Some thoughts on picks

IDEAL PICK

Hi there! This post is a kind of my thinking out loud. I’ve read recently some posts, then while I was far from my guitar I had some thoughts, and I decided to make a post. I don’t know if it would be interesting for someone.

Once more - sorry for my english. Long writing is a challenge for me. If someone wants to help me to correct this post - you are welcome ))

Though this forum is about picking technique I’d like to share some thoughts on the pick (plectrum, mediator etc) itself.

First of all, there’s two different approaches of using pick. Difference is the way pick interacts with string: with bending or without bending.

BENDING PICK

My friend uses only thin picks, so I have to keep couple of those in the case he comes to visit me. He calls such picks ‘clappers’ or ‘rattlers’ because of the sound they produce while playing fast.

When player use soft bending pick the pick and the string interact with each other. The pick pulls the string, pulled string creates force, this
force bends the pick. Bended pick provides the path for the string to move. The string moves to the tip of the pick, and the pick bends more. This continues till the string slips off the pick.
1_small

This way of interaction between the pick and the string makes proccess of picking very flexible. You can change an angle of picking or you can dig deeper into strings - it would change the sound but picking would still be comfortable and reliable.
2_small
|

RIGID PICK

First, let’s talk about flat picking, ie picking without edge picking angle.

When we use thicker rigid pick we expect that the string would do all the job. Actually it’s not as simple. In an ideal situation there’s no reason for the string to slip off the pick. The pick just catches the string and pulls it.

3_small

We can use slanting to make a stroke easier. But in this case problem arise during backward movement - now string is totally stuck.

4_small

We could try to solve this new problem. First of all, we spoke about many different kinds of angles on this forum and now I suggest to add one more. It’s an angle between a normal to the plane of the pick and a movement vector. I don’t know how to call it, so I would call it simply ‘movement angle’ in this post.
4_5_small

Ok. So, to solve our problem with stucking string we have to correct our movement angle in a such way that downstroke and upstroke would land in the same manner. Another words - we have to use 0 degrees movement angle. But… it brings us back to the same problem we had when we didn’t use slanting at all.
5_small

Obviously, when we’re speaking about playing one string only it doesn’t matter what slanting we use. What is matter it’s the movement angle. Pickstrokes with the same movement angle actualy are the same pickstrokes even if the pick has different slanting (once again, we are talking about picking one string only).
6_small

We can also change our pick slanting every stroke: downslanting for downstroke and upslanting for upstroke, thus imitating a bending pick. But it doesn’t sounds like a good idea for speed picking. So, seems like picking with thick pick doesn’t work? However, we all know that it does.

First, while pick itself is a rigid, our finger are not. Because of this our pick changes its slanting angle a bit when playing.
Second, the tip of the pick is curved, which help string to slip if string is near to the tip.
Third, even in case of zero slanting angle there’s a force that shifts a string. This force appears when we apply force to a string with a pick, since string has nonzero width and picks edges are not parallel. The farther edges from being parallel, the more this shifting force. Maximum value this force would have near rounded tip of the pick.
7_small

Fourth, actually people has edge picking usually, even if they think that their pick is totally flat. But for now we’d talk about ideal flat picking.

So, we have reasons for our string to move, even if we don’t use bending pick. Nevertheless, it’s not as simple as that.
We have some issues with this approach.
First - friction force. The more the area of a contact - the more the friction. So, we should keep our string near the tip of the pick, where area of contact is minimal.
Second - string tesnsion. Once string begins to shift - new force appears, that force attempt to return string to its resting point. To minimize this force we have to minimize the path string must move before it slips off. Once again, we have to keep it near the tip of the pick.
Third - we can’t hold the pick angle with an ideal precision. So there’s a big chance that player really have small deviation. That deviation helps him with his pickstroke in one direction, and hinders in another.

Because of this, flat picking with a thick pick may seem being not very comfortable. The moment of string slips off is unpredictable. Actually, guys who uses flat picking, like Claus Levin, usually notice about importance of high accuracy of picking and they ususaly mention the importance of using the very tip of the pick.
Small changes in pick angle or position brings drastical changes in results - like pick stuck in strings. Another words, this system is chaotic with
it’s bifurcation point hard to predict… anyway…

What can we do? Obvious decision is to provide a path for a string to slide, so it could reach the tip of the pick and then slip off.
We could use the picks shape to do it. All you have to do is to turn your pick 90 degrees. I tried to play this way.

It was fun! It allows to pick fast, but sound becomes muddy, and obviously it’s not comfortable to hold.
To solve the problem with the grip we have to have strange pick: one part should be as normal pick (the part where our fingers lay), other part should be turned 90 degrees. Something like that.
8_small

Well, did we invent something new? Not really. Picks like that exist already. It’s, for example, Sik Pik which John Taylor used, or Jim Dnlop Speedpick.
97d68a600c55196e3996bccdb7000d4e49cdb82e
Actually, working zones of first two picks are not whole 90 degrees to holding zone. However, if you use it in a edge picking manner then - with some angle - you could get working zone perpendicular to strings (literally ‘edge picking’). If you use it in a flat picking manner then you’d get typical edge picking.

Edge picking.
Another approach of making picking easier and more controllable is edge picking. Instead of changing form of a pick we change the way of using it. Now string slides along the edges which makes pickstroke more predictable. The more the angle the easier for string to slip off. Interesting thing that with edge picking we have different edges making different strokes. One edge for downstroke, another edge for upstroke. This gives us interesting opportunities. For example, we can change the ‘lean’ angle of a pick. In that case upstroke (or downstroke) would be made by more rounded surface which makes it easier for a string to slip off. It’s like as we have two picks and we change it on every stroke direction change.

Thick picks.
Once you start to use thick picks (1.5mm and more) you’d notice that you want to try thicker picks and thicker picks. Up to ridiculous Roy Marchbank’s pick. Are they so comfortable to play? What is the difference between thick pick and really thick(!!) pick?
It doesn’t bend? Well, after 1.5mm all picks are hard to bend by string pressure (of course you still can bend it by hands or some tools). I think reason is the same that in the case of strange shaped picks or in the case of using edge picking. The thicker the pick the farther it’s shape from ideal plane, which easifying string slippoff.
10_small
pic10

Ideal pick ?
Ok, so we could use a pick with curved smoothed shapes or we could use a great amount of edge picking. Is that the secret of ideal pick? Nope. I tried some approaches like exaggerated edge picking, using rounded picks and even selfmade version of SikPik and I met another problem. The sound. It looks like if I use some picking ‘cheats’ I lose some sound quality: the easier is the picking the muddier is the sound. If you think about it it’s kind of logical.
To get good sharp attack a string must store some amount of energy before it slips off the pick. The more energy is stored the ‘brighter’ the sound. For example, we could use a pick as a hook, pull the string far enough and then release it - we would get a very loud sharp sound. However, our approaches which helps a string to slide along the pick doesn’t give any possibilities for the string to store large amount of energy. While it may be appropriate in high speed picking with enough distortion the sound on slower parts is not so good. So, looks like ideal pick doesn’t exist. It’s a compromise between comfort and sound. I guess, this may be the reason why edge picking is still so popular and widespread despite the fact that there’re tons of picks with different shapes and sizes. Just changing the edge picking angle gives a possibility to change the quality of sound. It looks like standard shapes picks are like multipurpose instruments - they’re hard to master but gives you versatility.

16 Likes

Awesome post!

Also, what software did you use to make the animations?

How did you make your own SikPik? :hushed::hushed:

“SynFig Studio” I tried bunch of free programs, but they all were not what I was looking for. So I choose one randomly. Synfig is counterintuitive, buggy but it did the job.

Well, I should call it ‘ugly strange version of Sikpik’. I just heated the pick in hot water, then using couple of pilers I twisted the pick till it started to crack. Then some files and sandpaper.
Since all my picks are cheap noname stuff I could afford this experiment ))

2 Likes

Awesome post! I fully endorse this type of thinking:

https://troygrady.com/seminars/antigravity/chapter-5-forum-flash/

One thing I’d mention about the Stylus Pick, is that, at least according to the way I understood things from the manual that came with it, is that it was not supposed to be a pick that you used for everyday playing. Instead, it was a teaching tool that was supposed to train you to use the least possible amount of pick on the string. If you used too much pick, the bevel in the edge grabs the string and makes it uncomfortable to play. Having used it, I can confirm that this is exactly what happens if the bevel hits the string.

The whole thing was a throwback to a time when “use less pick” was the answer to all picking technique problems. Slow playing? Use less pick. Sloppy playing? Use less pick. Like putting “Windex” on everything in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.

5 Likes

Thank you, Troy! I was on my job and just couldn’t stop thinking about some things after reading some posts on this forum. So I decided to share some thoughts.

I didn’t know such details about Stylus Pick. I just saw some photoes and its shape seemed interesting to me. Now, while looking at its picture I see that working zone is small indeed. It’s an interesting approach.
Anyway, I think it’s possible to create a pick with elongated working zone that would be axisymmetrical (may be not ideal conic shape but something close). I believe such pick would be easy to play for a novice but I can’t be sure about it’s sound quality.

May be mr. Roy Marchbank was thinking in a similar way. At least I like to think so.

Seems like my post somehow related to ‘use less pick’ approach )) However, I try to find a compromise between speed, sound and tactile senses. It’s more like ‘use exactly that portion of a pick - no more no less’. Though it’s not as simple as that, because the sound and the feeling totally depends on current musical material.

1 Like

I would add that pick gauge& material for me is HUGE on dynamic, speed and tone.
If I am playing gypsy jazz on acoustic, I absolutely cannot use a pick under 1.14mm (unless it is utlex, then maybe 1.0mm is the lowest). In fact, depending on the material, sometimes a Stohn pick 3.5- 4.0mm or coconut shell ( custom crafted by a buddy).
Material is big one, Delrin which YJM loves, is incredibly soft, and the tone is dampening, which is great with a single coil pickup and screaming Marshall ( bright & bright) - The Delrin, in conjunction with a Alnico 5 hot wound pickup, OD pedal (tone shaping) and amp settings will all cumulatively dampen that potentially hair-removing treble. Delrin on cedar top acoustic is a lifeless… less top-end than plain fingers.

For me, I seem favor Ultex and or Primetone. Since it is a stiff, snappy material, you don’t need a super high pick gauge, usually on electric anyway from .88 to 1.14 is the range, depending string gauge…ymmv
Higher the pick guage, darker / damper the attack and more lower-mid resonance of the strings/wood of the guitar…but your also hearing the material. Some material is brighter through guages, some like the Delrin is dark. Lets say, you find the perfect snappiness and gauge in a pick. Do like it’s pick attack on your recordings? Not all pick attack is equal. In fact, some bigger engineers I have spoke with (took part well-known recordings in music) had the opinion that with rock guitar : "the sound of the pick attack was the most important aspect for the character of the player having his/her “sound” Think about that!

Sure, a famous producer can use his knowledge in recording, room sound, mic placement, mic types, speak types, high-end limiters, compressors, passive/active eq and boutique mic pre-amps to fix or sculpt a sub-par sounding pick attack character… but what if you don’t have a famous producer helping your ass? hehe
Enter, guitar technique, pick material/gauge appropriate to the combo of wood, amps etc to sculpt that tone so doesn’t annoy a non-musician, casual listener! My thoughts on it anway :stuck_out_tongue:

3 Likes

hm… It’s an interesting point. Vibrating string with guitar body and neck is a free oscillation system, another words - we hear it after the string slip off the pick. So, at first glance, it’s hard to imagine how pick materal could drastically change the sound quality, because pick doesn’t contact the string when the string produces sound.
The possible explanation is that some materials are more slippy and some are more sticky. So string slips off earlier or later which gives a difference in attack and brightness.
However, these nuances are achievable by controlling the picks position and angle. So, I think that players hand provides much more difference to sound that pick material. IMHO…

1 Like

good points, I still it is quite clear on the sound each pick imparts. Your fretting hand is a given, now do a blues riff, with your nail, now try a Delrin, then a celluoid, now, Ultex, etc then your thumb (fleshy part) all of them no matter plucked soft throughout or hard/adgressive throughout - you should hear the pick material changes the character of the note even though your not muting the strings with either hand. Secondary, the wood’s resonance and character will also be affected based on dynamics - use one, same, pick, don’t palm mute, just play softer to harder, using a light grip near the tip to eventually gripping the whole, playing loud. You will no doubt more lows, and more resonance from the high notes as well. :wink: THIRDLY, where you strike the string also plays a role, in where in position from bridge to fretboard. You will notice all of these changes better if done on acoustic or acoustically on electric. IF you have a lower output pickup 8 K 8.2 K with A2 or A5’s and a low gain amp ( 2-3 ax7 tubes TOTAL), you will also discern.

Well, I’m not telling that there’s no difference. I’m only saying that it’s hard to understand all the reasons and consequences realated with picks material.

I’ve been thinking recently about some additional nuance. If we have enough motion we could (theoretically) hear string sliding the pick. I heard someone mentioned that he like’s edge picking with good distorition beacuse it produces ‘screeching’ sound. I guess, it may be related somehow…
When I get home I’ll check it.

Ok. I’ve become curious recently. So I decided to make some experiments. First thing that I was interested in is the difference in sound when playing with/without edge picking.
So, I recorded some note with flat picking and with exxagerated edge picking. While difference is not so large with distorition
https://vocaroo.com/i/s1JsyqpGCouq
it’s more noticable with clean sound
https://vocaroo.com/i/s1ZxkFFKihva

This ‘click-click-click’ sound… for me it’s more obvious with edge picking. Ok.

So, this is how these two records look in comparison
pic1_compare

Upper waveform - flat picking, lower one - exxagarated edge picking. Well, visually they differs. With moderate edge picking the difference is not so noticable. So, I started to search that thing that gives this click sound… and I found it but not where I’d thought I’d find it.
First, there was no click in the begining of first note. There was a typical attack but not this metronome-like click. I recorded one more take, then one more and one more - no click on first note.

The interesting thing that although I didn’t use muting you can clearly see the pauses between notes. Seems like they are the moments when pick comes to contact with string. So, for a short period of time string stops to vibrate… or does it?

The most interesting thing is the waveform after every note.
Here’s the looped part of a note. Analysis recognize that it’s a C# (about 546Hz)
https://vocaroo.com/i/s0Nf3tcSbT6H
pic2
Ok, it’s just a note.

And here’s the looped part of a “pause”.
https://vocaroo.com/i/s0EsVxdF3SvM
pic3

This is our ‘click’ sound. Analysis recognize it like 2.7kHz which is too high to be a regular guitar note. Interesting thing: zooming shows that it’s not a noise. This “pause” sound is quite harmonic
pic4_pause_zoom

So, what is this sound? I was thinking about it and then… ‘Wait a minute!’
I measured the distance between the bridge nut and the place where I pick the string. It was about 3.2". Ok. My Yamaha scale length is 25.5". First E string has frequency 329.63Hz… So, 329.63x25.5/3.2 = 2626. Yep… This is it.

When pick touches the string it doesn’t mute it completely. The pick serves as a fret instead, making the string produce short high frequency sound. Interesting. What could we learn more from these waveforms?

Edge picking waveforms has shorter ‘note’ and longer ‘pause’. Ok, this may explain why that click sound is more noticable with edge picking. Additionaly, my upstrokes has different attack. While flat picking upstroke sound starts as it should, edge picking sound has some fluctuation in the begining.
pic6v2
My guess was, that it’s the result of the pick sliding along the string (which happens when you use edge picking). Its length is too small for internal software analysis, so I simply found it’s frequency by measuring it’s period. It was about 2.3kHz.

So, edge picking really makes different sound.


You can see and you can hear differences in upstroke attack phase, and in decay phase. Well, may be these differences are typical for me only. I don’t know. Experiment is to continue…

9 Likes

This is awesome! Excellent detective work here. What is your background?

This is what someone else here has called the “chirp”. And the pitch will be different on the downstroke vs the upstroke because the contact is at different spots on the string. The pause phase between the notes, and potential sliding, I hadn’t considered.

Bravo

2 Likes

Thank you @Troy ! Your words really mean a lot to me.
Background? Do you mean my education? I’m a certified food production equipment mechanic ))
Although I’m very curious about things around me.

1 Like

With several around the house, I can attest to the Stylus Pick yanking on the strings when it catches. I completely abandoned it when I went to the grosser movements with increased accuracy implied by DWPS and edge picking. Kind of fun to play with. May or may not have helped my strict alternate picking development. I tend to notice that “fussiness” regarding depth of pick introduces more strain, mentally and physically, with regard to the practice tasks at hand.

1 Like

It revealed that I was wrong about Stylus Pick. As Troy explained to me its inventors had another goals, not easyfiyng the picking process.
I’ve just edited the first post.

Everyone in the office now thinks this the coolest job ever. What kind of equipment do you work on? Personally I hope it’s the glazing machines they use at Krispy Kreme.

3 Likes

Hi @ASTN.

Great thread and interesting analysis.

I had mentioned the idea of the pick acting like a fret when making contact with the string earlier in the Roy Marchbank thread.

I wrote the following:

When making initial contact with a string, a very hard pick will will effectively sound a note determined by the picking position (similar to a slide touching the string or Bumblefoot’s thimble-tapping technique), before it pushes through the string and sounds the intended note.

As most people pick somewhere between the fretboard and bridge pickup, the resulting non-musical pitch is very audible when playing on the bridge pickup.

I can’t perceive it with a nylon pick unless I’m picking a string that’s damped with the left hand. I perceive it more clearly with something like ultex, but it’s still in the realm of what I would consider “attack” when note are being fretted. With lexan (the material stubby picks are made from), the non-musical contact pitch is very noticeable to me on every picked note, and I don’t like it.

I think some people call this “chirp."

3 Likes

When you say this I start to think that that kind of job is really fun ))

I wish )
Well… truth is, despite my education, I work in another field (that is typical for my country). I found some quiet easy job that doesn’t require a lot of energy. So I can spent that saved energy learning new stuff, playing guitar or soldering some strange things.

3 Likes

Experiment has shown that you were right… well, at least with me playing ))
You woke up my curiosity again. I’ve just tried to record edge picking sound on my neck single pickup. Yep, ‘chirping’ is not so audible, which is logical considering the position of a pick, bridge, and pickup. However, I can still see it on waveform, although it’s amplitude is significally lower than in the case of bridge pickup.
Fun thing, I still can’t decide - whether I like this ‘chirp’ or not. I guess it’d depend on current musical material.