Review – Zen Kukri
They had curved swords. *Curved* swords.
– Whiterun Guard
A Nepalese/Indian weapon not meant to be a laugh, the Kukri is a lethal blade developed in the 16th century, designed to give you the death. I remember seeing them in books as a young man – there’s a romantic drama to this sort of weapon that transcends its terrible intended purpose. It is in that spirit of stillness that I’ve taken time to assess the Zen Kukri, a pick made by a new company here in the UK.
Crafted in the desolate, windswept environs of Lancashire in the north of England, Duncan of Zen makes from Acrylic, Casein, Celluloid and, as represented here, Kirinite. Kirinite is a toughened Acrylic with poly paper woven through it for extra rigidity and strength, and has proliferated in the Plectroverse significantly over the last year or so.
The Kukri is Zen’s smallest model – 25mm across, 28.5mm long and 3.7mm thick – putting it ever-so-slightly shorter than the Dunlop Jazz XL upon which it is clearly based. This is where the similarities end – the Kukri is three times thicker than a Jazz III, made of a completely different material with different bevels, meaning we should get a very different tonality out of it.
Given how significant the bevels are here and how sharp the ridge is, I was expecting it to be much more aggressive, as has been my experience with Kirinite in the past. This was not the case, and when compared to an Ultex XL it was more breathy than I’d anticipated. Rather than robbing it of power – there was plenty when I dug in – it gave the Kukri a certain elegance, and encouraged me to play more sustained lines. Interestingly, when compared to a V Picks Dimension (which is a higher mass and thickness) it pushed out relative levels of poke. I put this down to the added raunch of the Kirinite over the more conventional Acrylic. I also spent a lot of time playing the Kukri on acoustic, which is something that I wouldn’t normally do with Acrylic or Acrylic-derived plectrums, and was eye-opening in itself.
So what do we have here? Essentially, this is a pick that you can use for a lot of things, rather than having one specific field of excellence. Unlike the devoutly gypsy-style picks that demand to be used in a particular manner, this wee skelf is at home in most environments. I would say that the tonality definitely does err towards the more restrained, cerebral side of things rather than being a blast-til-death number. There’s a pronounced airiness to it when playing more softly. Digging in, the usual door-bursting potency of Kirinite was there, but it seemed like I was missing the point somehow. Compared to the other picks I’ve had from Zen, it’s definitely the most softly-spoken, and I found this rather charming.
Even though it’s north of 3.5mm and made from a material that’s highly prone to chirping, I didn’t get too much of that either. Under a magnifying glass I can attest that the finishing is top-notch, with dead-on symmetry and a very handsome inlay on the front, the recessing of which I didn’t find in any way obtrusive. The grip was certainly very good for me, and readers who have drier hands will find all the materials chosen by Zen for their work to grip particularly well.
As an alternative to the mainstream brands like V Picks and Gravity, there’s a lot to like about Zen. The Kukri is a wonderfully-finished, considered pick for the more refined, perhaps more reserved players among you. Those looking for a firier experience might want to look at the Katana, but for the careful, tender guitarist, this is a blessing.
- 3.7mm thick
- Made in the UK
- A stealthy 7.5/10
- Price Per Unit – £18 – £20 depending on the finish
- When I let go of what I am, I plectrum what I might be