This is the first of a number of posts following some of the many thoughts, feelings and experiences that I had during Nine Worlds geekfest 2014. Today’s subject is Plectra (or plectrums/picks), as it’s a possibly well-known fact that I have a huge love/hate relationship with them.
The plectrum shown in the image above is a V-Pick Screamer. It’s not a cheap plectrum, nor is it the only one I use, but it is the one that I predominantly use when not playing finger-style. To be honest, I’ll get this out into the air: I love this pick. It’s thick, it doesn’t break, doesn’t fall out of my hands too often and it just feels right in my hands. That is, as much as any plectrum can, for me. You see, having funky joints and odd skin means that, whilst I possibly have an advantage in some ways in playing instruments, I still have poor coordination and holding onto my pick is certainly not amongst them.
Plectra, I find, are good at fine detail work on a guitar, like playing lead lines, tremolo picking, picked harmonics and arpeggios. But on stage, I rarely do those things. I’m not the kind of musician who can easily do that whilst singing and, as I’m often playing guitar and singing as a solo musician on stage, I don’t really need to do most of those things. Chords, strumming, rhythm guitar… that’s more my style, most of the time. I love playing complex rhythms and fast patterns – especially when they don’t really interfere too much with my focus on singing. I love the sound. It’s wonderful being able to sing and play guitar or ukulele and just fill the entire room with a fairly full-sound.
Prior to 9W 2014, I wrote and recorded the ‘Made in A Day’ EP, which included ‘Where The Hell Is My Plectrum’, a song about losing, finding, dropping and being annoyed with plectra. It’s not a particularly serious song. after all, I spend so much of my time writing very well-considered lyrics and music it was nice to just let loose and make music about other things I care about.
For your reference:
In the run up to 9W, I’d only just bought myself an acoustic guitar (I decided it would be lighter and less easy to break than my hybrid), and the strings do require more pressure. Despite buying one with strings that were set-up very low and easy to play, only a week before 9W, I didn’t have the calluoses that I needed yet and the strings/guitar would definitely need some playing-in before rolling on to the stage to do my set in front of a few hundred people.
So I played my new acoustic. I played it a LOT. And, consequently, I broke my right-hand thumbnail. Repeatedly. I don’t play with long fingernails, either, so I really didn’t have enough to comfortably lose anymore. There was pain, there was blood, there was a mess. Naturally, I decided that playing finger-style was probably not the best idea for playing nine worlds. I loaded my pocket with some over-sized picks (that’s just my dig) and set off to make plenty of noise.
I’d originally planned on ending my set with ‘Where The Hell Is My Plectrum?’, but as fate would have it, somewhere near the end of my antepenultimate* song my plectrum flew most ungraciously from my hands onto the floor. Rather than interrupt the song, I decided to stick with the rhythm and keep playing finger-style until the end of the song. So I bumped up my last number to second-last. It was a riot, people loved it, there was laughter, it felt very appropriate. I don’t think I’ll ever need to stage something like that because it happens so depressingly damned often.
To wrap up, my position on plectra is thus: they have a different sound to playing finger-style. You may like it, you may not. They’re better for different things for different people. For me, I love using them in the studio for getting a particular sound. I will play them at gigs sometimes, and if I do, I’ll probably end up dropping them at some point. The key is having a pocket full of them, so you can grab one in an instant if they fall. Or just learn to do finger-style just as well.
I find being able to use both proficiently a real boon. I never want to be one of those people who absolutely have to have a plectrum or play finger-style but never do the other. Having flexibility is really rewarding, but I’ll always love playing without a plectrum so much more. They’re just not as reliable as the ol’ phalanges**, and hopefully you’ll never lose one down the back or side of your seat…
But when I do play with a pick, I really do need something fairly good at what it does. For me, that’s the V-Pick. On one hand, you can’t really afford to lose one, and being generally see-through, they’re surprisingly easy to lose track of. On the other hand they have some nice grip (even for these dry, dry hands), a good weighting, they’re really nicely shaped, come in a variety of different sizes (including extra-large triangles which are good for using all three corners, equally), sound great, and can produce a wide variety of sounds in the hands of a dynamic player. Their slogan is “You’ll never drop your guitar pick again”, but that obviously doesn’t hold true for all. However, it is the closest I’ve come to finding a pick that does everything I need.
Above I’ve illustrated what mine look like after a fair bit of use. They lose their edge, but still play really well. In the studio, I’d make sure I always had at least one that doesn’t have blunted edges, for that extra crisp sound and response.
Finally, I’d also like to say that I’m not into consumerist culture, although I recognise that I have to be a part of it. And having the right tool for the right job can make a huge amount of difference. I believe that as we must buy these sort of things, we may as well not be wasting the earth’s resources, our time or money by buying just whatever. Any old tat may be cheap, but it can be horrendously wasteful. In the long run, I find it costs more time, money, effort and resources to buy the wrong thing. I like that my V-Picks don’t break or warp over time, leaving me to get on with what I’m doing without having to buy more regularly. Whatever you do though, just try not to lose them (as easy as that can be to do with pretty much any plectrum). But hey, if and when these suckers hit the floor mid-gig, you’ll probably hear where it landed, ahaha!
This is Maki, signing out for now! Catch you soon in my next update!
After posting this, I took a look on the V-Picks website and was very disappointed to find some needlessly-gendered pink plectra, which was really disappointing. However, I still stand by everything I have said above. I think some well-worded emails from nice people might change their mind, so feel free to contact them, let them know your thoughts about it and hopefully they’ll respond positively.
* The one that comes before the penultimate***.
** Finger and toe bones. Most people have 56, apparently.
*** The one that comes before the final.