Posts Tagged ‘Red Bear Trading’

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 Style B Heavy Pick

Red Bear Trading Style B Heavy Pick

Red Bear Trading Style B Heavy Pick

Summary: Thick, meaty hand-made pick from Red Bear Trading. You might think a pick doesn’t really matter until you play one of these picks. They’re totally awesome!

Pros: Thick and tactile, this heavy pick gives you instance response as soon as you strike a string. Chords seem to ring out better. Don’t be fooled by the thickness – the beveling makes this pick glide across the strings!

Cons: None

Price: $20

Okay, I admit it, I am now a true believer in hand-made picks! I wrote a review about Red Bear picks a few weeks ago. In the article I asked, “Does a pick really make that much of a difference?” After nearly a month playing with a Style B Medium, and now a Style B Heavy, I can undeniably say that it makes all the difference in the world! In this short span of time, I’ve become a better player, and while I attribute that to quite a bit of practice, I have to attribute a lot of my recent improvements in both tone and attack to the pick I’ve been using. I don’t say this lightly: These picks have totally changed my life with respect to my guitar playing!

When you first hold one of these picks, your first reaction is: Damn! This thing is thick! And while its smooth texture kind of sticks to your skin, it absolutely glides over your strings. And because of its thickness, it produces sound much faster than conventional nylon picks that need to be before they make a sound. The sound the picks produce is also much more crisp.

For instance, playing my Ovation acoustic/electric, I’ve never heard it ring the way it rings – and it’s because of the pick. I’ve had that guitar for over 15 years now, and it quite frankly has never sounded this good! It always sounded awesome to me because of its thick tone. But when I strum it with one of these picks, it now has a gorgeous chime! F-in’ A!

At first blush, you might think that paying $20 for a pick is just way too much. But how much would you pay for good tone? We guitarists spend literally thousands on guitars and amps and racks and pedals and other accessories every year! But most of us tend to play them with inferior plectrums, never knowing what we’re missing by making a relatively small investment compared to the vast sums we spend on other gear. Sure, our standard picks are cheap, and it’s okay to lose them, but there is absolutely NOTHING that compares to the tone you can produce with a hand-made pick. And once you play with a great pick, you’ll never go back to the cheapo picks again.

To be honest and fair, Red Bear is not the only one who makes handmade picks. But Dave is the only plectrum maker who uses TortisTM, a polymer made from animal protein that looks and feels EXACTLY like tortoise shell. Dave has mastered cutting and shaping of the material, something no one else who has tried to work with it has been able to do.

What’s so special about this material? If you speak with people who have played with tortoise shell picks, they’ll tell you about how good it feels to play with one. But by the same token, to play with tortoise shell means that a sea turtle had to be sacrificed to create the pick. On the other hand, Tortis feels like real tortoise shell. In fact, when Dave first sent out his first prototypes, people told him he was full of shit when he said the picks weren’t tortoise shell! That’s how natural these feel!

As I mentioned in the previous article, Dweezil Zappa swears by these! And for good reason. The sound they produce, and how they make your playing much more precise is an absolute inspiration! For more info, and to order them, go to Red Bear Trading!

If you live in the SF Bay Area, and especially near Palo Alto, you can also get them at Gryphon Stringed Instruments.

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Red Bear Style B Heavy with Speed Bevel

Red Bear Style B Heavy with Speed Bevel

Does a pick really make a difference? For years, I’ve read about guitarists using custom picks made from tortoise shell or other special materials, seen all the ads from handmade pick manufacturers, and eschewed even the thought of getting one of them because I just couldn’t justify spending up to $40 for a freakin’ guitar pick! For instance, when I’d see an ad for one of these, I’d ask myself, Who in their right f’-in mind would get one of these? It’s just a gimmick – it’s all bull! It don’t make a damn bit of difference.

I couldn’t be more wrong. Playing with a great, handmade pick makes a difference; a HUGE difference in how you play and how you sound.

For the last 30 years, I’ve been using medium Dunlop Tortex picks – the orange ones. They’re cheap, and they get the job done. They’re strewn all over my studio, in my pockets, in my laundry – all over the place. And I don’t care if they break, scratch or if I lose them. They’re replaceable and of little consequence. Not any longer. Once I started playing with a Red Bear pick, I’m never going back to cheap picks unless it’s absolutely necessary (for instance, if I happen to break a good pick and need to get another).

So what’s the story? A good friend of mine was so very kind, and gave me a gift certificate for Christmas to a great guitar store in Palo Alto, CA called Gryphon Stringed Instruments. It’s a shop that specializes in acoustic guitars, but has all sorts of stuff, like parts. It just so happened that I needed to replace the pickup selector switch on my Epiphone Explorer, and as luck would have it, Gryphon had the switch in stock – what better way to spend at least part of my gift certificate?!! So I drove down to Gryphon, got the switch, then started looking at other stuff to spend on my gift certificate.

I got a few packs of strings for both electric and acoustic, and started looking at picks. It then occurred to me that they might have handmade picks. So I asked the fellow behind the counter if they had any, and he said they carried Red Bear picks. Then I asked the operative question, “I’ve read about handmade picks in the guitar rags, but like most people, don’t see what’s so special about them. So what’s so special?” He simply replied, “Once you play with a great pick, you won’t want to play with the cheap ones any longer. It’s hard to explain. They feel so much better, and you just play better with a great pick.”

Folks, that wasn’t a selling job. The look on the guy’s face said it all. But still, I was a bit incredulous, and he must’ve seen the look of disbelief on my face, so he said, “You’re welcome to try one out on any of our guitars. You’ll see the difference.” So I picked out a shape and bevel that I liked, grabbed mid-range Martin off the rack, sat down on a stool, and went through an instant transformation to complete and utter bliss! The pick felt so great in my fingers, and it glided smoothly over the strings. The sound that was produced was so milky smooth, I couldn’t believe my ears!

I thought it had a lot to do with the guitar – it was a nice one. But, being the good guitar gear tester and gear freakomaniac, I always have picks in my pocket, so I did an A/B test. With my standard Tortex, the guitar still sounded good, but not nearly as good with the Red Bear striking its strings. It was uncanny, to say the least! I was dumbfounded, and completely awestruck that a pick – a pick, for God’s sake – could make a guitar sound so good! I must’ve been grinning when I returned to the counter because the guy just said, “See what I mean?” I replied, “Oh yeah… I knew this was something special when strummed with the pick the first time. And doing those lead riffs was effortless.” The sales guy just grinned…

Needless to say, I had to have one, so I bought two, at $20 apiece. It was so well worth it! I had a gig last night and was able to use my new Red Bear, and was in heaven ALL NIGHT LONG! I was so enamored with how my acoustic sounded, that I played as many songs as I could with the pick, and played with the pick on songs I’d normally fingerpick.

So let me attempt to describe what it’s like to play with a great pick. First of all, it just feels great. It doesn’t slip. Next, handmade picks are thick. They don’t flex at all, but they glide over the strings so easily that it makes it easy to play – almost too easy. And because of their thickness, they force you to hold them lightly, and the expression you can get in your playing dynamics by holding the pick looser or tighter is nothing short of amazing. A great pick also makes the strings ring much better.

But the most important thing is that all those things together make it inspiring to play, bringing you into that other-worldly state of pure expression. It’s amazing that a pick can do that, but I’m now a believer. I won’t be going back to cheap picks – EVER.

Check out the Red Bear site for more information!

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!

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