Picking Through The Rubble: How An Archaeological Expedition in my Gear Stash Turned Up Some Cool New Tones

Guitar players are experimental by nature, and we’ve long known that one of the easiest and cheapest categories of gear to experiment with is the humble pick.  For just a few bucks, it’s possible to try out several different sizes, shapes, and materials and explore new feels and sounds.

Recently, while trying to bring some sense of order to my little corner of the house where I keep my gear, I found a trove of picks in various materials, sizes, thicknesses and shapes.  Some were left over from previous experiments or whims, while others were of the “case candy” variety, stocking stuffers, or came from origins not remembered.  Many of them were quite different than the good ol’ Tortex picks (.60mm tends to be my go-to) that have been shredding my strings for years now.

Since TheToneKing.com community leaves no tonal stone unturned I decided that you, the readership, might enjoy a quick survey of some of the more unique finds in my stash, and a comparison to my usual pick.  This isn’t a shootout or a ranking of better or worse, just an informal look at all the different ways the size, shape, and material a pick is made of can effect our tone and playing.  I used my loyal 1988 ’66 reissue Stratocaster amplified with an Orange OR15 into a 1×12 cab with a Celestion Heritage Series G12M speaker to check out the tones.

So, in no particular order, let’s meet our partici-picks (oh, don’t groan…that’s top-notch wordplay right there)!

IMG_11881) Dunlop Max-Grip Jazz III Carbon Fiber

The Dunlop Jazz III is an icon in the world of picks, but it’s tiny profile has always gotten lost under my big, fat thumb.  The treadplate-like texture of Dunlop’s Max-Grip helps keeps this pick squarely in place, which makes it a lot easier for me to use.  I don’t have to grip as hard and can concentrate on playing.


The first thing I noticed was that my single-note picking became much more efficient and a lot less forced (a bad habit of mine).  The beveled edges slide easily from note to note, which pop with excellent authority.  On some runs, my right hand felt as though it was gliding over the strings with minimal effort.  Tonally, the Jazz III is nice and full, particularly on the plain strings, and lacks a little but of the spank I get from the Tortex.  And while it really excels for single-note lines, it was a bit more awkward when it came to the Pete Townshend-style strumming I like throw around every once in a while.

2) Planet Waves Joe Satriani Chrome Dome

Unfortunately, shortly after conducting this test and before I got a picture, one of my children kidnapped this pick and its current whereabouts are unknown.  It looks that cool.  Chances are it’ll show up in the wash before long.

The printing wore off on this a long time ago.  This thing is HEAVY.  For a pick, anyway.  It’s roughly 1.5 to 2 millimeters of well-polished metal and, as you would expect, there is no flex or give to it.

The Chrome Dome, according to the man himself is as much about special effects as it is about doing the regular things picks do.  The smooth edges enable the player to do all sorts of alien slide noises, bleeps, and bloops, and the stiffness made it really easy for me to pop loads of artificial harmonics.  The weight and thickness took a few minutes to get used to and it definitely feels like it could tear through most string in a couple of measures, but once I did it was pretty close to using a normal, heavy gauge pick.  Interestingly enough, I didn’t notice a dramatic change in tone between the Tortex and the Chrome Dome when picking or strumming normally.


IMG_1186-23) Lollar Pickups promotional guitar pick

This one gets my vote for the most all-around interesting pick in the bunch.  It was “case candy”  that I received when I ordered some Lollars for my Strat a few years back.  It’s made of Forbon, the same vulcanized fiberboard material used to make Fender-style single coil pickups.  Texture-wise, it feels like the kind of fancy card stock you might print wedding invitations on, and my particular example measured in at somewhere around 1.5mm thickness.  Like the Chrome Dome, it has no flex to it all.  I probably would’ve sprained my thumb had I tried any harder to make it bend.

I found this pick a lot of fun to play with.  The change in tone was pretty pronounced to my ears; the texture definitely adds a bit of gritty, mid-high punch and a little bit of snarly attitude to single note lines and chords alike, compared to the general smoothness of the Tortex.  I also found the strings responding more immediately to changes in how hard I picked.  I went from loud to quiet without much change in how hard I hit the strings, which I also dug.


IMG_11854) Vintage Herco Nylon Heavy gauge

This one is certainly the most straightforward of the batch: a real-deal vintage Herco from the ’60s or ’70s that I got a few years back for novelty purposes.

It was probably the very same type of Herco some famous names used back in the day , and I can kind of see why.  The pick is roughly shaped, something Hercos are known (and, by some players, loved) for due to the way they’re manufactured.  Though it’s labeled “heavy”, it feels a little bit more on the medium side.  Tonally, it’s no-nonsense: good attack and just a bit darker than the Tortex.  In other words, perfect for cranking out some chooglin’ old school rhythm and lead work.


IMG_11875) Rosemary Pierro glass guitar pick

Definitely the most dramatic of the pack, this stocking stuffer from a Christmas past sort of resembles a potato chip made of swirling glass.  And the tone is just as dramatic, with a very even, harmonically rich texture that’s supercool for delicate, arpeggiated riffs.  A bit of texture for added grip is present on the fatter side of the pick, which seems to warm things up just a hair.  Perhaps not an everyday sort of pick, but definitely a very cool tool for freshening up layered guitar parts.  And despite it’s size, it’s just as light as a normal pick.

So, will my tried-and-true Tortex be relegated to dustbin?  Not likely, but it was really cool actually sitting down and trying out something different.  It kind of makes me wonder what else I have lying around here that might be a hidden tone treasure that I can grab when I need a little bit of inspiration or just feel like switching things up a bit.

Tell us, TheToneKing.com readers, have you ever been digging around in your gear stash and found some long-forgotten article that immediately sparked some cool new melodies or interesting tones?

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