byPhil O'Keefe10-03-201304:50 AM - edited 10-02-201303:31 PM
It's amazing how much a pick can influence your tone
by Phil O'Keefe
One of the least expensive, and yet most often accessed items in my studio is a small tin box that I keep stocked with a wide variety of different plectrums. Unclaimed picks show up around here all the time, despite my best efforts to find their rightful owners. When they do, I put them in the box. I use an empty cigarette tin, but a empty gum, cookie, biscuit or candy tin or box will work just as well. I've managed to collect quite an assortment of picks in different sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. The types of materials they are made from is equally diverse: nylon, metal, felt, stone, simulated tortoise shell and a dizzying variety of different types of plastic.
That little tin box has come in handy not only for the inevitable times when someone shouts out that they "can't find their pick," but also for when I am seeking a different sound or texture on a recording. For example, a thin pick can accentuate the wispiness of a strummed part, and a thick pick can accentuate your note attacks. Different materials can also have noticeably different sonic attributes, and different pick sizes and shapes can change the way you hold the pick, which can also affect the sound.
Guitarists and bass players are often creatures of habit, and once we find a pick we like, we tend to stick with it. But don't overlook the variety of new sounds you can get from something other than what you normally use. If you're not in a situation where you "find" picks on a regular basis, try trading picks with some of your friends, or go to your favorite local or online store and spend five or ten dollars on a variety of different picks. Make sure you "mix it up" and get a diverse collection. Then spend a little time trying them out, and take note of how each one sounds and feels. You are bound to find some new sounds; and may even find a new favorite pick in the process.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Associate Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.