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Archive for the ‘Red Bear Trading’ Category

Dunlop Ultex Sharp 2.0 mm

Summary: It’s sharp alright; nice and pointy, and it feels great in your hand!

Pros: Like any sharp pick, this pick is accurate. It’s super lightweight, and made of a material takes a lot of pressure to even slightly bend. The pointy end makes pick harmonics a breeze!

Cons: It’s a small nit, but I wish the butt-end were just a bit wider.

Features (from the web site):

Based off of a coveted vintage tortoiseshell pick in our collection, the Ultex Sharp delivers a pick with a rigid body tapering into a thinner and sculpted tip for intense control and speed. The seamless contoured edge surrounds the pick for more playing surfaces and tones. Engineered of Ultex—the Ultex Sharp is virtually indestructible and delivers a crisp tone and quick release attack. Available in .73, .90, 1.0, 1.14, 1.40, and 2.0mm gauges.Price: 50 cents street

Tone Bone Score: 4.75 – Real nice-sounding and nice-playing pick. If you want to step up to a thicker, more rigid pick, but don’t want to shell out for high-end picks, this is a winner!

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m a bit of pick snob. Ever since I started playing with V-Picks and Red Bear picks, I’ve mildly eschewed mainstream picks in favor of the insanely awesome picks those two companies produce. But I have to tell you that I was taken by complete surprise by the Dunlop Ultex Sharp pick! I wasn’t really looking to explore new picks, but a buddy of mine was looking for some Ultex picks at a local store, and offered to buy me a couple. Hell! They were only 50 cents apiece! I carried them around for a couple of days before I actually got to try them; not because I was dubious of them, I just couldn’t find time until this evening to sit down with an axe. Life happens, you know?

Anyway, I slung “Blondie” my trusty Squier Classic Vibe Tele, dug an Ultex out of my pocket, and started to play. Admittedly, I had a bit of trouble playing with the pick at first. Even though it’s slightly thicker than the thinnest pick I play – a Red Bear Tuff-Tone – it’s decidedly narrower in shape; something to which I’m no longer accustomed. But being the hard-headed type, and because I wanted to give the pick a fair shake, as it were, I kept at it, playing scales and riffs to get used to it.

I have to say that I’m really impressed by this pick! First of all, the material feels great in your hand, and like any real good pick, you forget about it. I love the rigidity of the material as well. Contrary to what you might think, a rigid pick actually makes you relax your hand. I know, it’s counterinuitive, but any player that plays a rigid pick will attest to this.

I spent quite a bit of time playing with this pick, and it’s a fast pick, though what I really missed was how my high-end picks really glide over the strings, like they’re lubricated. The Ultex material is pretty smooth, but there is a difference. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s bad in the slightest; it just has a different feel on the strings.

Most importantly though, the Ultex Sharp produces a nice, bright tone. That’s what I really dig about this pick! Part of it is due to it being rigid, but the other part is because of the pointy end. It really makes the strings snap in a very nice way!

Will the Ultex supplant my V-Picks and Red Bear picks? Probably not, but I will be using it for sure. It’s not even a small wonder why these picks are so popular among guitarists. They’re great playing and sounding picks at an insanely cheap price. I’m sold! Buy a few, and you’ll see for yourself!

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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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Just got home from my weekly gig at the restaurant where I was really able to put the Tuff-Tone Tri-Tip through its paces. I’ve never played with a Tri-Tip shaped pick, let alone gigged with a Tuff-Tone, so it promised to be interesting – especially if I didn’t like the pick – because like a dummy, I forgot to bring a spare! Fortunately, I didn’t need a spare. The Tuff-Tone worked out great!

Admittedly, I was a little nervous, not because of the Tuff-Tone material itself but because it’s a lot thinner than what I’m used to playing. If you’ve been following my blog, you’d know I’ve been using a V-Picks Snake and also a super-thick prototype Red Bear Tortis as of late. The Snake is 4.1 mm thick and the Red Bear is 4 mm. I believe the Tuff-Tones are only 1.75 mm thick. I really didn’t know if I could make a clean adjustment. All my nervousness was washed away within a few bars of the first song I played. The pick felt so natural in my fingers, I just played without thinking. Whew! That was a relief!

So how did it perform? Practically flawlessly. The Tuff-Tones feel a lot more rigid and dense than their Tortis counterparts, but the material seems to weigh much lighter. That perception could be due to having played with thick, weighty picks. But to be perfectly honest, I really loved playing with this Tuff-Tone. As I mentioned above, it felt very natural in my fingers, and all the accuracy that I’ve come to expect from rigid picks was there from the get go.

Dave mentioned that in blind tests there was no difference between the tones of the Tuff-Tones and Tortis picks produce. But I noticed a definite difference. The Tuff-Tone produces a much brighter, jangly tone than the Tortis picks. Tortis picks, on the other hand, produce a smoother, more evenly balanced tone. Neither is better than the other; they’re just different. For me, when I want a brighter tone, I’ll use a Tuff-Tone. But when I want a fatter tone, I’ll use a Tortis.

I played all sorts of tunes tonight, ranging from full-on strum songs to songs that combined strummed chords and single note runs. I could be as expressive as I wanted with this pick, and that’s really the test. Lighten up your grip and let the pick glide, and the tone it produces is marvelously bright and ringy. Dig in and be greeted with a nice snappy tone. Want to do some quick alternate picking runs? No sweat!

This is a great pick, people, and a pick I highly recommend trying out and adding to your arsenal! I know that kind of goes against the common thought of using one pick for everything, but I’ve come to realize that using different picks will produce different kinds of tones, and different “moods.” It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m now a multi-pick player.

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Red Bear Style "C"

Red Bear Style "C"

Imagine a pick shaped like the one to the left, but at 4 mm thick! That’s the Super Thick Gypsy Jazz Pick!

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with Dave Skowron, maker of Red Bear Trading picks, and said, “You know Dave, I just dig this Gypsy Jazz thick pick that I just bought. But as you know, for electrics, I play with a V-Picks Snake because I love the 4.1 mm thickness.” As background, I had just purchased a standard GJ thickness to replace the Heavy that I gave to a friend so she could try it out. I continued, “Do you have anything that is even close to that thickness? I would love to have that kind of thickness for playing acoustic.”

Dave replied, “Yeah, I have a sheet of the Tortis material that is pretty close to that thickness at about 4 mm. I did something even thicker for a guy once.”

“No, no any thicker, Dave, and I think it would be too much. But if you have a 4 mm thick pick, I’m all over it!”

“Okay, I’ll make up a prototype and send it to you to evaluate.”

All I can say after playing with “the prototype” for a couple of days is I hope that pick goes out of prototype because it is an incredible pick! You know how I love the feel and sound of Tortis, especially on acoustic guitar. In fact, I love the sound of Tortis with acoustic guitar that I won’t play any other type of pick on my acoustic. On electric, I dig my V-Picks Snake for its speed, tone, and thickness. Put all that together in one pick, and what you’ve got is a “Super Pick!”

The thicker you go with picks, the deeper and richer the sound. It’s not that you lose the highs; you don’t. It’s just that the thicker picks also bring out the lows, so what you get in a nice, even tonal presentation. That’s why I dig thick picks! On top of that, there is something magical with the way a Tortis pick interacts with an acoustic guitar’s strings. With me at least, playing a Tortis pick on acoustic evokes a certain visceral feeling that makes me want to close my eyes and just soak up all the tonal goodness. Not only that, Tortis, being made of a natural material, just feels natural. It’s the perfect complement for playing acoustic guitar!

So what about this super-thick Gyspy Jazz gauge? OMG!!! I am in guitar-playing heaven with this pick! It has the thickness of my beloved V-Picks snake, but all the feel and tone that I’ve come to love with my Tortis picks! To just call it “awesome” would be a complete understatement.

I first played the “Super Thick” last Friday at a gig that was primarily acoustic guitar. It started with playing some dinner entertainment music before a re-enactment of Christ’s passion. I was playing my Ovation Celebrity directly into a Genz-Benz 100 Watt upright. When I struck the first chord of the opening song. I actually had to pause and let the chord just ring and hang in the air. It was quiet enough in the room where I was playing that I could hear my guitar, as the amp was there for simple sound reinforcement. I thought my original GJ as awesome at 2.3 mm. What this pick did to the natural tone of my guitar was otherwordly!

I spent most of the day yesterday playing guitar, much to the chagrin of my wife! It feels so incredible!

In any case, if you’re interested in getting one of these, contact Dave Skowron at Red Bear Trading. I’m sure he’ll make one for you. Mind you, this thickness of pick won’t be cheap, but it’ll be well worth the investment!

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! If I could go higher, I would with this rating. But this pick gets my highest rating!

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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!

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Picks

Summary:Made from an entirely new pick material, Tuff-Tone picks provide the same, high-quality sound you expect from Red Bear picks, but are much more durable than standard Tortis picks.

Pros: Get ’em wet, put ’em in your pocket with all your keys and change, put ’em in the washer and dryer. They won’t break or warp.

Cons: None.

Price: $10 direct from Red Bear Trading

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – The totally unique sound and feel of a Tuff-Tone pick makes it a winner in my book.

I love it when I get gear in the mail, and I especially love it when it’s a padded envelope from Red Bear Trading. I came home early from work yesterday afternoon to get ready to go to a gig in the early evening, and much to my extreme surprise and pleasure, a padded envelope from Red Bear Trading what waiting for me on the kitchen table. I immediately opened the envelope, poured out the contents into my hand and out dropped three pick packages: Two Tuff-Tone picks (a Tri-Tip and B-Style – both heavy gauge), and a super-super thick C Style Tortis measuring 4mm. I’ll be covering the Tortis in another review, so I’ll just mention it here.

I’ve been anticipating receiving these Tuff-Tone picks ever since I spoke to Dave Skowron – maker of Red Bear Picks – about them a few weeks ago, after I saw the announcement on his site. Rather than have me paraphrase the announcement, here’s an excerpt:

After a few years of research and development we have finally come up with a material which is an alternative to our standard pick material. The requirements we sought for this new line of picks were simple – deliver the same great tone and have the same comfortable feel as or regular picks while possessing unbeatable strength and warp-resistance. We feel that we have found that material. After months of beta-testing by some of the industry’s top players, we are ready to roll out the new line. The tone and feel have been confirmed in our tests. These picks are as good sounding as our standard line. They last and last, and are basically worry-free. In blind tests they were indiscernible from our standard line.

I have to disagree with Dave on the last line of the paragraph. To me at least, they aren’t indiscernible from the standard line. They’re similar in tonal response, in that they produce sound very quickly, but they are resoundingly not the same. I’ll get into more detail about this in just a bit. Where they are indiscernible is in their build quality. One of the things that has always impressed me about Red Bear picks is Dave’s attention to detail with respect to the build quality of his picks. To date, I have never received a single pick from Red Bear with any flaws. The bevels have always been perfect. Dave takes quality seriously, and all the picks I’ve had and evaluated have been flawless…

What about the sound?

In a word, awesome! But as I mentioned above, Tuff-Tones aren’t tonally indiscernible from the standard Tortis picks. Frankly, to me at least, they have a sound all their own. The material is much harder than Tortis, and to me sound just a bit brigher tonally. Or maybe I shouldn’t say brighter. The tone they produce is much more “chimey.” They produce the same rich tone you’d expect from standard Tortis, but I believe they bring out the high frequency tones much more than Tortis picks. If I were to make a comparison, tonally they sit right in the middle between a standard Tortis Heavy and a V-Picks heavy; the V-Picks heavy being the bright side.

But even then, these picks are tonally distinct, and no recording is going to capture the sound properly. I actually tried this morning, and it just didn’t work, probably due to my microphones, which double as stage mics, so the EQ tends to stay in the midrange. I could hear the differences in my amp, but just couldn’t capture the sound – sorry. You’ll have to buy a couple to see what I’m talking about. 🙂 Which you should – these picks rock!

How they feel…

Make no bones about it; not only are they tonally distinct they have a totally unique feel. Unlike Tortis or V-Picks picks, these aren’t glossy at all. They have a flat finish, and a rougher, almost tackier feel. But they feel so good! When I first held one of the Tuff-Tones I got, I was a little doubtful about them because of how they felt. I was wondering if they’d be slower. I’ve been so used to playing gloss-finish picks, that these were like sandpaper by comparison (mind you, that’s just flowery language – they actually have a smooth finish). But all my concerns were laid to rest when I started to play. Like Tortis and V-Picks picks, they just glide across the strings. I really love how they feel!

Even at the heavy gauge, which is 1.7mm, these have got to be the most rigid picks I’ve ever played. I love that about these picks. They really don’t give, so they give you immediate tactile feedback while you’re playing.

Overall Impressions

Talk about being torn! I love these picks. I kind of lean towards brighter tone, and these totally give it to me. But I also love the super-rich tones of my Tortis picks, and the chimey tones that my V-Picks Snake gives me. I’m chuckling right now because I would have never thought I’d look at a pick as a tone-shaping device. Most people just use a single pick – I was the same until I discovered the virtues of using high-end picks. But the thing with high-end picks is that they each bring something different to the table with respect to tone and feel, helping you dial in just the right kind of tone for the song you’re playing. I now look at picks much like a painter looks at brushes. I now have yet another brush to add to my collection of tone “brushes.”

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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!

Red Bear Trading Style B Heavy Pick

Red Bear B Style Gypsy Jazz Gauge Pick

Summary: At 3mm, this is the thickest gauge that Red Bear offers (though you can get thicker ones by special order).

Pros: All the tactile goodness of a Tortis pick, but with real beef. At this gauge the speed bevel is very pronounced, and that is a good thing!

Cons: Cons? What cons? None.

Price: $30

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – This is my favorite Red Bear pick yet!

I love both Red Bear and V-Picks picks so much, that I give them away – and I gave my last Red Bear pick away last Tuesday to my friend and fellow musician Christy Martin of “Four Shillings Short,” a very long-lived Celtic band. It was great to see her reaction to how good my B Heavy felt to her! But that left me with no Red Bear!

As work has a tendency to make forget things, I was on my way to my weekly gig today when I realized that I didn’t have a pick! Luckily, my gig was a few minutes away from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, so I resolved to go to the shop and pick up a new Red Bear. Once I entered the store, I went right to the pick case, and asked the sales guy to pull out the Red Bear tray. I was all set to get my normal B Heavy, when I noticed a Red Bear pick that I hadn’t seen before, a B-GJ! The sales guy said that the GJ stood for “Gypsy Jazz.” Well, of course I had to take it out of its pouch, and feel it. Mistake! The damn thing was beefy – nice and beefy, just how I like my picks.

I asked to try it out, and picked up a Martin dreadnought. From the very first strum, I knew this was the pick for me. But I also compared it to my beloved B Heavy, and there was just no comparison! I really loved the B Heavy, but since I’ve been playing with the V-Picks Snake on electric, I’ve developed a real penchant for super-thick picks, and at 3mm, this B-GJ felt just too good to pass up. So I returned to the case, pulled out my bank card, bought the pick, and went to my gig.

All I can say is that tonally, this had to be the best gig I’ve had in years! At this particular gig, I play solo with just me singing and accompanying myself with acoustic guitar and piano. I think I only touched the piano four times tonight! I was loving playing with this pick!

First off, as I’ve mentioned in previous articles about thick picks, you actually hold them lighter, which relaxes your hand muscles; thus you play faster. But from tone standpoint, I was in total heaven!

As expected, light strumming with the B-GJ produces wonderful, chimey and ringy tones. But the big difference I found between my old B-Heavy and B-GJ was when I dug into the bottom strings with the pick while simultaneously partially palm muting on the saddle of my guitar. What that usually produces is a subdued low-freq boomy kind of sound. With the GJ, it produced that tone, but it was much more pronounced. It was freakin’ awesome.

Moreover, I could ellicit all sorts of different tones by changing the angle of the pick. I could do that pretty well with the B-Heavy, but the tone was so much more full and rich with the B-GJ! I was really at my creative best tonight. A customer, who said he was also a guitarist, walked up to me at the end of his meal, and remarked how good my guitar sounded, and that it sounded nothing like an Ovation. I told him it was the pick, and let him hold it. “You could do all that with this pick? Damn! I gotta me one of these.”

Folks, this is just a dynamite pick, and it’s worth every penny of the $30 you pay for it retail (though it’s $5 cheaper if you buy direct from Red Bear Trading). For what this pick does for my acoustic tone, I just can’t think of using any other kind of pick for playing my Ovation!

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Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

Red Bear Trading Tuff-Tone Classic H

I occasionally browse Red Bear Trading’s web site to see if Dave Skowron has come up with anything new, and much to my surprise, he has! Red Bear has come up with a new pick line called the Tuff-Tone line that apparently sound just as good as his originals. But the big difference is that these picks are made of a material that is much more durable than the Tortis material of the original Red Bear picks! Apparently, they also sound just as good as the originals. Could this be a death knell for Tortis? I doubt it. Dave’s Tortis picks are the absolute bomb, and the natural feel of the Tortis when you’re playing is absolutely to die for!

In any case, here’s an excerpt from the Tuff-Tone web page:

Are they tough enough? You bet. These picks aren’t going to warp or break on you anytime soon. They will pick up some discoloration from your guitar strings. When this happens, simply wash them with soap and water. Go ahead and run them through the washer and dryer! No problem! Keep them in your pocket full of change – see if we care! These picks are really tough!

Not only are the tougher, they cost half the price of a regular Red Bear pick at $10.00! This is something I’m going to have to check out – and soon! For more information, check out the Tuff-Tone information page at Red Bear Trading!

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