Ibanez Elastomer — least chirpy pick ever?

#1

Just a quick heads-up we thought you’d find interesting. We’re working on the “chirp” chapter for the upcoming Pickslanting Primer “Pick Design & Function” section. Outside of felt picks, which (probably?) aren’t super relevant for electric guitar playing, the Ibanez Elastomer pick, which I have never heard of before last week, is the least chirpy pick I’ve seen outside of a Dunlop Nylon:

The pick is slightly rubbery and still bendable even at 1.2mm. It has an almost flesh-like feel. It’s not super dull and grabby like soft rubber, but not as hard or chirpy as most pick materials. It’s somewhere in between. It might not be the bluegrass pick of choice but it actually does still work even on 13-gauge acoustic.

Of all commonly available picks, the humble Dunlop Nylon is probably the most impressive chirp performer in the sense that it is not exotic or expensive, offers good chirp performance even at a relatively stiff 1mm, and is available everywhere. Other nylon picks like the Jazz III, even though they chirp more than the Nylon, are still pretty good too considering how thick it is and the forcefulness of the attack you can get with it.

So… nylon. Is it the anti-chirp king? Any guesses as to why it performs so well?

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#2

Because it’s soft. A rubber slide wouldn’t work so great.

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#3

What about the relationship of surface texture to material hardness? It doesn’t seem to matter as much. Even though slides and tone bars are both hard and smooth, it seems like hardness may be the more important characteristic. For example, unpolished yellow Ultex picks have that gritty texture, but still end up near the top end of the chirp spectrum when you do the test we’re doing here. And Ultex is indeed a hard material. Is it just that the harder material = more energy transfer at impact, and the texture only matters if it’s bumpy enough to disrupt that contact?

#4

Teflon picks makes even less chirp noise than nylon and the ibanez.

You can find them at heaven picks. Incredible dark tone, those are one of my favorite picks ever.

#5

Really? Just picked up a couple in 351 and Jazz shapes. Unless it’s rubbery like the Elastomer, I’m skeptical that it will actually chirp less, i.e. if the guiding principle here is hardness. But we’ll see! Always ready to be impressed.

#6

I think so: Hard picks reflect string vibrations by providing a fixed pseudo-attachment point. Soft picks absorb string vibrations by compressing and expanding as the string vibrates against it. The surface texture shouldn’t have much to do with it unless it affects the pick’s ability to absorb or reflect string vibrations.

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#7

I have couple of these Ibanez elastomer picks. Bought them about 1 year ago. Mine are the big triangle shaped (I like those, generally). I use them for acoustic, though not very often. It gives an almost nylon-string tone to steel string guitars. They are cool for practicing too because the tone can be tamed even if you strike hard. I agree they don’t chirp, they’re ultra smooth sounding actually. Not for every playing situation but cool picks anyway.

#8

How are the abrasion characteristics? Do they wear down like a Tortex eventually? And does the surface texture change when that happens?

#9

So do we think there are slightly different mechanics involved between the initial impact and the subsequent vibration?

i.e. A softer material delivers less initial impact, and a harder material delivers more. This sets the wave going down the string. Then, once we’re vibrating, the hard attachment point reflects the wave back to the bridge, like a slide or tone bar, to keep that vibration going. Whereas a softer material will absorb some of that wave each time, eventually deadening it.

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#10

I must have skipped school the day that pick “chirping” was discussed. I am totally unaware. Man, 7 years of college down the drain…

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#11

I don’t think I’ve used them enough to tell … mine are still in pristine shape. OTOH I have used (and still have) many Tortex and my experience with them is that they wear quite fast, especially with the strumming torture I make them endure :slight_smile:

#12

I think this is accurate. Chirp is essentially another note the gets played before the intended picked note sounds. The pitch of the chirp is determined by the distance between the pick and the bridge. A soft pick will act more like a felt hammer (damping existing vibration and minimizing the chirp, while still setting the string in motion) than a slide or tone bar.

#13

Ok next question! Why does higher-degree edge picking produce more chirp than low-degree / flatter edge picking? I’m tempted to say that the contact patch is smaller, but the smallness of the contact by itself can’t really be the full story. A tone bar has a pretty big contact patch. It’s got a wide curved surface and weighs down into the string, producing a whole arc’s worth of contact.

We were just talking this out in the office and our next hypothesis is the duration of the contact. In order for the reflection to happen, the pick and string need to stay in constant contact. When you use edge picking, you’re directing the force of your pickstroke into a smaller area — the edge — essentially forcing the pick and string together in such a way that they won’t separate. Hence high chirp with a defined audible pitch.

If you use low-degree edge picking, now you have less force per unit area and the string may vibrate away and back and away and back. This may have to do with the shape of the waveform versus the length of the contact patch. This produces either less reflection or simply more random relfection, i.e. noise, resulting in more of a dull tapping sound.

Thoughts.

#14

This seems fairly reasonable, but I can’t say I’ve tested it, and I think might be two (or more) different mechanisms at play here.

  1. Edge picking effectively makes the pick less flexible, which means the string stays in contact with the pick longer (both because it’s sideways-ish and thus wider, and because it doesn’t flex to let the string escape). I suspect this increases the length of the chirp. I prefer the sound of neutral-edge picking with a medium thickness pick because I get more snap. I wonder if maybe that snap is actually a truncated chirp (though it feels more like the snap of a strong pluck where the string slaps against the frets, so maybe not).

  2. For chirp volume and clarity, I think that the size of the contact patch is less important than the shape. (Consider a zero fret vs a regular nut.) Specifically, there should be clearance for vibration on the pickup side of the string. Shallow edge picking provides a clean edge on one side of the pick and a sloppy edge on the other side. On a downstroke, shallow leading edge picking puts the sloppy edge on the pickup side, which reduces the clarity and volume of the chirp. If this is correct, shallow trailing edge picking will have more chirp than shallow leading edge picking.

Both or either of these could be important here (or something else I haven’t thought of). The second hypothesis implies that shallow leading edge picking should have more chirp on upstrokes than downstrokes, and vice-versa for shallow trailing edge picking. So, in principle, this might be testable.

#15

The chirp is just the string segment between the bridge and pick vibrating, and the faster this energy is dissipated, the less chirp one will hear. Softer picks obviously damp this energy quickly, hence “no chirp.”

#16

Smooth edges are good because they don’t make unnecessary scratching sounds.

#17

is this something we are supposed to hear when people are actually playing?

any examples?

Seems I remember old guys like Page used to get lots of pick noise

one of the greatest solos ever. Is this pick chirp on the first note of the 2nd phrase just before 1:59?

#18

That may be chirp with a little abrasion. But typically when it matters to me is when it is present unavoidably on all notes, because of the pick material, and not just used as a percussive effect on the first note of a phrase. With a harder pick material on a high gain amp and consistent clean pick attack, it is clear as day to me, especially if I’m the player:

I used a brand new carbon fiber Jazz III fresh out of the bag for this example and a bunch of the other Antigravity examples, and the sound you get is like a typewriter on every note. I thought it was cool at the time. The pitch on the B string notes is actually an E so it’s actually in key for the lick which is in A. It’s fine in this case, because it’s shred.

But there are times when it’s super distracting, like a clean tone jazz thing where any phrase with edge picking sounds like plastic. Everyone has a different tolerance for this.

#19

One of the things rarely discussed about picks is the edge. Some have flat, squarish edges, some are rounded a bit and some of the thicker variety are beveled.

I’ve found that if you want to combat pick noise, bevels work very well. My favorite picks of the last 5 years are a couple of silver English Florin filed and beveled into a standardish pick shape. There is a noise, but either it doesn’t register with me, or it’s the least distracting. Copper is also good. The main reason for the bevel is how fast and smooth it is. These coins are about the same size as a regular 2 mm pick, but the bevel lets them glide over the strings. I would say this pick design improved my playing at least 5%.

I recently went pick hunting again when my band had a practice. It’d been about 5 years since we last played, so I was excited. Brought my new amazing silver picks.
Put a gouge in my guitar immediately. Forgot how exciting playing live with the band was. So metal picks were out. For live at least.

I went on another pick hunt and came across Andy James Flow picks. They just happened to be shaped like my silver picks. Along with JP’s picks, and various other materials and shapes, I tested everything again.
Silver still wins for me, but the AJ picks are amazing. I wish I had these 30 years ago.
Highly recommend people try them out. Simply the best pick I’ve ever bought.

Lastly, that chirp test is interesting, but I think you need to test these out by playing them. You, of all people, should consider the tone difference in just slanting a pick.
I would love to see a hardcore science based version of pick material and shape testing, perhaps with a frequency analyzer.

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#20

I use a 1.14 max grip dunlop nylon for electric guitar playing and a 0.90 ultex sharp for the acoustic.

Try playing a fast lick on the high E string picking near the bridge with a nylon pick, because without the chirruping you can get an amazingly tactile sound.

I have posted this before but it seems right to do so here. This is Eddie Van Halen saying why he is using a nylon pick.

Kinsella: Hi, I saw you with Van Halen at Rock USA this year – by the way, great show – but at the end of the show I ran up to the front and got one of your guitar picks. It is now my most prized possession in the world. But, I saw it was only a .6 mm pick, and I know that is really thin for a guitar pick. So, do you break your picks during the show often? What do you do when that happens?

Van Halen: Hi Collin,

I’m glad you enjoyed the show and had a great time. The pick you have is what I really use, and yes for a lot of players it may seem thin (.6mm). I used to use even thinner ones back in the ‘80s. I also use very thick picks that were made for me out of brass and copper, so I guess what I’m getting at is, I use what feels right at the time. But these particular picks (which you have one of) have served me very well for about seven or eight years, mainly because they’re easy to hold on to and don’t break. They are made out of nylon, not plastic. They do wear out, but they don’t break. If I happen to drop one while I’m playing, I just grab one from my mic stand where I have about 10 or so taped to the stand, or I pick with my index finger until I have a chance to grab another one.

Again, Collin, I’m glad you enjoyed the show.

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