Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Picky about.. Picks.


So, what's one of a guitarist's worst fears in their entire guitar journey? A bad power supply unit for their pedalboard? A snapped string while on performing on stage? An amputated finger? Insufficient funds for a new guitar? A broken neck? Broken electronics?

Or.. Like me, using a specific pick for the past 9 years, finding out that your local supplier doesn't supply that specific pick anymore?

I'm telling you, that's the end of the world for me.

.. Along with whatever that has been mentioned above.

For 9 years, I've never failed to switch out from my pink/purple Ibanez Steve Vai signature series pick, because of its size and feel. Sadly, I had to look for an alternative that won't phase out in the next, what, 5000 years to be safe.

 (Although I have about 40+ spare for the Ibanez picks, but it's always good to restock..)

Anyhow, with the kind souls and service of one of the few guitar shops I (used to) go to in Hobart, Tasmania (Hobart Music Center), they informed me of this..sad news..

.. But in return, they gave me two sample picks to try out and give me time to make up my mind about what's next on the list - A Jim Dunlop John Petrucci Signature Series pick (Ultex), and an Ibanez Paul Gilbert Signature Series pick.

I'm pretty aware that Paul switched over to Tortex by Jim Dunlop, though.

And besides that, I had to get my hands on a pack of Jim Dunlop Jazz III XL's as recommended by my good friend, and a fantastic guitarist, Kelvyn Yeang.

So, time for a switch. But I want to make it a different switch. I want something that'll last rather that it losing its bits and pieces within 8 hours of guitar works.

Or worse still, I'd rather have a pick that doesn't break.

So, here comes the painful transition - from a normal sized plastic pick to a really ridiculously small sized (it's small to me.) pick.

And preferably that it's made out of nylon.

And on paper, I dislike the John Petrucci pick already - because it has a thickness of 1.5mm .. And I can't usually play anything that's more than 1.0mm.

To accommodate the above mentioned picks, I have added some photos to show what they are.. Although, they're pretty self explanatory, really.

From left to right:
  • Ibanez Steve Vai pick - 1mm thickness (made out of some plastic-y material)
  • Jim Dunlop Jazz III XL - 1mm thickness; nylon
  • Jim Dunlop John Petrucci - 1.5mm thickness; nylon; ultex design
  • Ibanez Paul Gilbert pick - feels like it's 1mm thickness - and uses the same material - and feels that there's less mass to it - than the Steve Vai pick.
So, before testing these picks, I had to cut my fingernails to show how serious I could be.

At this point, I should probably make this clear - I picked the Steve Vai pick because I felt comfortable with it back then. And back then, meaning when I was 16 years old. I knew nuts about finger tone, and tonight, I see what sort of materials would affect your tone.

Round 1: The Ibanez Paul Gilbert Pick
When I picked up the Paul Gilbert pick (I knew this was going to be scratched off my list, anyway, so might as well get it over and done with), I see what's the point of smaller sized picks. I felt a little bit closer to the strings (mainly because of the size), which means I had lesser picking motions that disallowed me to completely ruin my guitar playing by simply picking with a larger pick - always assuming that I'd hit a note 150% of the time.

Truth is, the smaller picks created a great discipline for me to be particular of what I play. There was a slight difference compared to the Steve Vai pick, but at this point, I still preferred the "grittiness" and the bite that the Steve Vai pick produced. I played this pick along with some of my own songs (Home, Debra and Losing Memories), it didn't sound right one bit (and I'm using the same patches as I did in the recording sessions).

Also, I didn't really play much with this pick. The plus point about this pick is that it has a paint coating on it. Which made me identify why I don't want this pick to be my next choice for the next few years. It was already shredding itself as it couldn't accommodate my picking style. I'm an extremely hard picker.

Goodbye, Ibanez picks.

Round 2: Jim Dunlop Jazz III XL
Because I didn't like the idea of the John Petrucci pick being a 1.5mm, I decided to not even jump into the pick. I wasn't even hyped about it. I like Dream Theater, I like his guitars with all sorts of options - including the rocket launchers and nuclear missiles, but my brain refused to comply with its 1.5mm thickness.

I noticed that the Jazz III XL are nylon picks, and the sides are edged. Whatever sorcery this is, I loved the idea of the edges. It doesn't stick onto the string much, really, and I could feel the pick. It's bigger than the Ibanez Paul Gilbert pick I tried out, so the size was something I could get used to.

The tone, on the other hand, sounds warmer (compared to both the Ibanez picks I use/test). It's a little bit easier to control, and it's missing of the bite I usually have. Like the case of the Paul Gilbert pick, I felt closer to the strings because of the drastic change in size. It's really hard to get used to, because I can't seem to slam my entire wrist and pick on the string on some parts when it's supposed to feel so good.

.. Which is a good thing, because I wanted to improve on my playing to have more discipline on it.

I tried this pick on one of the few songs I find tough - Neil Zaza's King of the World. It's not your generic in-your-face instrumental rock song, but expressing what Neil's songwriting requires a different approach, mindset and technique. It passed in terms of sustaining a good amount of dynamics. It was missing of the bite that I usually get out from the Steve Vai pick.

But it's something I could get used to.

Of course, the night didn't end there..

Round 3: Jim Dunlop John Petrucci

That's the only thing I had issues with. The pick's thickness. I get nightmares whenever I think about the thickness because I could imagine the tone associated with that thickness.

Good thing I tested this is the very last pick I tested, because I fell in love after playing a quick lick.

This is, indeed, a shredder's pick without a doubt. Surprised? I bet not. After all, this pick was designed by John Petrucci.

If you noticed from the pictures above, it has a different colour to it on the edge. But don't let this fool you if you think it's cosmetic. It's science, actually. It's based on the size of the Jim Dunlop Jazz III picks, and the whole "Ultex" bit of picks. Ultex, apparently, is a type of picks that Jim Dunlop produces as well. From what I understand, Ultex is an additional feature on picks that has edges on the side of the pick - so it's able to slide off strings if you pick really quickly.

And Mr. Petrucci wanted more of that glide.

I found the concept interesting, and I'm telling you, it feels good.

Playing with the John Petrucci pick, apparently, is like training for runs with ankle weights. When you play with this pick, it feels like the ankle weights have been taken off.

It's unbelievably quick. And because of the smoothness of the pick, it contributes towards the tone of the guitar - in which the horrific tone provided by the 1.5mm thickness diminished by how the pick was designed. It sounds warmer to the Jazz III XL's (surprisingly)

I tested this on some shred licks, and it felt good. The effort I put into speed picking was very minimal.

Mr. Petrucci definitely knows his stuff. At that level, of course he knows his stuff. And I'm glad I understand a little bit of his madness.

And to be honest, I couldn't pick a winner between both the Jazz III and the JP. They both felt good, sounded distinctive and are easy to get used to.

But if you ask me about which felt like home, that isn't the point. I was particular about how the picks sounded, and the JP wins my heart this time.

Not to say that I'll never use the Jazz III XL's, or the remaining 23 - to be honest, I'll end up switching in between the JP's and the Jazz III's in and out of recording sessions depending on .. tone.

.. And to think that I was able to fit in a MGS 3 session after the pick-testing sessions, but I guess I was wrong - just like I was wrong about how bad the John Petrucci picks were going to be.

Moreover, I'm surprised at how technical they can be when it comes to producing picks. I'm happy that they paid really close details, because it really pays off for guitarists.