|Skip the nonsense
and go straight to the instructions (especially if
you are inclined to argue, this is all just a bunch of
Points and Thickness
As soon after I started playing mandolin a little more
seriously I took lessons with Jack
Tuttle and he got me using Golden Gate picks. It
takes some work to learn how to drive a fat, round pick
but it is an obvious improvement over a standard pick.
The thicker pick was an improvement on tone and after
some work for control as well. When you drive the pick
across a string you know when it is going to cleanly
"snap." A floppy pick is just a little less
I liked the rounded points but I thought that maybe
they were a little too rounded. I like the sound you
get when the pick is parallel to the strings. When it
isn't quite parallel to the strings the volume drops
off pretty quickly. When the pick is too rounded I think
it also tends to slide over the string a little and
make your note a little less predictable. I'm sure this
is never a problem for the John Reischmans of the world
but I needed a little help. I reshaped them to a slightly
sharper point, just a little bit more like standard
pick. I think a slightly more pointed pick allows a
little more forgiveness without compromising too much
A problem with reshaping Golden Gates was that they
would be too small by the time I was done. The big Fender
"dorito" picks were way to thin to mess with.
One of the biggest problems with the Golden Gates is
that the edges are a mess. They just don't polish them
like "the good old days", whenever that was.
I would always spend 10 or 15 minutes sanding the roughness
off of the edges. While doing this I discovered that
I liked to have a little more of an edge on the pick.
If you take a close look at the profile of a Golden
Gate you'll notice that they have a very round edge,
a little towards the the "square" side of
a half circle. A thick Clayton is practically square
with only the very edge taken off. I like an edge that
is still convex, but that does come to somewhat of a
point. I think that it snaps off of the string cleaner.
Don't go too far though. A knife fine edge is another
problem. It sounds thin and wears quickly.
Mostly I have modified commercially available picks.
Most of the commercial picks are too small to work with
or too thin. I think a thin pick leads to a pathetic
little tinkley sound. You don't need to use the heaviest
pick available, but a Fender medium is just no good.
I have played with a few tortoise shell picks and they
were always too thin (both physically and thus sonically).
They are also rather bright sounding. Mandolins don't
generally need more brightness. I thought part of the
problem might be that I was only able to get a pretty
thin pick. I recently got a thick piece from an old
hand mirror. I made a nice thick pick from it, and I
still think it sounds worse than the plastic. There
is too much "clatter" from the pick on the
string, as opposed to the string vibrating. I was disappointed
that I didn't find the "Holy Grail" of picks,
but I'm glad that no innocent turtles will die because
of me. Cow horn and bone aren't worth much either. Horn
de-laminates and bone is too stiff/hard and bright sounding.
If you like the brighter sound of a tortise shell pick
you might like the Ultem material mentioned below. A
lot of guitar players tend to prefer this.
My preferred starting material is now the Clayton
picks. They have almost squared edges and are way
too pointy but they are large and made of good material.
I've made picks out of the thicker triangle shaped picks
that they sell. The thickest is the 1.9 (white, acetal
polymer) and is my favorite. You might have to order
tham because they don't come in the variety packs that
most stores order. The 1.52 (white, acetal) and 1.52
Delrin picks also work great. I can't distinguish much
difference between the Delrin and the Acetal Polymer
picks. The Delrin are apparently dyed after manufacture.
When you take off the points and edge you get down to
the "white" and the black ends up a very dark
blue after sanding. They are slippery and have a teflon
feel to them. The 1.20 (yellow/amber Ultem) is preferred
by some of my friends, particularly guitar players.
I think the 1.20 yellow picks look cooler, but they
don't take or hold an edge the same way as the acetal
polymer. I think they are a little bright for mandolin.
Polymer is a unique material among guitar
picks, producing warm clean overtones, while holding
up to the most demanding performance. All are white,
making them easy to find when dropped on stage.
XL is a very tough material. It produces
a brighter sound than our Acetal/Polymer, but not
as bright as Ultem Tortoise.
closely resembles real tortoiseshell in sound, feel
and color. This new space age material produces
a clean crisp tone with limited flex. Unlike real
tortoiseshell, the material will not fracture.
The state of mandolin picks today?
to sell a very nice 1.5mm Pro Plec pick (their website
says it's celluloid). However, the ones they are putting
out now are horrid. They are much thinner, pointier,
and the edge is a mess. It was a very attractive tortoise
shell looking pick and had, by far, the nicest "factory"
edge. If they were a little less pointy they would have
just about perfect out of the box. The material sounded
a little deader than the others (drop the different
picks on a glass or stone table. Some "plink"
and some "thud."), I don't know if this is
one of the most important parameters. It doesn't seem
to affect the instrument tone as much compared to the
effect the shape and edge have. Maybe you can find some
of the old stock, or maybe they'll start making them
Grisman has a
new pick. Oops, make that HAD. They are out of production
already. They appeared to be the same material as the
D'andrea noted above, but with the Grisman/Golden Gate
rounded point. Nice finish and all, but a little round
for my taste and this isn't my favorite material. Its
a little softer and kind of dampend.
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