Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘picks’

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!

Read Full Post »

Gear-aholic. Tone Freak. Gear Maniac. At least that is what I have been called. I like to think of myself as a “Tone Crusader.”

I comb the ethers in search of implements to try to catch the unicorn called “Tone.” And since tone has so many faces, I need different kinds tools to help me catch the unicorn.  Thus, I have an arsenal of axes, both custom and commonly available; a bank of sound amplification devices to announce my presence with special foot pedals to alter my sound to affect a different response.

I spend hours upon hours developing and honing my skills, and learning how to most effectively use my tools. I am a warrior who must constantly be at the ready to perform.

And like the Crusaders of old, my quest for the tone unicorn is a life-long pursuit that has been fraught with both times of extreme joy and with days of dark dispair. But despite its ups and downs, I cannot even begin to imagine abandoning this pursuit! I’ve seen the unicorn! I have even come close to touching it! And until I do touch it, I will never give up. Never!!!

I fully realize that I may go to my grave without ever catching the unicorn. But it is not the goal that matters to me in any case; it is the journey that matters.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Every once in awhile, I contribute blog entries to JemSite, the largest Ibanez gear site with over 750,000 members. It’s an old board. With this installment, I talk about the virtues of using a high-end pick. Check out the article!

Read Full Post »

I recently started a friendship with Vinni Smith at V-Picks – what a cool dude! Not only does he make great picks, but that man can make an axe sing! Anyway, I was e-mailing him this evening about how his “The Snake” pickup has changed my life, and it got me to thinking about specific pieces of gear that have had a drastic effect on how I approach the guitar. I’ll share them here in kind of a loose chronology:

1. The Kyser Capo

Yeah, lots of people call ’em “cheaters,” but screw ’em. I couldn’t play lots of songs without one. But the Kyser capo in particular really changed my approach, especially after I saw James Taylor playing with one. For years, I used a standard nylon strap type of capo that just basically stayed in place. But then I saw JT playing with a Kyser. I always wondered how he did his mid-song key changes. I used to think he just changed his hand position and played barre chords. But I’ll be damned if he didn’t just slide the capo up, then just played open chords in another key. That was it! I was sold.

2. Ovation Celebrity Deluxe

After my beloved “Betsy” (a Yamaha FG-335 acoustic) broke in a terrible fall, I immediately went in search of a new guitar. I played all sorts in this used gear store and came across this gorgeous sunset burst Ovation. I wasn’t much of an Ovation fan – thought they were really tinny sounding. But when I played this one, it had a much deeper sound than the Ovations I’d played up to that point, and it was a shallow body, no less. When I plugged it into an amp, it sounded even better! That guitar got me into amplified sound. So of course, in addition to buying the guitar, I also got a small Roland 25 Watt practice amp. What a life changer that was.

3. Fender Hot Rod Deluxe

This was my very first tube amp, and an amp that I still use because of how good it sounds… er… I’ve had some modifications done to it, but nevertheless, being my first tube amp, it exposed me to a whole new world of tonal possibilities. Up to that point, I’d played only solid state amps from a Roland JC-12o to a Line 6 Flextone III to a Roland Cube 60 (which I still have – it’s an awesome amp). The Hot Rod showed me the wonders and beauty of tube amp distortion which is nothing like what you get with solid state amps.

4. Ibanez Tube Screamer

There are overdrive boxes, and there are overdrive boxes. But the Tube Screamer is THE classic overdrive box, and the oldest pedal on my board. I’ve of course fallen in love with other OD’s like the Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire, but the Tube Screamer had a real huge effect on how I looked at tone and established what pleases me the most with respect to breakup. It’s a great pedal (though I’m really psyched about testing the Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2).

5. Blizzard Pearl Fender 60th Diamond Anniversary Stratocaster

I love that classic, vintage sound, and this guitar delivered it from the moment I played it. Yeah, it’s made in Mexico, it cost me less than $400 new, but I chose it over Strats five times its price. Why? Because it kicked the shit out of the other guitars. It was THE guitar that convinced me that it’s not the price you pay but the tone you produce that matters. Since I’ve gotten her, I play “Pearl” every day. She’s the first guitar I go to when working on a new song. What a wonderful instrument.

6. Saint Guitar Company “Baby Blue” Benchmark

This isn’t my guitar, and I no longer have it in my studio, but this was the very first guitar that was made to my personal specifications. There is nothing like playing a guitar that’s made to order. The experience is surreal, and started me down this path of playing a custom guitar. Adam’s going to be building me one in the next few months – I’m keeping that one. 🙂

7. Reason Amps SM25 Combo

Even though I love my Hot Rod, the SM25 marks a time when I’ve gotten super-serious about my tone. I’d played a bunch of amps, but this amp showed me that sometimes you do have to pay to get stellar tone – and it’s worth every penny. Lots of manufacturers have created amps that run their channels in series, but I haven’t come across one amp yet that does it as well as Obeid Kahn and Anthony Bonadio. They’ve come up with an amp, cab, and speaker combo that’s like nothing I’ve played before – and I’ve played some awesome amps.

8. Creation Audio Labs Mk.4.23 Clean Boost

I used to think clean boosts were just to help punch a solo through the mix. I didn’t know that they could be used to slam the pre-amps of a tube amp to produce super-overdrive in an amp that no distortion or overdrive pedal can give you. But this one’s very special in that it adds no tonal artifacts of its own – it’s uncanny. What it does is boost the natural sound of your guitar, and when slamming the front-end of amp, gives you the true overdriven tone of your amp. This is a piece of gear that I cannot do without any longer, and it now has a permanent place on my board.

9. Red Bear Picks

I never thought I’d buy a handmade pick, nor pay $20 for one no less. But Red Bear Trading TortisTM picks truly changed my life. I now use Red Bears exclusively for playing acoustic guitar. They sound great with electric as well – I’ll get to that below when I talk about V-Picks – but no pick I’ve ever played has made my Ovation sound so good. These picks look and feel like natural tortoise shell, but they’re made from a polymer of milk protein. No matter, they’re awesome picks!

10. Aracom Amps RoxBox 22 Watt (soon to be released)

This diminutive amp oozes 6V6 goodness. It’s still kind of in the prototype phase so I can’t really write too much about it, but I think my friend Jeff Aragaki has hit a real sweet spot with this amp. Get this: It’s hand-wired, though it uses a solid state rectifier, and it costs less than $1000! The profound thing about this is you can indeed get boutique caliber gear at a great price. But for me personally, this amp is the very first boutique amp I’m buying. Oh, I’ll eventually get the Reason SM25 to run in parallel with this one, 🙂 but this amp is special because it’s the first boutique amp I will ever have owned.

11. V-Picks “The Snake”

As I mentioned above, I’ve befriended Vinni Smith, and I just dig the dude! He knows so much about guitar, and we’ve shared a lot of the same experiences, and love the same kind of music (his favorite guitar solo is the lead break in the middel of Frampton’s Do You Feel Like We Do – my favorite as well). When we first met, Vinni sent me a large sample of his picks, which I compared head-to-head with my Red Bear picks. Of course, I love my Red Bear Classic B-style Heavy, but when I played the comparable V-Picks Standard on my electric guitars, I just couldn’t believe this sound and action I was getting! So I decided to use my Red Bears for acoustic – as I said, nothing sounds better than a Red Bear on acoustic. But for electric, it was going to be V-Picks all the way. Then during a conversation we were having a couple of weeks ago, Vinni told me he’d send me his Snake picks. These are a whopping 4.1 mm thick, with a different bevel than his others. Since I’ve gotten them, I’m never going to use anything on electric guitar than the Snake! I use the rounded for a smoother, fatter tone, and use the pointy for bright attack tones – especially when I’m doing stuff on the bridge pickup! These two picks have totally changed my approach to playing electric. Thick picks in general did that, but these are the thickest I’ve played, and they absolutely ROCK THE HOUSE!

12. May 30, 2010 – I know, a bit late on the uptake here with this one, but life-changing nonetheless, and that is my Aracom Power Rox PRX150-Pro attenuator. This is the first attenuator that I’ve used that truly stays transparent down to bedroom levels. It is the only attenuator that accurately gives me my cranked up tone at low volume levels, and it is absolutely wonderful! I know there are others out there, but knowing that they’re modeled after existing attenuator designs that I know don’t sound very good at low volume levels, it was a no-brainer for me to choose this one. As Doug Doppler said to me in a recent visit to his home, “This thing has saved my ears!” Even Joe Satriani uses one of these units and loves it! That’s how good it is!

Okay, that’s it for me… Anyone care to share what gear has changed their lives?

Read Full Post »

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!

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

V-Picks Medium Rounded and Medium Pointed Picks

Summary: Super-fast, super-responsive plectrums that will take your guitar playing to another level!

Pros: Whether you play with pointy or rounded corners, these picks will give you more technical accuracy, and sweeter tone than you can imagine!

Cons: None.

Price: $4.00 ea

Specs:

  • Hand-ground and hand-buffed
  • Various thicknesses available

Tone Bone Rating: 5.0 – Like Red Bear picks, once you play with picks like these, you’ll never go back to your old picks.

Okay, I’m sold. V-Picks are absolutely awesome! Yeah, I’m a Red Bear lover, but I love these equally, but for kind of different reasons and applications. For acoustic, my Red Bears absolutely rule. I couldn’t wait to get home to do yet another comparison test, and for flatpicking and strumming on an acoustic, my Red Bears (Style B Medium and Heavy), completely did it for me. They produce rich and warm tones, and chime like I’ve never heard from my guitar. They really are a strummer’s dream come true. But for all-around electric playing, V-Picks, especially the medium sized pointed and rounded picks, just make my heart sing! Not that the Red Bears sound bad on electric- they don’t. But there’s something about the brighter tones the V-Picks produce compared to the natural, warm tone of the Red Bears, that sound much more pleasing to me on electric guitar. Of course, this all boils down to personal preference as I mentioned in my previous article from earlier today.

So what’s the big deal? It’s all in the sound, baby! And to demonstrate, I created a sound sample. In the sample, I play a scale in E major starting on the 3rd string on the 9th fret. The first clip is with the Dunlop Tortex Medium (Orange), to provide a reference point. The second clip is played with the V-Picks Medium Rounded, and the third clip is played with V-Picks Medium Pointed.

If you listen carefully, the difference in how the clips sound is subtle, but important. With the Tortex, there is actually a very slight delay between when a string is struck and when sound is produced. It kind of screwed me up when I moved to the medium rounded, but the thing to notice there is that the tone is thicker and much more well-rounded. In the third clip, I moved to the pointed pick. I got the same bright tone that the Tortex produced, but the tone is much smoother and more refined and defined.

Another huge difference in playing the three scales was that with the Tortex, I didn’t feel like I had much control. Even though I stayed on tempo (I had a metronome set at 120bps that I was playing to), I no longer felt confident with that pick. On the other hand, with the V-Picks picks, I felt like I was in total control, and in fact, felt like I could go A LOT faster!

I could write more, but why? The sound bite says it all! And no, I didn’t purposely play bad with the Tortex. In fact, if anything, I tried to be as accurate as possible with the Tortex so I could give a fair representation. I was even a bit sloppy with the second clip, using the medium rounded, but the tone was so much smoother than the Tortex, despite my technical mistakes.

My days of buying bags of cheap-ass picks are over, folks! With my V-Picks and Red Bears, I’m now in tonal heaven! I can’t say enough about these picks, folks! You gotta go out and try them!

Read Full Post »

Red Bear Trading Style B Heavy Pick

v_pick_medium_rounded1

As many may know, after 35+ years of playing, I switched from my favorite picks, medium Dunlop Tortex, to Red Bear picks. Since then, my playing has really taken on a different dimension. I feel a lot more confident with my playing as these thick, natural feeling picks have made me much more accurate, and really bring out the tone of my guitars. It’s truly amazing!

But over the past weekend, my friend Adam Hernandez of Saint Guitar Company, called me up and told me about his friend Vinni Smith, creator of the V-Pick, another high-end pick. In our conversation, he shared that he had told Vinni about my site, and told him to contact me to see if I’d review his picks.

I had heard of V-Picks from people on the various forums I either lurk or participate in, and I was very curious about them, and wondered how they’d compare to my beloved Red Bears. So I beat Vinni to the punch, and contact him, at which point he said he’d send me a few to check out.

I finally got them yesterday. I guess Vinni’s idea of “sending a few” is much different than mine. I was thinking he’d send maybe three or four; instead, he sent me pretty much the spectrum of the picks he makes! What a guy!

Anyway, I was too tired to test them out last night, so I decided to try a few out at a church service I did this morning. I also took my Red Bears to do a head-to-head comparison. Just as expected, these picks had the same effect on me that the Red Bears have. When you’re playing effortlessly, and the strings chime like they’ve never chimed before, it evokes a visceral, almost primitive feeling that takes you to another dimension. That’s what playing with a great pick does for me, at least.

So considering how V-Picks also evoke the same type of emotions in me as my Red Bears, how do I rate them? Well, of course, I have to give them a 5 Tone Bones score. But if you were ask me which are better, I’m going to be completely non-committal and say that it really boils down to personal preference. To me, they both kick ass! But let me take some time to share some of my insights on how they stack up against each other:

Feel

With respect to feel in my hand, both Red Bear and V-Picks feel great. But the big difference for me is that the Red Bears feel – for lack of a better word – natural. They really do feel like natural tortoise shell. Please don’t read this as a negative with respect to a V-Pick. It also feels great. It’s just different.

Tone

For this test, I chose a similarly sized and pointed V-Pick to compare against a Red Bear Style B Heavy pick. With strumming, both picks produced gorgeous, warm and ringing tone. But I could detect a bit more highs out of the V-Pick, which made the tone sound just a tad bit more lively, while a strum with the Red Bear was much more balanced. Both tones were fantastic, though, so no clear winner in this department. However, I did also test out a couple of the really pointy V-Picks that Vinni sent to me, and whoa! These sounded awesome for picking individual strings. They also produced a very bright, almost jangly tone during strumming. Since I didn’t have anything equivalent with a Red Bear, I couldn’t make a comparison, though I imagine the response would be similar.

But here’s a very interesting thing that I found myself inadvertently doing during my little gig this morning. Depending upon the song, I’d use a different pick to elicit different sounds from my acoustic. When I wanted a really bright sound, I’d use the V-Picks pointy. When I wanted a warm, rich strum, I’d use the Red Bear. Something in the middle, I’d use a rounded V-Pick. I don’t know how practical that is with a full band, but it sure worked for me working solo, where it was just me and my acoustic.

And the winner is…

Neither or Both. Er… There is no winner. For me what it boils down to is personal preference. Both picks are awesome-sounding. And based upon my experience this morning, I’m going to start buying both kinds because of the different shades of tones I can get out each. I’ve read some lively discussions comparing these, but frankly, most of the people who contributed to these discussions had played only one kind of either. I’ve had the fortune to play a few styles of both, which explains while I’m very non-committal about declaring a clear winner; because from my point of view, there simply isn’t one with respect to feel and tone.

So I’m going to endorse both picks because they’re both great. But if you’re after advice on which to choose, then choose one based on how it feels. I love the feel of the Red Bear, maybe a tad bit better than the V-Pick. But that doesn’t necessarily make it a better pick, which is why I recommend you play both kinds and make a decision on what feels best for you. I will add that Red Bear doesn’t have a super pointy pick, so if you’re after something like that, then V-Picks is what you’re looking for!

Notice I didn’t mention anything about price. If it boiled down to that, then V-Picks wins hands-down. Most V-Picks cost $4.00, while Red Bears cost $20.00. But be aware that Red Bear picks are rough-cut, then hand shaped, so there’s lot of labor that goes into them, plus you’re dealing with a polymer made from a natural source. On the other hand, V-Picks are molded, then buffed, so the labor is a lot less.

CORRECTION: (2/11/09 )Vinni contacted me about how he makes his picks. Actually only a few are molded, the rest are cut and hand ground. So my bad…

Personally, price of the picks is one topic on this blog where I’ll say that is less important a factor in the decision-making process, which kind of goes against the grain of what GuitarGear.org is all about. The reason I’m de-emphasizing price is because on the grand scale of things, once you’ve spent a few grand on guitars and amps, whether you spend $4 or $20 on a pick is pretty inconsequential. So the decision should rest on how the pick feels and sounds to you.

Finally…

The one thing that V-Picks does have over Red Bear picks, is that because the picks are made from acrylic, Vinni can offer a much greater range of thicknesses with his picks. For instance, he can go all the way down to .5mm. I have one of these and while it flexes like my Dunlop Tortex, it still beats the shit out of it. On the other hand, because of the material, Red Bear picks start at 1.0 mm. But I do have to say that I don’t know for sure if there is a lower limit. It could be there is, but perhaps there’s just not demand for picks thinner than a millimeter. Be that as it may, with either V-Picks are Red Bear, you have a variety of styles to choose from.

Another thing you might consider is durability. V-Picks are acrylic, and that is a VERY hard material. It’s tough to scratch, and from what I could tell, these picks will not wear down very quickly. Red Bear picks on the other hand, do wear down, and as they are made from a natural material, need some special care. You occasionally have to rebuff them. But frankly, it’s something I’d expect from a more expensive pick made from natural material. But if you don’t want to fuss with that kind of stuff, then V-Picks is the answer.

As a special treat, I found a video of Vinni Smith giving a lesson on YouTube. This dude is a BAD-ASS guitar player! Rock on, Vinni!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »