The Pick

A technique of fast picking with a cylindrical pick where the angle of turning is has been experimented with. The technique produced a significant improvement in the speed and accuracy of playing without sacrificing the sound volume. A new pick design has been proposed.

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Experiments have been carried out to develop a new pick to achieve a faster performance mainly in very fast tremolo alike playing with string switching.

Various attempts have been made with sharp and rounded picks, thin and thick as well as metal picks and a prototype of a new cylindrical pick has been designed and tested. This cylindrical pick is the main subject of this article.



Performing tremolo while switching strings depends on various factors: tension of the string, flexibility of the pick, position of the pick towards the string, strength of pick holding, relaxation of the hand or strength of the hand depends on the preferred technique, size of the pick, material of which the pick and the strings are made, most importantly: friction between the pick and the string, etcetera.

Two main techniques have been investigated: picking with force and forceless picking. Picking with force requires movement of the hand with a higher amplitude and exertion of a force on the string. These may slow down the speed of picking. Accuracy when switching between strings is also more difficult to achieve. Forceless picking is carried out by gliding of the pick over the string as opposed to catching the string with the pick. The hand and the fingers are positioned to engage the string at an angle as opposed to placing the pick parallel to the string. The pick is glided over the string. The greater the angle the more gliding and less catching. The volume of the sound is reduced with the angle but the speed and accuracy are improved.

The best pick for picking with force has been found to be the metal pick with which the friction between the metal pick and the metal string is lower than this between a metal string and a nylon pick. Metal picks can be used for forceless picking too because of the same reason. Also, thin picks of 0.38mm, 0.46mm and 0.5mm have also been investigated. With these, catching of the string may not be a severe problem because they are so soft, the pick would be easily rescued without too much force applied. The position of the hand is important because if the pick is angled, the pick is more resistive.

For forceless picking a nylon pick with a high circumference has been used where the pick has been filed to achieve the circumference of the picking edge even higher than this of the non picking edges: very oval, roughly similar to the circumference of a penny. Also, a standard metal pick has been used held loosely while performing tremolo to avoid strong string catching. The two techniques yield very good results with the oval pick being slightly faster. The nylon pick used is Dunlop Ultex sharp 2.0mm with the sharp edge cut and filed.

While the round, oval pick performs excellently on the upper string, this cannot produce enough sound volume on the lower string even with heavy amplification. To address this problem, a tiny, <=1mm notch has been cut at the middle of the rounded picking segment which improves the sound yet not leading to a high level of catching, i.e. the pick being caught by the string.

The New Pick

A new pick design has also been experimented with:

The new pick looks like a key for a door knob: the pick is cylindrical in shape and is connected to a standard pick which standard pick is only used for easier holding and because people are used to holding this kind of picks.

The cylindrical pick allows the same performance regardless of the position of the hand: regardless of how the pick is rotated towards the string because a circular surface touches a string the same way everywhere. The cylindrical pick works by catching the string rather than gliding over. For gliding, a thick and strong cylinder can still be used with a conical picking tip.

The cylindrical pick gives extraordinary performance but to choose such a pick with the correct parameters is rather difficult. Basically, the choice has to be made such so only certain amount of catching be allowed which results to only certain amount of strength applied yet the pick must be able to spring back and recover for a shorter period than the period of the tremolo.

The length of the cylinder is important. Too long cylinder may allow more thickness of a given material but may engage the neighbouring string.

The easiest way to home make such a pick is as follows: use a string with a desired thickness and cut a bit, say 1/2". Use a standard thick nylon pick, say 2 or 3mm. Make a groove from the picking side to the opposite side. Place the string inside the groove. Adjust desirable length of the sticking out portion of the string. Use a duct tape to secure the string in the groove.

Another way to do this is by warming up the cut portion of the string to red and sticking into the picking edge of the pick. The hot metal melts the nylon and gets secured inside the pick with a portion sticking out.

Use the cylindrical pic to engage the strings in a forceful way by catching and pulling the string. The cylinder would spring around the string and cannot be stopped. Not so much force is required and the speed and the accuracy are greatly improved.

By Steven Stanley Bayes

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A picture of the cylindrical pick would be a nice addition to this article.
    Steven Bayes
    I will try to get a picture uploaded. Before so, just imagine this: You take a regular pick with a thickness of, say 1mm and you cut and file the tip until the width of the notch which you are filing and cutting is the same as the thickness of the pick ( 1mm ) and the length of this notch is, say, 5mm. This way you would have a parallelepiped with measurements 1mm by 1mm by 5mm at one of the corners of the pick. If you gently file the edges of this parallelepiped you would convert this into a cylinder with a diameter of less but almost equal to 1mm. The easiest is to imagine the pick as a door key where the holder of the key is whatever is left from the standard pick and the part of the key which goes in the key is the cylinder with 1mm diameter and 5mm length.
    Steven Bayes
    Also, I have purchased some metalic picks made of stainless steel and filed them off with a simple manual file for metal to the shape of the Golden Gate MP 12 curvature. Works astonishing BUT metal picks cut strings easily.
    Steven Bayes
    I have also been experimenting with Golden Gate 12 and Dunlop Ultex 2.0mm and Jazz III and stainless steel and others CUT AS PER THE SHAPE OF USA 208. Can play with the tip too. Fantastic speed in tremolo and synchronised tremolo as well as in any style AT fantastic sound even with acoustics. Also stainless steel picks cut as per Golden Gate 12 and hold parallel to the string when engaging ( as per the rules ) works fine and doesn't catch the pick a lot.
    Steven Bayes
    I have recently found a company for manufacturing high quality picks, called Timber Tones : They have various picks from stone, metal, silver, gold, platinum, bone, timber, etcetera. The interesting feature is the design of the picks : the pick are wide at the top of the pick and become wider towards the tip, then before reaching the tip, the structure narrows in almost conical shape towards the pick. The shape can best be seen on their silver picks : Obviously the price differs with the material. I think the stone picks are good as well as of affordable price.
    Steven Bayes
    The same effect as the one mentioned in the post showing the link to the web site of Timber Tones can be achieved by gluing a few pick upon your choice together and then filing as per the required shape. I took 3 Fender Extra Heavy Duty ( I think they are 1.41mm thick but I am not sure ) and I glued them with a fast drying ( 5 minutes ) super glue. Then I have waited for 12 hours just in cases. 24 hours is preferable. Then, with a Rasp File for wood, the softer side, I filed the bottom ( the tip ) of the picks as per USA 208 pick and smoothened ( rounded ) the side edges and I left the rest to be the shape of Fender Extra Heavy Duty. The pick works perfectly OK. Anyone can take as many picks as one wants of any pick material and glue them one to the other and file any shape one wants, even can put a 3D relief on the wide side ( s ) of the pick! Not only one can choose material and shape but saves money too. Filing with the softer side of a Rasp File for wood is easy and takes a few minutes. One can also file with a power drill with a stone like attachment for filing sold in the shops.
    Steven Bayes
    Done well with gluing three 1mm triangular Dunlop Ultex and sharpening the tip as well as almost conically shaping the tip and around from top and bottom. The angle of inclination does not affect the performance as much. Ideal for super fast solos. See them at :