I am between picks at the moment. In plectral limbo. Plectorially adrift. It’s not a comfortable place to be. You can’t sort of settle into playing when you don’t have a go-to guitar pick. You can’t melt into a solo when you’re thinking, however peripherally, how would this sound or feel with this or that pick? How would the attack differ? Would the tricky bits be easier?
I miss the conviction of youth. As an annoying little greasy kid in music college, I knew, not thought, knew Jazz III picks were the best:
Or those other little Dunlop picks which were the same size and shape as the Jazz III but thinner and made out of Tortex, if that’s even a real thing:
I could simply play best with them, and so all others were useless. But plectra seem to have life cycles. I use one design for years, then one day it seems wrong. I thought this would be a sensible time to show you what I did last time this happened; last time I was between picks. When I tried to craft The Ultimate Guitar Pick.
The Ultimate Guitar Pick
Adherence to the credo ‘whatever Malmsteen does is probably best’ has caused me trouble more than once in my life, such as the time I dispensed with alternate picking (which I was okay at) and legato (which I played intuitively and fluidly) for economy picking that I eventually had to go through a morally depleting reboot of my technique to forget, so that I might again play with something approaching an even meter.
It also happened with picks. I figured, okay, Yngwie picks like a demon, unleashing his fury in great cascades of tumbling, glistening notes — he must have the best pick!
These are Malmsteen picks. The ones he plays, and flings from the stage every eight seconds, are white, with his signature on, but these are the same in all other respects. Dunlop, 1.5 mm thick, made of shiny Delrin, which is a nice memorable commercial word for polyoxymethylene. The forlorn lilac pigment is made from the crushed dreams of Malmsteen fans, following the sharp post-millennial decline of their hero’s writing, record production, and management. Crushed dreams are lilac.
The Malmsteen picks indeed sound great, with a nice squeaky attack, and that stiff shiny Delrin just rolls off the strings, adding a ton of harmonics as it goes. But I am shit with them. Despite forcing myself to use them because they ‘must be the best’, I had to eventually admit that they were too big and fat and were making me clumsy and imprecise.
So I over-thought it, as I do. Too big? Unwieldy? What if I took the took the lovely sound and glossy material of the Yngwie pick and gave it the legendary profile of the Jazz III that had suited me so well?! I got to cutting and filing and comparing and filing more, whittling away all evening, until I staggered, half mad, from my office, obsession playing at the corners of my eyes, and proclaimed, following a clap of thunder, “it’s alive!”
Do you see? There, in the middle. They said it couldn’t be done*, yet I achieved it! Is this genius or what? It turns out to be very much or what.
Not That Ultimate After All
Crafting a mini Malmsteen guitar pick was meant to provide the nimble control of the Jazz III but in a better-sounding, better-wearing material, with the glassy rounded Yngwie tip. The tone would be the same, but I’d be able to play properly with it. It doesn’t work, though. The stiff, thick Delrin has no give, and so when you cut half the pick off — the big, wide, stabilizing end — what’s left just gets pushed around between the soft, giving pads of forefinger and thumb at every contact with the strings. It’s a bit like trying to play with a penny, given the rigidity and slippery round point. Crap.
Still, we’ve learned something about pick design. Small, hard picks seem to need to be sharp-pointed. Something to do with reduced contact with the strings so the pick isn’t simply pushed around. Or, like the lesser-spotted Jazz II, they can be kinda rounded, but made out of soft nylon and not as thick, so the point can bend a little while the part in your grip remains stable. Knowledge. Now I can get a job at Dunlop, and create The Ultimate Ultimate Guitar Pick. Which might even be vaguely playable.
*Nobody said this.