Clark JM Jazz Mandolin
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"Good improvisation communicates harmonic progression melodically. Effective melodies manipulate harmonic content through the use of guide tones and preparatory gravity notes, masterfully woven in systematic tension, release, and transparent harmonic definition."

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April 7, 2007 | Your Pick

Pick Construction

Pick preferences and options are as individual as flavored toothpastes. Just because your favorite player uses Crystal Mint Whitening Sensitive Formula with Fluoride doesn't mean that's what's best for your mouth. It does warrant validation if you intend on imitating a playing style, but in your hunt for the ultimate pick you'll want to do some experimenting and use what works best for your size fingers, grip, and instrument. Let's do a run through of alternatives out there to help guide your search, but always at the back of your mind is the determination that what works for you, works for you. It may very well be different that the player next to you...

Pick construction can be hard or flexible depending on what it's made of. Many players like the rigidity of a (legal) tortoise shell pick or a good synthetic substitute like Dunlop Ultex or Tortis. These get a nice snap out of the string; drop an Ultex on a hard counter and the pick itself even rings. Clayton makes a pick similar to this, Ultem, unfortunately the 1.20 are either unavailable or hard to find. (These and the Ultex are very tough on the cutting tools that produce them.)

Celluloid has been a near century-tradition mainstay for guitarists. We've not had success with anything thinner than a Fender Heavy (or Extra Heavy) because of the "shaving" the strings inflict and wear. The Dunlop Tortex and Nylon are also excellent choices, the drawback being and unwanted softness as they heat up while playing.

It's true, size matters. It can be measured in thickness and over shape. Ironically, mandolinists will want a thicker pick than guitarists. Strung at a proportionally higher tension with thinner strings (let alone double course), the extra weight yields more power and the firmness more control. We suggest recent guitar-converts at least experiment with heavier relative picks than previously used on guitar. Of course there will always be exceptions, but 1.0 mm is probably minimum and 1.14 or 1.5 even better. Gypsy guitarists use 2.0 and even 3.0. When you observe the demands of Dance Hall volume and projection this genre requires of their playing, you quickly understand why. (You think it's hard cutting through a banjo...) That said a duo-style player or classical might prefer a thinner pick with more flexibility and finesse for the subtler demands of tremolo.

Along with thickness, a bigger pick can give you more force, but not if your hands can't control the pick. The rounded tri-corners of a 346 style pick is quite popular, but we know of some good players who use the regular Fender 351 guitar shape or the elongated egg of the Dunlop Jazztone.

A sharp point can give you quicker articulation and precision, but often sacrificing tone. A rounded point pulls more string fundamental at the attack; many players will use the rounded corners of the 351 guitar shape.

Picks are three-dimensional so you should regard the amount of bevel or radius of your pick. Being partial to the JazzMando Signature Proplec (no longer available), we like the overall smoothness in each attack as the string is engaged more slowly over time. You get less hash pick "slap" high harmonics and more lower partials. It's like the difference between hitting a gong with a crowbar or a heavy hard wool encased mallet.

Note you can achieve this with a flatter pick by angling the pick toward yourself, but with the bevel, this will be more intuitive and immediate.

There are plenty of custom picks in the industry with a variety of handmade bevels, thicknesses, and shapes. You may very well want to try a Wegen, Tortis, or Dawg pick and discover the benefits for yourself. Obviously, our blatant bias has been for the less expensive JazzMando 346 carefully researched by our JazzMando lab assistants and professionals.

Pick tastes will likely evolve with your abilities and playing styles. Balance the notion of experimentation with the idea that your playing will develop with equipment consistency. Make your changes slowly; give yourself adequate settling time in evaluating new picks.

Open-mindedness has its place; there is something to be said for new discovery. On occasion, you'll have the opportunity to shake hands with one who knows his picks; be mindful of the one who picks his "knows."

Bada Boom...

Read more Tips and Tricks.

Posted by Ted at April 7, 2007 10:23 PM

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