, is a Chinese plucked string instrument. The zhongruan has a straight neck with 24 frets on the fingerboard and 4 strings. It is usually played with a plectrum. It can also be played with fingers, which is similar to the way of playing the pipa (琵琶). The zhongruan is a tenor-ranged instrument in the family of ruan (阮). In ancient China, the ruan was called Qin pipa or Ruan xian (阮咸). Now the ruan has expanded to different sizes and the zhongruan is the "medium" one.

Flatpicking

Flatpicking is the technique of striking the strings of a guitar with a pick held between the thumb and one or two fingers. It can be contrasted to fingerstyle guitar, which is playing with individual fingers, with or without wearing fingerpicks. While the use of a plectrum is common in many musical traditions, the exact term "flatpicking" is most commonly associated with Appalachian music of the American southeastern highlands, especially bluegrass music, where string bands often feature musicians playing a variety of styles, both fingerpicking and flatpicking. Musicians who use a flat pick in other genres such as rock and jazz are not commonly described as flatpickers or even plectrum guitarists. As the use of a pick in those traditions is commonplace, generally only guitarists who play without a pick are noted by the term "fingerpicking" or "fingerstyle".

Finger vibrato is vibrato produced on a string instrument by cyclic hand movements. Despite the name, normally the entire hand moves, and sometimes the entire upper arm. It can also refer to vibrato on some woodwind instruments, achieved by lowering one or more fingers over one of the uncovered holes in a trill-like manner. This flattens the note periodically creating the vibrato.

Classical guitar technique guitar technique used by classical guitarists

In classical guitar, the right hand is developed in such a way that it can sustain two, three, and four voice harmonies while also paying special attention to tone production. The index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers are generally used to play the melody, while the thumb (p) accompanies in the bass register adding harmony, and produces a comparable texture and effect to that of the piano. The classical guitar is a solo polyphonic instrument, and it is difficult to master.

Flamenco guitar Acoustic guitar used in Flamenco music

A flamenco guitar is a guitar similar to a classical guitar but with thinner tops and less internal bracing. It usually has nylon strings, as opposed to steel. Usually, it has a livelier sound compared to the classical guitar. It is used in toque, the guitar-playing part of the art of flamenco.

String harmonic

Playing a string harmonic is a string instrument technique that uses the nodes of natural harmonics of a musical string to produce high pitched tones of varying timbre and loudness. Playing string harmonics produces "high pitched tones, like a whistle's, are produced when the musician lightly touches certain points on a string." "A flute-like sound produced on a string instrument by lightly touching the string with the finger instead of pressing it down," against the fingerboard.

Guitar picking

Guitar picking is a group of hand and finger techniques a guitarist uses to set guitar strings in motion to produce audible notes. These techniques involve plucking, strumming, brushing, etc. Picking can be done with:

D'Andrea USA. is a manufacturer of plastic instrument picks. Luigi D'Andrea made the first plastic guitar pick out of celluloid in 1922. In October 2007, D'Andrea celebrated 85 years of designing and manufacturing professional guitar picks and music accessories, making it one of the oldest companies in the musical accessory industry.

Bass guitar techniques

Bass guitar techniques are methods or approaches used by bassists when playing bass guitars. Sometimes techniques are used to produce a particular sound, which is best suited for a certain song or style of music. In the early days, bassists often used techniques to emulate the sound of acoustic upright basses. However, as music and the role the bass diversified, new techniques were developed to meet the new needs and explore new sounds.

References