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Pickslanting Primer Update! Pick Design & Function

Our core instructional product gets a big update on the tools we use most intimately

By June 1, 2019 Lessons

One of our top priorities this year is improving our intro tutorial material to cover even more fundamentals of guitar picking and technique. To that end, the Pickslanting Primer now has an awesome introduction to the tools we as players use most intimately: guitar picks!

Plectrum Complexity

If you consider just the topics of pick choice and pick grip together, you’ll encounter an overall level of technical complexity that practically rivals instrument technique itself. This is especially true compared to more technologically advanced instruments like keyboards, which do much more of the actual tone production work for you.

In fact, when it comes to the sheer mechanical variety of ways to tune and pluck guitar, and the general level of voodoo that great players need to learn before even playing a single note, the guitar is maybe most similar to the drums. Just ask a handful of great drum techs what they do with the bottom head on a snare or a tom, and you’ll get a different answer from each of them. They’ll all be right, and they’ll all sound great! And don’t even get us started on head material, coatings, shell wood, paint, wraps, damping, venting, and…

You can’t have just one. You can’t!

In short, picks are one of your most important pieces of gear, there’s just so much weird mechanical stuff going on, that we thought it fitting that the definitive instructional product on their use should have a suitable introductions to them. Not only that, but we wanted that introduction to be accessible to both experienced and new players alike, since we count both among our viewers.

Across ten chapters and two hours of guitar pick history, tests, and analysis, we take a look at the most common pick designs to understand their effects on playability and sound. This includes getting to the bottom of what attributes like thickness, point geometry, edge geometry, taper, and material choice have on tone and dynamics. Along the way, we’ll ask some fundamental questions about the deceptively complex interaction that happens when you actually try to play a note with a pick.

Going Full Code

We’ve been working on this one all year, and frankly it was a f**k ton of work. Way, way more than we anticipated when we thought, hey, our product should, you know, say something about how to choose a guitar pick. Instead, things got out of hand as usual and we gave it the whole Cracking the Code treatment of objective frequency comparisons and musings about the physics of pick and string interaction.

Edge picking is one of the fundamental ways guitar picks control tone, loudness, and smoothness of picking motion.

To that end, one of the interesting things we discovered is that Edge Picking™ is one of the most fundamental effects in guitar pick function. Many differences in pick performance and tone production between pick designs only show up when you introduce and/or change the edge picking you’re using. This includes differences in frequency response due to point geometry, material choice, gauge, and probably other things, all of which are muted to nonexistent when you play picks flatter against the string, with lower-degree edge picking.

For example, the frequency difference that results when you increase or decrease the amount of edge picking you use is the same as the curve that results when you increase or decrease a pick’s gauge while keeping your degree of edge picking constant. They are, in a sense, modulating the same effect on the string, whatever that is!

Edge picking is like an EQ control for your hand!

In our chapter on Edge Picking, we offer some musings on what that might be, including modifying picks to have asymmetrical leading and trailing edges to see what effect this has on the sound. We would like to thank estimable forum user Tommo, an optical physicist by trade, who reviewed our vector math for accuracy and was responsible for clarifying our analogy with billiards balls — which we nixed, grazie mille! — and straightening out our use of loaded terms like force, momentum, and energy. Hopefully we got it all right.

Primed for Picking

The long and the short of it is that our core instructional product is rapidly becoming (if it isn’t already) the most comprehensive introduction around to picks and picking technique for new and experienced players alike. It now has a proper introduction to the principal tools of the trade. And we’re glad to have finished it.

If you’re an experienced player, we’ve attempted to put some practical tests behind observations you may have already made and perhaps a few you haven’t. The results of our investigations aren’t always what we expected.  That’s why we learned a ton in the process of conducting them.

If you’re new to picking technique, what we’d like to give you is the kind of perspective that experienced players have about picks and how they work, so that you don’t have to spend the next few decades trying them all — even though you might just do that anyway!

If Pick Design and Function sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can watch the new material right here!

Top Comments

  1. Troy says:

    We’ve been working on this one all year, and frankly it was a f**k ton of work. Way, way more than we anticipated when we thought, hey, our product should, you know, say something about how to choose a guitar pick. Instead, things got out of hand as usual and we gave it the whole Cracking the Code treatment of objective frequency comparisons and musings about the physics of pick and string interaction.

    To that end, some of the interesting things we discovered is that Edge Picking™ is one of the fundamental effects in guitar pick function. Many differences in pick performance and tone production between pick designs only show up when you introduce and/or change the edge picking you’re using. This includes differences in frequency response due to point geometry, material choice, gauge, and probably other things, all of which are muted to nonexistent when you play picks flatter against the string, with lower-degree edge picking.

    For example, the frequency difference that results when you increase or decrease the amount of edge picking you use is the same as the curve that results when you increase or decrease a pick’s gauge while keeping your degree of edge picking constant. They are, in a sense, modulating the same effect on the string, whatever that is! In our chapter on Edge Picking, we offer some musings on what that might be, including modifying picks to have asymmetrical leading and trailing edges to see what effect this has on the sound. We would like to thank the estimable @tommo, who reviewed our vector math for accuracy and was responsible for clarifying our analogy with billiards balls — which we nixed, grazie mille! — and straightening out our use of loaded terms like force, momentum, and energy. Hopefully we got it all right.

    The long and the short of it is that our core instructional product is rapidly becoming (if it isn’t already) the most comprehensive introduction around to picks and picking technique for new and experienced players alike. It now has a proper introduction to the principal tools of the trade. And we’re glad to have finished it.

  2. Troy says:

    Totally agree about the abilities of the player of course. But I would not count out the differences in sound you get from pick point geometry and edge picking. When you play a rounder point pick and dial in some edge picking, the difference in tone can be radical.

    Andy Wood is a stone cold master of this. You can see in the edge picking chapter that he can play the same line with low degree or high degree edge as he pleases, with super different sounding tone, and every bit as much accuracy.

    I thInk the reason more players don’t recognize the effect that edge picking has simply comes down to skill. Most people just don’t have that level of ability. Whatever degree of edge picking they have is because of their setup which they don’t know how to change. This is related to the other chestnut that “everyone picks differently”, which doesn’t have to true. If someone’s technique chooses them, and not the other way around, that’s an education issue. We’re hoping to change that with all this new stuff we’re releasing.

  3. Just finished watching the Pick Design portion of the update and I have to say you guys have done it again!

    Thanks for such awesome, detailed work with regards to learning more about guitar playing.

    I’ve been a die-hard Jazz III player for about 15 years, but have decided to experiment with the 351 and 346 styles to see what kind of sounds they can add.

    Excited to get into the Pick Grip section next!

    Cheers!

  4. I took some time to absorb the whole Pick Design & Function update. My 2 cents:

    The depth of content in history, experiment, comparison, and practical application here is high. It’s certainly the most comprehensive and detailed study of the pick I’ve ever seen.

    IMO, this stuff is fascinating and attractive to mechanics geeks, but the average player looking to improve their technique might find some of this distracting.

    My biggest concern is the placement of this material in the 2nd step of the primer. I know if I learned about Chirp as a beginner, it would drive me crazy, leading to neurotic obsessing over a really small thing virtually no listener will ever notice.

    It makes more sense for me to see this foray into the minutiae of pick material science be the very last thing in a Primer on guitar technique. It’s probably also why instinctively Troy created the material later than the primary pickslanting methodology - it’s an appendix, not an introduction.

  5. Troy says:

    The Primer needed a beginning, and for most people, choosing a pick is the beginning. The way we see it we have two audiences for this: newbies who just got a guitar and everyone else. So we’re looking for something that will work for both crowds without being too much of a turnoff for either.

    For both audiences, the hardest part of doing this was the outline. How do you boil down everything about picks into a finite number of gettable concepts that someone can get their head around? It took months, and some of these chapters were done and redone multiple times once we became more “editorial” about what things mattered and what things didn’t. We learned a ton in the process.

    With a little bit of hindsight this is how I see the important takeaways for players of all experience levels:

    1. What basic designs are available? A total newbie strolling into Guitar Center up to the pick rack is going to be bewildered. How can we boil that down for them? Over time we decided that 351, Jazz III, and 346 are the primary designs people need to know about. Any others we left out, like the small teardrop shapes, won’t throw you for a loop once you have these “big three” in your mind.

    2. What is the difference between a pointy pick and round one? It’s the most important geometric concern in picking. The effect is not obvious, even to experienced players. If you don’t know what it is, you can very well have problems depending on how you hold the pick and anchor on the instrument. BUT… the answer involves edge picking. So…

    3. What is edge picking? It’s the most fundamental force in pick-string interaction. Many people take it for granted, or feel like it chooses them, and not the other way around. Everyone should be more conscious of this because, again, it influences super basic things like what pick you choose, and how you hold the guitar and where you place your hand / arm.

    4. What gauges are available and why should you care? Primary takeaway: There is an influence on sound, but having many gauges on hand is a big help when learning technique. Disclaimer: According to me!

    5. And finally, something about material. There are too many materials and their characteristics are too technical to cover, and probably involve actual science to really understand. But we can at least tell you what the common ones are so you have some perspective when you walk in the store. You many not care too much about chirp per se, but I find that chapter kind of fun, because everyone loves trying out stuff. By the time you watch that chapter and the others on material, you will have seen all the common materials to the point where their names are familiar you. Like Sesame Street we’re going for familiarity through repetition. You will have a sense that celluloid and nylon are common materials, felt and rubber are not, and you will have a sense of a couple categories of “fancy” materials that are available: like the imitation turtle materials, and the everlasting gobstopper materials that never abrade. Those are the two we decided were the most important aside from the more common ones.

    Given all this, we still think some people might watch the first chapter on the 351, then skip all the way to the end and watch the “Choosing A Pick” chapter. Even if you do that, you’ll still have a better big-picture overview than I did after playing for ten years. Just knowing that the 351 shape is the 351 shape — hell, I don’t think I even knew it even had a name until few years ago. And I definitely didn’t know it had a backstory before Fender. I feel much more grounded in the world just by knowing that.

    For the more experienced audience, my impression from our forum here is that picks are one of the things the average player knows a lot about. Until we made these chapters, I would say most people on the forum here actually knew more about picks than I did. I now feel like I can sit at the table and say something informed. There is not a pick you can show me now where I wonder how it will operate or what it will sound like. So I don’t think we’re going to lose the experienced players, because they’re already gear nerds who may like this stuff more than I do. But we can still teach them something about how these designs affect the new techniques they’re trying to acquire.

    That was the thought process!

Continue the discussion at The Cracking the Code Forum

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