Guitarists often spend more money on gear than time practicing their craft. Some of us are addicts when it comes to acquiring new gear, whether it be guitars and amps, or stompboxes, gadgets, and cables. We may even pursue the journey towards tone nirvana by trying a different set of strings or re-arranging our pedalboards.
No matter how often I speak to a fellow gear addict, however, one piece of essential gear that never comes up in conversation is the lowly guitar pick. Interestingly enough, it’s the first thing that touches your strings and affects your sound, but hardly anyone strays from the picks they first began using when their guitar teacher or guitar-playing buddy handed them one. This single mistake could end up costing you not only your holy grail of tone, but your technique as well.
I began playing the guitar when I was 16 and used the picks they had available at the music store’s front counter - plastic thick gauge picks with the store’s logo on them. I went to my first guitar lesson with those and noticed that my guitar teacher was using a pick with a matte finish - most commonly referred to as Delrin. I found my plastic pick to be slippery, so I switched to the Delrin based picks like my teacher so that I wouldn’t drop my pick. Problem solved.
I had a boyfriend who played guitar, and noticed he was using a heart-shaped Gibson pick (not Delrin) and because I so desperately wanted a Les Paul and to play like Slash through said Les Paul, I switched to the heart-shaped Gibson picks.
Every time I made a switch, I noticed that there were different sounds associated with different materials. While vactioning with my parents in Florida, I came across a metal pick and bought it. I sat my 17-year-old self down on my bed and played with that metal pick and was in awe of the nasty tone that I was able to coerce out of my guitar. But my fascination with metal picks died with the last of the great metal bands in the early 1990’s, and before I knew it, I was back to using the familiar light-blue Dunlop Tortex picks I had become most comfortable with. It would not be until 2013 that I would discover the pick that changed my playing and my tone.
I decided to try the Dunlop jazz picks and loved that I could move my picking hand faster. Was it possible that there was a lead guitarist stuck behind that old Tortex traditional pick? Was the jazz pick going to be the game-changer? I used them for a while, and sometimes still do, but I missed the slightly larger grip up at the top of the pick. The jazz picks were a little smaller which was great, but the curved top made them feel a bit too tiny. I was caught between a heart and jazz shape. How was I going to solve my pick issue? Something just didn’t feel right but I couldn’t figure out what I was going to do about it. I had tried so many different picks and shapes - I thought I had seen and played them all. Enter the pick of destiny.
The movie “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny” is a satirical look at one wanna-be rock star’s pursuit of virtuoso-like capabilities, and how a magical guitar pick is the secret to that ultimate goal. I felt a lot like Jack Black’s character - pursuing a “magical” element to my playing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Literally.
It’s no secret by now to my regular readers/followers that I used to be a HUGE Lita Ford fan. I fell in love with her BC Rich Warlock when I was 9 years old, but it wasn’t until many years later (when I first met her) that I realized what she meant when she said that she played with a “home plate shaped pick” that Ritchie Blackmore had first introduced her to during her Runaways days. Recently, on That Metal Show, Lita detailed how that pick changed her playing and recounted how she hasn’t used a different style pick since then. I got my hands on a PickBoy home plate shaped pick from Osiamo because I wanted to see if maybe this was the fit I needed and was looking for. Would the home plate shape be my pick of destiny? The guys at Osiamo were kind enough to send me a sample pack of several PickBoy picks, and I played through each and every one they sent me.
There was no fateful green “glow” that emanated from my pick, and there was no instant unlocked virtuoso in my fretting hand, but I did notice that if I held that home plate shaped pick at a certain angle, I could play faster, with more precision, and it just felt right. Kind of like Goldilocks, but for guitar picks: not too big, not too small, but just right. A guitar hero had come to my rescue once again, this time by introducing me to a new pick shape. After all these years, who would have known that such a simple change could have such a huge impact on my playing?
Had I stuck with my original pick choice, or worse yet, my ex-boyfriend's recommended pick, I’d still be struggling with certain techniques that I’ve been able to unlock with my new pick choice. The only problem is, the PickBoy home plate shaped picks are virtually impossible to find at music stores across North America. I have resorted to ordering them from eBay or my local music store. I’ve been waiting a month for a pack of picks to come in at my local store, but that’s a small price to pay for having found the pick that compliments my playing style and tone the best.
The PickBoy home plate picks are made of celluloid, a rather slippery material, but they’ve also released bone versions recently. I don’t like that they’re not a delrin material, but I solved the problem by putting some Monster Grips on them and I am one happy camper.
The lesson to be learned here is to not be afraid to try something new. It could totally change your playing and/or tone, and if you have to use different types of picks for different things, that’s okay too. Remember, it’s a tool. I tend to switch between Dunlop’s Max Grip jazz and traditional shaped picks for rhythm playing, but will never let go of my Pick Boy’s for playing lead.
The next time you’re tempted to overhaul your guitar with expensive parts and electronics, pick up a new pick at your music store instead. You might be very surprised you didn’t need those new pickups for better “clarity” after all; maybe you just needed to find a pick that allows you to pick your notes so that they ring more clearly.
But while you’re picking up some picks, you may as well have a look at some new pedals for your board. Or an amp. Or maybe even a new guitar. You don’t want to waste all that gas just for a $.50 guitar pick do you? Yes, I know, I know. “My name is Martina and I am a guitar gear-a-holic.”