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Archive for the ‘plectrum’ Category

4.75 Tone Bones - Almost perfect but not quite

polarity_j3

Polarity J3

Summary: Made out of one of the hardest woods in nature, the Polarity J3 pick produces a warm, but also “spanky” tone that is perfect for leads.

Pros: I’m a big fan of natural materials for plectrums, and the J3 doesn’t disappoint with its feel in the hand. Natural materials also tend to not squeak when striking a vibrating string. As far as sound is concerned, I dig the sound that this pick produces – A LOT!

Cons: My only concern with this pick is its lifetime. I took the picture I supplied to the left after playing with the pick for about an hour on various guitars, strumming and playing solos. If you click on it, you can see where some of the Carnuba wax has already started wearing away, so I’m not sure just how long the pick will last. However, I’ll have a better idea after I gig with it this coming weekend and will post a follow-up article. NOTE: This is a fairly small nit because I only put a few hours of playing on it, and note that the only wear was the wax coating. The wood itself didn’t have any wear on it.

Price: $29.00 ea

Specs:

  • 1.3 millimeters thick
  • 7/8″ wide X 1″ long
  • Handmade
  • Magnetic

Tone Bone Rating: 4.75 – If I didn’t have the initial concern that this pick might have a short lifetime, I’d give the pick a 5 Tone Bones as it plays and feels and most importantly, sounds great.

As with most gear I write about, how good it feels, plays, and sounds is a matter of personal preference. That also affects what I’d be willing to pay for gear as well. So based upon my initial experience with the Polarity J3 pick, though the pick is on the pricey side, I’d make an investment in it just the same. It plays and feels and sounds fantastic. Is it something I’d use for general use? Probably not, simply because despite the wood being extremely hard, it’s still wood, and will most probably wear at a quicker rate than harder materials. I certainly wouldn’t use it for rhythm playing with a Strat that has vintage-style pickups with the poles that protrude. I nicked several Red Bear picks on my Strats, so I never play a Strat with a Red Bear pick.

But for leads? This is a great pick for that. Here’s a little ditty I put together last night to demonstrate how it sounds (I used my Slash L Katie May through a Fender Twin AmpliTube model):

I already have the perfect application for it. As of late, at my solo gigs, I’ve been making a lot of use of my looper to create live tracks that I can improv over. The “backing tracks” are usually recorded finger-style or using a variation on a clawhammer technique, and most of the time, I just hold my pick in my hand. This is a perfect pick to use for that application, and it’ll get a lot of use; especially this Friday and Saturday. So I’m looking forward to playing with it!

I love a number of things about this pick.

  • Being a rigid pick, it has a relatively fast attack, as compared to standard flexible picks. Even for strumming the quick response helps to stay in time.
  • The pointy tip produces a nice, bright tone, but the wood helps balance that out with some warmth in the mid-range.
  • Amazingly enough, I was expecting to have a bit of friction because of the wood. But it’s so hard that it slides over the strings quite easily, but the awesome thing is that it’s just soft enough so you don’t get that ugly squeak when you’re hitting a vibrating string, as you often get with hard plastic picks.
  • I was a little dubious about its size when I first got it, but after playing with it for just a few minutes, it’s extremely comfortable to hold plus, there’s a lot to be said about holding natural and natural-feeling material.

Will it last?

That’s really the big question, isn’t it? Despite being made of a hardwood, it’s still wood, and wood is somewhat delicate. Only time will tell if it holds up. As I mentioned above, I was a little concerned about the wax coating wearing so quickly after just a little bit of time playing the pick, but the wood was absolutely intact, so my feeling is that as long as I keep the scope of how I use it fairly narrow, this pick should hold up for a long time.

Overall Impression

I’m diggin’ this pick, and will use it this coming weekend at three gigs, so I will get a really good idea about its durability. But as it stands now, I’ve put in a few hours of playing with the pick on acoustic and electric guitars, and even used it with my bass. This is not a pick that I’d use for strumming; not that I’m concerned that it’ll break, but because of its size and shape, it just seems to be made for doing solos.

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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Wegen "The Fatone"

Click to enlarge

Wegen’s Picks – The Fatone (Fat Tone)

Summary: This is now my new favorite pick! I had misplaced my Wegen GP 250 and wanted to get another GP 250. The store that I bought the last one at was out of GP 250’s so I dug in the Wegen pick box and found this beauty! The grip is awesome!

Pros: Beefy (5mm) pick that is amazingly accurate despite its thickness. Despite its thickness, this is tonally versatile pick!

Cons: Though it doesn’t take anything away from the rating, my only nit about my pick is that it’s black. Black gets lost easily on a dark stage. But Wegen makes them in white, so I’ll probably order a few of the white ones.

Price: $15.00 ea

Specs:

  • 5 millimeters thick
  • Hand-made
  • Perfect bevel that makes your strings really ring!
  • Don’t know the material, but it’s a VERY hard plastic that does not scratch. You will never need to buff or resharpen Wegen picks!

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 ~ Though I still love my V-Picks Snake (pointed), this pick is now my primary. It’s the perfect pick!

I’ve been searching for the perfect fat pick for a long time; or perhaps I should say that I’ve been looking for a pick that I could use for both acoustic and electric, but I never could. So I used a V-Picks Snake for electric and a Wegen GP 250 and a Red Bear Gypsy Jazz for acoustic. But all that changed when I got the Wegen “The Fatone.”

Admittedly, I discovered this pick not because I was looking to add to my collection of picks, but because I lost my GP 250, which had served me well for the last couple of years. I simply wanted to replace it. Unfortunately – or fortunately – the shop that I bought my GP 250 at was all out of them. So I looked through the case to see if I could find an alternate. That alternate was the Fatone. I knew from the first moment I held it that I was onto something with that pick. Then when I strummed it on a guitar in the shop, I was completely sold! Playing it at my solo acoustic gig an hour after that sealed the deal for me. I’ll be hard-pressed to use another pick.

This is a FAT pick at 5mm. But the inset, thumb-side grip, combined with the beveled tip make this pick feel so much thinner. It’s truly a joy to play.

What is it about fat picks for me? Well, having used them for a few years now, the most significant effect they’ve had on my playing besides tone is how they make my right hand relax. The way that works is that in order to make the pick glide over the strings effectively you have to hold the pick a lot looser in your fingers. That looser grip affects the whole hand. Granted, it took a little while to get used to, but once I was comfortable with a fat pick, going back to my old nylon picks seemed absolutely foreign to me. But relaxation made my playing much more fluid, and I was actually able to play a lot faster because my hand was so relaxed. In any case, I’m hooked on fat picks, and I’ll never go back to conventional picks.

Now I know that I normally do a “How It Sounds” section, but I’m actually on the road right now, writing while my son is driving the car (I’m taking him to college). But also, I don’t know how useful that section would be in this case. All I can say is that the fat pick produces a big sound, but in the case of the Fatone, because of the nice pointy bevel, it produces a nice, bright ring in addition to the deeper tone. It’s a bit hard to describe. It “feels” so much more full than other picks. For instance, though I love the sound my V-Picks Snake makes, it’s definitely a lot more mid-rangy than the Fatone.

One thing that is significant about the Wegen pick material is that it has a texture that feels softer than tortoise, but it’s actually a VERY hard material. The cool thing is that it’s a lot more damp on the strings than either acrylic or tortoise (or natural material). But it doesn’t produce a damper sound. It’s a feel thing. 🙂 In any case, I’m hooked on this pick. Also, tonally, this is a VERY versatile pick. By simply changing the angle and depth of attack, I can get thick, warm tones to nice bright tones. That’s extremely cool!

Overall Impression

As I mentioned above, I now have a new favorite pick. Not sure what else I can say about it. I won’t be getting rid of this one any time soon!

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4 Tone Bones - Excellent gear, that exceeds expectations of its performance, value, and quality. Strongly consider purchasing this.

Pointless Picks

Pointless Picks

Summary: Really out-of-the-box approach to picks. They’re perfectly round with a raised bevel in the center so you don’t drop ’em.

Pros: Really easy to hold, and strumming with these picks creates a nice ringing tone – not nearly as fat as I thought, but that’s okay! Works great as rhythm guitar pickup or for playing acoustic guitar where a lot of strumming is involved. Great to use as a strummer!

Cons: I found picking out individual notes only okay, and if you’re one of those folks that holds their picks at a 45 degree angle to the string, it’ll take awhile to get used to this pick. It works best straight on, and it’s not that bad. But it’s also kind of big. If it was a smaller diameter, I’d probably love it!

Features:

  • Made from Acetal, which is similar to nylon, but very durable.
  • Raised bevel makes holding onto the pick easy
  • Comes in three thicknesses: .58mm, .72mm, 1mm

Price: < $1.00 ea. through various retailers

Tone Bone Score: 4.0 – These aren’t bad picks, though they do require that you spend a bit of time with them. I actually thought that I’d like the 1mm pick the best, but actually, the thinnest one actually worked best for me.

If you’re a regular visitor to GuitarGear.org, you’ll notice that I rarely review name-brand gear. My thought is that mainstream gear gets lots of coverage, so I tend to gravitate to either the novel or less well-known gear manufacturers. Pointless Picks definitely fall into this latter category!

When I received the envelope from Pointless Picks today, I opened it up in anticipation, and was surprised by them. The pictures you see online really don’t prepare you for the real thing. They’re totally weird looking in a good sort of way. But I’ve learned to keep an open mind, so I took one of each pick (I got several), and went out to my studio to try them out.

I systematically tested each thickness of pick. As a thick pick lover, I thought that my favorite would be the 1mm pick, but the exact opposite was true. The one I liked the most was actually the .58mm pick. I believe this is because of how large a diameter the pick is. When you strum, the pick hits the string with a lot of surface area. With the thicker pick, there naturally isn’t much give, and with my heavy strum technique, the thicker pick didn’t really work well for me. But with the thin pick, it was a different story. I could dig in and the give of the pick made for much easier strumming.

If you’re the type of player who turns their picks around to play with the fat end of the pick, you’ll probably like this pick. Me? I’ll be honest. I like these picks, but I’m not sure I’d like them enough to switch to them exclusively. I even gigged with them this past weekend. As an acoustic pick, I dug them – or at least the thin pick. I was able to get some nice, fat, but also ringing tones from my acoustic. Not sure that I’d use them for electric though. The feel is a bit too heavy for my tastes. You see, I like playing with the pointy end. 🙂

All in all though, these are pretty cool picks.

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Pointless Picks

I got a Twitter notification today of someone now following GuitarGear, so I checked Twitter to see who it was, and was intrigued by their website URL: http://www.pointlesspicks.com. Curious, I clicked on their link and was taken to their site. Sure enough, it was a product site dedicated to picks that were – as the name implies – pointless.

These are perfectly round picks, made of a polymer called Acetal. Acetal is a thermoplastic and apparently one of the stiffest and most durable plastics in the thermoplastic family. It has a variety of uses, and often competes with nylon for the same applications, according to the Plastics Web, such as the production of plectrums.

These picks are very interesting to me at first blush. As they’re round, there’s not a “wrong” way to hold them. And if you’re the type of player that almost always rounds off their points or plays with the fat end of a standard pick, then this pick may be appealing to you. It’s certainly a novel idea, and apparently they’ve got a lot of retailers selling them. They won a “Best in Show” at Summer NAMM last year, so obviously these picks made an impact on the judging panel.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many reviews of them, and the few that I found were pretty much copies from a single review, which was fairly short. I only found one video on YouTube that mentions Pointless Picks, and it wasn’t a review, though the guitar playing was pretty good, but you can’t see the dude using the pick!

Personally, I’m not sure how I feel about these. I love big fat picks, and these come in 1mm at their thickest. But if they’re really stiff, I may just like them. But it makes me wonder how to do fast alternate picking with them. I’m not a particularly fast player, but I hold my pick at about a 45 degree angle when I’m picking individual notes. It would seem to me that at that angle, the pick would just slide over the string. Maybe there’s some inherent friction…. Guess I’ll have to try them out to see what they’re like. But hey! Best in Show at NAMM is nothing to shake a stick at, so I’m game!

Anyway, for more information, check out the the Pointless Picks web site for more information.

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guitars3

Right now, it is an absolutely AWESOME time to be a guitarist! There is so much great gear out there nowadays, that it’s hard to choose what to get. But the great thing is that there is SO MUCH to choose from! For example, look at all the great overdrive pedals that are out there right now. It is freaking amazing, I tell ya!

Some might think that there’s too much gear out there right now. That may be, but it also means that if you spend the time evaluating gear, you’ll most probably find exactly what you’re looking for – at least for now. 🙂

I say “at least for now” because if you’re a gear freak like me, it’s not too long that you want to add something to your rig to enhance your tonal palette. It’s a bad disease, this gear addiction, but it is oh-so-incredible.

But back to the topic at hand, with this much gear, you might think that the likelihood of making a bad choice is also fairly large. But the interesting thing that I’ve found is that most of the gear out there is really high quality, and not only that, at great prices.

Take, for instance, handmade, hand-wired boutique amps. Traditionally, boutique amps have sold for thousands of dollars. But there are some boutique manufacturers out there that are creating great-sounding, high-quality, hand-wired amps for a reasonable price. Most of these are “entry-level” amps meant to establish the manufacturer’s sound and quality, and to provide inroads to their flagship products. A good example of this is the recently released Reason Bambino, an 8/2 Watt tone machine. Priced at $699 and packed with tons of features, this is one of those must-have amps for the studio, and for small venues; not to mention that the tone this amp produces is simply to die for!

Then there are manufacturers like Valve Train Amps and Aracom Amps who simply make reasonably priced, hand-wired amps. Period. Their philosophy is that great tone doesn’t have to cost a lot. And while they’d probably admit that their margins are lower compared to their more expensive brethren, they’ll be the first to say that they want to get their gear into as many players’ hands as possible. With Aracom’s VRX series, that has been the case. Jeff has found a real magical tone with the VRX series (they come in 18 and 22 Watts EL84/6V6 respectively). The heads are $895, and they sound absolutely KILLER! He has been selling these things as fast as he can create them!

But I believe the greatest stuff is coming from the pedal makers. There are absolutely killer pedals out there! And it seems each week brings yet another promising pedal to the industry. There are so many, I can’t keep up with them! Off the top of my head, here are some stellar pedals that have recently come out that are worth a look: TC Electronic Nova Repeater, The Original Geek GeekDriver, Kasha Amps Overdrive, Effectrode Tube Driver, Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2. Yeah, yeah, I’ve mentioned OD pedals. Well, you know how much I love ’em. 🙂 My personal favorite right now is the GeekDriver, and it will always be on my board. It’s not really an overdrive, and it’s not completely a booster. It’s something in between, and it’s freakin’ awesome, especially when it’s used to drive my Abunai 2, or Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. As Geek explained to me, the GeekDriver was meant to be stacked. Very cool! And at $205, it is not out of this world.

Even things such as strings and picks are out there for us to enjoy! As far accessories are concerned, they actually start getting a bit more pricey at the “boutique” level, but they are so worth it! I swear by Wyres Strings and V-Picks and Red Bear Picks. Especially with the picks, I’ve paid up to $30 for a single pick, but they last a long time with care, and not only that, they feel so good in your hand that you don’t even notice that they’re there. And that’s what a great pick will do for you.

I could go on talking about great gear that out there, but I’ll just say this one more time: It’s a great time to be a guitarist!

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I was noodling around the other day, and came up with a riff. The riff turned into a jam track, then the jam track turned into a full song. I’m still working on the song, but thought I’d post it for folks to give it a listen. Here it is:

Here’s what I used:

  • Rhythm Part: Clean Strat in Neck/Middle position. My Aracom VRX22 in the Clean channel, with the Master cranked and volume at halfway. Used a Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone pick to get that percussive sound out of the chords.
  • Part 1 Solo: Strat in Neck Position into my MicroVibe and the same amp settings. Also, used the Tuff-Tone pick to get a more percussive attack to the notes.
  • Part 2 Solo: Strat in Bridge Position into MicroVibe. Amp was set on Channel 2 with the Master dimed and volume at 6 for some nice, but not over-the-top breakup. I love that 6V6 breakup! Here I used my V-Picks Psycho to smoothen out the attack and give the bright bridge pickup a bit of extra oomph.
  • Part 3 Solo: Strat in Neck position, nixed the Vibe, into the clean channel with Master and Volume fully dimed. Used the Psycho here as well, but used a percussive attack.

In order to get those kind of high power settings from the amp, I used a soon-to-be-released Aracom attenuator that’s like NOTHING I’ve played through before! This thing is completely transparent because it maintains reactance between the amp and speaker; something that a lot of attenuators have a problem with (please don’t get me started on the UA, which I think is the biggest bunch of hype I’ve ever run across as far as attenuators go).

Another word about the VRX22. When the Master is fully open, and the power tubes are getting lots of juice, this amp just oozes all sorts of tone. And as the rectifier circuit kicks in, this amp feels as if it has built in reverb! As you can tell, I love this amp! Check it out at: http://www.aracom-amps.com.

I know that you might think I’m a bit nutso for using different picks; obviously in a live situation I’d probably only use one. But the in the studio where I can do pretty much anything I want, using different picks to affect my tone is totally cool. Check out Tuff-Tone picks at http://www.redbeartrading.com and the Psycho pick at http://www.v-picks.com. I swear by these two brands, and while I don’t work for either of these companies, like the Aracom Amps, they’ll always be part of my “rig.”

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Fender Champion 600 Re-issueI forgot how much fun this little 5 watter is to play! I just put in new tubes to make it have more headroom, as this is an incredibly pedal-friendly amp. The tubes I got were as follows: NOS JAN-Philips 12AT7 and a JJ 6V6. The idea behind this is that the 12AT7 has about half the gain of a regular 12AX7, so it won’t push the power tube as hard as a 12AX7. The JJ 6V6 has tons of gain, and is much harder to break up; thus, I hoped to attain more clean headroom with this combination.

While I like the breakup of the Champ 600, it’s a little weak, but the clean tone is spectacular with this amp. And hooking it up to a 1 X 12 extension cab really expands the depth of the tone it produces. Combine that with a couple of pedals, and the result is like candy to the ears.

Some people might frown upon this diminutive amp, but I used it throughout my first album, and for good reason: It’s so damn versatile! I can play pretty much any style with this amp, and miked properly, can make it sound much bigger than it actually is. And at $200 bucks (that’s what I paid for it), it was a total steal!

Here’s a simple clip I recorded using one of GarageBand’s “Magic Garage Band” backing tracks. It’s a slow blues in E. The first part of the song is played with the neck pickup of my Prestige Heritage Elite, into my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2, into my Hardwire RV-7 Reverb, then into the Champ and out my custom Aracom 1 X 12 extension cab with a Jensen P12N (damn! that totally sounds like name dropping! Yikes!). In second half of the song, I switch to my bridge pickup and stack my Tube Screamer on top of the Abunai 2. Oh my freakin’ gawd! This was fun. In any case, here’s the clip:

Sorry for the mistakes. I actually didn’t care because I was having so much fun! And by the way, I played the lead parts with my brand-spankin’-new V-Picks Psycho pick, a 1 3/4″ wide, 5.85 mm thick monster of a pick. I’m in tone heaven right now! You just gotta check this pick out!

And I almost forgot! I just can’t believe who incredibly awesome these Wyres strings sound and play. They’re so pliable, so resonant, and they sustain so well that they send my inspiration through the roof! Like the Psycho pick, I just can’t enough of these absolutely wonderful strings!

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