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Guitar Picks Plectrums

October 18th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments



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Guitar Picks Plectrums

When I was young, I always thought my father's guitar pick was the prettiest little thing. It was faux tortoise shell (although I didn't realize that at the time), and I was always driving him crazy by taking it out to play with and then forgetting to put it back where I found it. Even though I was only four or five years old, I still understood that that little piece of plastic was what allowed my father to play the guitar as wonderfully as he did. Guitar picks are magical little pieces of plastic and can be important components in producing the music of the guitar. Guitarists can be very choosy about their picks, but fortunately, the wide variety of styles available can accommodate everyone.

The correct name for a guitar pick is actually "plectrum," although I doubt that the average person on the street would know that. The word comes from the Greek "plektron," or "plassein," meaning "to strike." A plectrum is usually thin, between 0.2 and 1.5+ mm thick, and shaped like a triangle with rounded corners. Traditionally, guitar picks were made from the shells of tortoises. However, human civilization being what it is, the tortoise is currently a highly endangered animal and the result is that the use of its shell for making guitar picks is strictly illegal. Unfortunately, because tortoise shell picks are supposedly superior in tone and easy to use, they are still coveted and sometimes produced.

The modern garden variety guitar pick is made of plastic, although bone, wood, steel and the afore-mentioned tortoise shell versions do exist. They come in a rainbow of colors and sizes and can be as individualized as the artists who use them. The shape and size of a guitar pick is generally dictated by the use to which it is put. A jazz pick, for example, is smaller than one used for a bass guitar. Similarly, the thickness of the pick varies depending on its application. Thinner versions are usually used for strumming or rhythm playing, while thicker picks are generally the choice for single-note lines or lead playing.

Although very different from my father's traditional-looking triangular pick, fingerpicks should also be included under the heading of guitar picks. A fingerpick is a type of plectrum, but instead of being held between the thumb and finger like a typical guitar pick, it is attached to the end of a finger or thumb. It is common for several fingerpicks to be used simultaneously, both on the thumb and the fingers. However, the one on the thumb is usually made of plastic, while those on the fingers are generally metal. Like the triangular pick, the fingerpick comes in a variety of thicknesses according to the style of musician and music.

Fingerpicks are traditionally tools of bluegrass style banjo music, but it is not uncommon to see a guitar player using them. Artists of the Hawaiian guitar, bottleneck guitar and Dobro (a guitar with a single inverted resonator) often utilize fingerpicks. They are sometimes even used by classical guitar players, who tend to employ them as a means of saving their fingernails from the abuse often caused by playing the guitar.

Guitar pick holding position, technique, picking

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