Friday, April 13, 2007

Groovin' with a Pict

Quayludium: my wife just told me that a package bearing a gift of an Agate pick arrived. THANKS MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PRELUDE: My latest obsession, found mostly in the "debris" blog, is to focus on my right hand guitar picking technique. Why?

Because I want to burn the house down, baby, with blinding speed. To answer further, I suggest you read previous entries in aforementioned blog.

This obsession lead me to a discussion with a friend of mine about his experiences with a guitar teacher. He was taking guitar lessons from a guy in Nashville. I share parts of our convo:

Q: but i cannot remember the name of the pick your teacher gave you: ebonite?

Agate. I'm sure it's some groovy mineral with a lovely crystalline structure, but the pick is polished into a smooth, teardrop shape. It's like a piece of glass with orange-brown swirls.

Unable to find more of these, I did the best I could. At the 2001 Healdsburg guitar festival, I found a guy selling some really thick picks made from a grand variety of materials. So I bought a coconut pick. From the same guy two years later, I got more coconut picks and a couple of ebony picks as well. But I still cannot find the agate model.

i think a blog about picks, etc. would be most amusing. i mean, it's like everybody is speaking a different language and we accept this idea of the shape, size etc. so readily, it's a good topic.

I've caught your pick bug. Seems Frippy is trying to be as scientific with the plectrum as the classical guys are with flesh and nails.

[A DIVERSION: Extract from Fripp's diary: Friday 15th June, 2001
Arriving at the club, waiting for John Sinks to open the door, I sensed an approaching presence: I know this sense - a fan was moving towards me, and they wanted something. Nothing "bad" about this person, a grey and mature King Crimson fan, and in any other context a joyful encounter. In this context, I was an object. The exchange:

G&MF: May I ask a favour?

RF: I'd rather you didn't.

G&MF: Can I have a pick?

[the famed Guitar Craft turtle-Dorito-chip which the grey and mature Crimso asked for. This is what they use? Hmmm...]

Why ask if you can ask a favour if you have no intention of not asking anyway? But, the question was also continually addressed to John Sinks at the show, and the answer is no. There is a good reason.

The picks I use are not manufactured anymore. I have a small supply, this supply is dwindling and, unless a firm manufactures picks to my specification (we have tried without success for 14 years) must last me for the rest of my performing life. These picks are a necessary tool for me in my playing & are specific to the way I play. Regardless of the "fetishisation of the inherent and delineated meanings of my picking style", I don't have picks to give away - not even to Guitar Craft students. ]

Continuing my friend's email:
Q: also, why did your teacher use this pick?

Because he could go so bloody fast with it.

O: and for my own sake: how in the heck did he "fly" using such a large, inflexible object?

In some ways the very idea of a pick is weird and counterintuitive. It's so easy to drop the god damned things. When I first used a pick, I wanted the absolute thinnest, most flexible thing I could find. But the sound was really thin and weak, almost more scratchy and percussive than musical. Using a really stiff pick makes you completely re-think what you do with it. I like the size because it gives you something you can grab onto. Since it's inflexible, how you attack the string with the pick is very different. You don't have to worry about volume -- you can MOVE the string! Your fingers have to be very sensitive to the compliance of the string. It helps not to put much of the pick on the string. Since it is so stiff, you can touch the string with just the very tip of that long point, just barely touch it, get all the volume you want, and you're gone, out of the way and on to the next stroke.

That's the way I think about it. I don't know how my teacher thought about it. Whatever he was doing, he was doing it very effectively. I mean, the guy had some ego problems, some emotional problems but he was a highly skilled electric player. He jammed weather report and chick corea tunes with a band in public. He knew all the chords in all the positions, and could grab 'em in an instant. He played 16th note scales at 180 regularly -- clean (on his electric). I don't recall his record, but he would occasionally announce that he'd played 5 two octave scales up in the 200s somewhere to beat the old mark.

For the uninitiated:
* the pick is so common that I believe that a high percentage of players never have really thought about it, let alone what they do with it. Has nothing to do with intelligence, just habit. Habits are so strong, they make us do things we are unaware of doing.

* once we decide that a certain pick works, we guard them like gems. we may even put our endorsement on them.

* guitarists' egos, including mine, are so tremendous that all of us think that we are just a little bit smarter and a better player than any other. we do, collectively, have heroes that we try to emulate and realize are so much superior to our own abilities. some, like my friend's teacher, asked about John McLaughlin, "Is he faster than me?" my lord, let me never be that immodest or lose my grip on reality.
[A DIVERSION: My friend's guitar teacher, who burned up the electric guitar, tried the same on an acoustic, my friend said, "The notes sounded like they were underwater." ]

* speed on a guitar is not the most important thing. It might not be even a musical thing. Then, why are guitarists obsessed with it?

* clean, rapid articulation on a guitar is not an easy thing to do. thus, those who can (or think they can) carry some clout with other players. in fact, other players, mainly those of the youthful and don't know any better variety, will use this as the sole measuring stick of a guitarist's worth.

I got into a row with some players online because of some guy who was rapidly running around the fingerboard on an electric and I snidely remarked, "the fireworks would not be as bright on an acoustic." Oh boy.

It infuriated two people, one of which asked, "why don't you shut up and post your own video and let us see what you've got?"

I said, "If I did, then who will judge me? You? And what are your qualifications?"

Not a word after that.
YouTube guitar postings inspire such wackjobs and such fervent commentary that NPR even picked up on one poster's version of Pachebel. Or its it this one?

*this topic is the most controversial, save perhaps the debate between acoustic and electric instruments, and the clean tone versus distorted debate.

* it is far, far, far easier to play fast with a pick than with the fingers alone. this would be a major difference in approach such as the difference between Pepe Romero (classical guitarist) and say Al Di Meola.

* years ago, picks were made out of plastic, then nylon. and now, just about everything.

* I define a pick as follows: a pick is a device which allows guitarists to play more notes than are necessary.
The "Dorito chip" should never be used except for dulcimer or for the tone of a very light strumming. If Guitar Crafties use this or a variance thereof, then I will be open-minded. I remain sceptical because, by and large, this is way too large for me.

Tortex, Nylon, various exotic stones, wood and metal. I even see LEDs inside some of them.What the hell is happening?

They are even jewelry.

Hell, they are even celebrity items.

I myself am trying to launch a line of "Cicada" picks.

Some purport to assure a solid grip. Dropping them, under live conditions especially, is always a possibility.

I like Clayton. Can't remember the mm. 60? 80? Not too thick, not too thin.
Secret: I file the sides of them so that the string meets less resistance. This works for me and makes me feel like a smart and clever boy. As I have stated, my picking technique needs lots of work and this is just one aspect that has truly helped.
The California Guitar Trio, former student of Fripp, are coming in May. One of the guys lives in Harrisburg, Pa. I am going to inquiere about the possibility of lessons. It's about six hours away, but I have some questions that I would like answered. Maybe this won't be the way, but it just might be worth a try.

People get awfully silly about this. It's a pick.


Rick Lee said...

You've made me think more about picks than I thought possible. Hmmmm

wthii said...

Hey! This is the ebony pick!

Dude, you MUST have had the tape rolling! There is NO WAY I could have recalled a tenth of what you snagged from that convo.

Anyhoo, I hope the pick works for you.

If not, engrave your wedding date in it, like good old Russell & Sherry did back in '94.