May 6, 2020

Talk To Me – Get To The Point – Plectrum Sharpness And Its Benefits

By guest columnist
Lawrence Chaventre

The tip of your pick is an essential component in determining your tone. In this piece, our boy Lawrence takes us through this incredibly important aspect of plectrology.

A very chummy Iron Age and Gravity

Plectrums can come in a variety of thicknesses, materials, colours and shapes but often the thing we consider the least when selecting our sonic weapon is the point that strikes the string. Whilst the material will affect the tone the most, it cannot be ignored the effects of the striking surface and indeed its design. The smallest things are often the least noticed, even smaller still is the point at which the plectrum makes contact with the strings to deliver the sound that we so desire.

Staring down at a plectrum, there is not a lot to observe apart from its overall design, thickness and indeed the shape. No matter, the pick will taper down to a point at its furthest part ready for you to create your sonic vision. Some shapes harbour a distinctive design combined with their sharpness; this presents the musician with a choice to tailor their weapon for their style of playing. 

Gleaming action from Stone Age

Starting off in the middle as it were, we have picks that are neither extremely sharp nor blunt. This provides optimum performance between playing single and multiple strings. This is the most wildly available pick design and whilst it cannot be faulted, this is where some players plectrum journey stops.

A rounded assassin from KNC

We can also find plectrums that look almost blunt with little to no taper at the end. Whilst definition will be lost among the individual strings, chords will be easier to play as the plectrum will not get caught by the strings and simply glide over three or four strings far more easily. Tonally this creates a darker sound with pronounced bass. Whilst thicker strings are no match for the power of these picks, thinner strings can easily be broken if too much force is exhorted on them.

A deadly pairing of Winspear and BHL

On the other side of the pick range, we have picks that are so sharp with such aggressive tapers that you could be forgiven that these are in fact weapons not instrument tools! This allows the musician to strike strings with more precision and speed, ideal if you are playing solos or individual strings. This gives a brighter more aggressive sound with plenty of treble frequencies. These picks however do not cope well with heavy gauge strings as their extreme tapers are naturally weaker and prone to wearing down faster.

A very heavily beveled Hawk

It seems like a guitarist or bassist only has choices that sacrifice one element or the other in their plectrum choice, however not all is lost! Picks can be customised with a bevel that aides the player in their playing style. The bevel of the pick affects its attack on the string surface which can reduce the degree to which the pick grips the string. This creates a surface for the string to glide off of. Thicker guitar picks can sometimes come with these to help the player compensate for the increased thickness of a pick. Such is the density of these picks that strings will be brushed aside easily by their weight.

Overall, the point of this article (see what I did there), is to try out not just materials or gauges of picks but to try out different shapes and tapers. Often our best creative work is done when we have been pushed out of our comfort zone. It’s time to change that plectrum you have used every practice session for the past month. Let us journey into the Plectroverse and see what we can find.

Lawrence is an avid giant pick lover and a multi-lingual translator. He’s also left-handed, but that’s ok. Give him a follow on Instagram @l_chaventre