March 20, 2020

Talk To Me – Among Giants – Heavy Picks

One of the most intriguing gents I’ve come across in the community, Lawrence Chaventre is a linguist who does product translations for the musical instrument retail industry. He’s also an avid pick collector with a thing for picks over 9mm, and very graciously agreed to be the first external contributor to Heavy Repping, about which I am rather excited. You can follow Lawrence at @l_chaventre on Instagram or go and see him at Andertons. Take it away Lawrence!

Entering the plectrum world, we are confronted with gauges of picks similar to how we find our strings. From light, to medium, to heavy. If you are a rhythm player, you may choose a lighter gauge, allowing you to strike multiple strings at once for chords. If you are a lead player, you may choose a heavy gauge, allowing greater attack on single strings during solos. All of these factors come down to choosing a pick as well as personal preference. If I say heavy to you, perhaps you think 1.5mm, 2mm, maybe even 3mm? They may very well be, but not compared to a 10mm or a 15mm. These plectrums are Goliaths. Megaliths. Ones that can be used to great effect but proceed with caution; these are not for the faint hearted.

A plectrum is the driving force of the player. Nestled between your fingers, it collides with the strings, taking the brunt of your playing so you can focus on your fretting hand. They really do take a lot of punishment for us and our sonic creativity. However, they are often overlooked as a piece of equipment that can be cheaply replaced, more so than an amplifier or a pedal. A small investment in this item could work wonders for many players.

A Savage Customs, Riki Le Plectrier and Hufschmid hang out together.

Whether we know it or not, us guitarists and bassists are athletes. We are using many muscles in our hands, fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders just to name a few. Playing an instrument should be as ergonomic as possible so we do not damage ourselves in the years to come. The thicker the plectrum, the less effort is required for the wrist to push down on the strings. In turn, your wrist relaxes and so does your arm. A thicker plectrum also means it cannot bend and thus eliminates the player having to fight against the string, wasting energy and adding to muscle fatigue. The scratching noise that a lot of players can hear whilst playing can happen as their pick contorts against the strings. The tone from your playing instantly becomes warmer with added punch with a thicker pick. Ideal for bassists trying to achieve a rock or metal tone that thinner picks cannot give (or even withstand before they ultimately break). Extended range guitarists look no further, jumping from a .9 gauge string up to a .64 is hard enough on the wrist, now with a thicker pick you can strike strings with minimal effort and with no discernible difference.

Purple Plectrums, Iron Age and Chicken Picks being chums.

Like all great things, disadvantages are rife and a thick plectrum comes at a price. No really it does! Artisan picks can fetch anywhere from £20 to £80 GBP depending on material. The thicker you go, the more labour and material is required. Acrylic is the first port of call for picks to expand to these dimensions which can come at a hefty price considering a Tortex equivalent will cost you £1. Trying a variety of pick materials can also expand your tonal options, a softer material like UHMWPE will give you a mellow tone whilst Torlon will glide across the heaviest of strings with a snappier tone. When players first pick up a heavy gauge pick, their hands will struggle to wield the pick but after time it becomes like a part of them. More precision will be required if you are playing single strings as you can so easily touch multiple ones. 

Whilst you may feel uncomfortable at first perseverance will prevail. Take a dive into these monsters of plectrums. They are not be feared, but rather to be admired.