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Picks and Abrasion

Your favorite pick might wear away - here's what happens to the Jazz III when it does!

By April 23, 2019News

Unfortunately for us guitar players, abrasion is a fact of life for most materials that guitar picks are made from. And that means your favorite pick’s character may change as you use it. In fact, you might not even like a pick fresh out of the bag, but at some sweet spot in between fresh and worn. Welcome to the struggle!

The effect of abrasion appears to be an interesting intersection of two phenomena: surface texture change and geometry change. For a great example of these effects at work, here’s a quick comparison of a smooth and abraded Dunlop Jazz III:

Materials like nylon and celluloid develop a rough texture as they abrade, and this roughness excites harmonics in the treble region of the frequency response. Mechanically, abrasion also makes the edge thinner, and this appears to amplify the harmonic excitement effect. A nylon pick, the Jazz III becomes scratchy as it wears away and its edge also becomes thinner. Not only does this reward you with a wear pattern uniquely suited to the angle of edge picking that you use, but it also produces a more treble-infused sound that’s very easy to hear when you line the two picks up back-to-back like this.

For more analysis of guitar pick design and function, stay tuned for our imminent update to the Pickslanting Primer called… “Pick Design & Function”!

Top Comments

  1. Troy says:

    Here’s a quick excerpt from the abrasion chapter in the upcoming Primer update on pick function:

    I like this example because the A/B is super easy to hear. It’s all treble, >5kHz, so you’ll probably need headphones. It looks like continuous playing, but these are indeed separate takes with different picks. You really have to get the hand position, picking location, amount of edge picking, force of attack, and so on — all these variables — as similar as possible on all the takes. Otherwise, you may not be measuring what you think you’re measuring.

  2. Troy says:

    Yes, if you take a sanding block and abrade a new Jazz III you will get the rough edge and the treble boost.

    Keep in mind though tha nylon picks like the Jazz III often have a fringe of extra material at the bevel left over from the molding process. You can see this clearly if you hold it up to a light. This very thin fringe of material functions like edge abrasion and creates treble boost. But it wears away after a couple minutes of playing, leaving you with the non-abraded Jazz III.

  3. Troy says:

    Right - it’s a treble effect, >5khz

  4. Troy says:

    That is indeed what this section is about. It’s the “how” of how picks work. We do lots of comparisons, with frequency analysis, to understand how picks succeed in playing notes at all, and what does and does not make them sound the way they do. It isn’t even so much discovery of unknown stuff but more like an attempt to take what experienced players already know, put some numbers behind it, and present it in a way that is at least entertaining for beginners and experienced players alike.

  5. Incidentally, is there any plan to do a similar analysis for string gauges? Seems to be a pretty big part of the proverbial equation.

Continue the discussion at The Cracking the Code Forum

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