When I started to play all people recommended to me little, stiff picks like the well-known Dunlop Jazz III. So I also used them and loved them for years. At these times I listened a lot to Metal and admired players like Malmsteen and Vai. I played with lots of gain and reverb and the Jazz III cutted well through all effect chains. Even with a massive amount of gain I got a good attack. Over the years I developed (a little) as a player and explored different guitars. I owned an acoustic steel-string and began to play more with dynamics and tone.
And some day I felt not satisfied anymore with the Jazz II!, because they suddenly sounded thin to me. Second I recognized, that they not glided over the strings properly. I think every player knows the problem, when the pick “stops” between to attacks. Meanwhile I know, that the major problem was caused by my bad technique, because I holded the pick very, very hard between my thumb and index and I let a big tip see through. If you learn something from people like Paul Gilbert, then you know, that it’s much more effective to hold the pick in a way, that just a little tip is used to play. Especially alternate picking can be much easier playing this way.
And if you want to play fast, you have to be very, very relaxed with your right hand, because when you hit a string and you are not relaxed the pick will not glide through it.
But in the old days I thought, that the material of the pick matters and not my playing technique. So over the next years I went through a big bunch of different materials and made lots of experiences. I thought, that the harder the pick would be the better it would glide over the strings and that the playing would be more effortlessly.
I bought picks made of the hardest plastic, made of steel and made of stone.
All of them played and sounded differently and all were very hard. All have different advantages and disadvantages. Steel and Stone have the sharpest attack and produce a lot of pick noise. Stone Picks are expensive and can break easily.
To sum up I used a long time very hard stuff.
Then some month ago I watched a video by Paul Gilbert, where he highly recommends the Dunlop Tortex 0.60 Standard pick. It shocked me, because all other great players seem to use very hard and stiff picks. All people before said, that thin picks are for the unexperienced beginners or for rhythm and funk, but I thought: If Paul can play so good (and I am very far away from Paul) with that skinny picks I want to give them a try. And they are cheap. So I ordered them from my favorite online store.
When they arrived I opened the bag and started to play and at first I were really disappointed. They sounded so thin and they were flexible like hell and I packed them in again and went on playing with my expensive V-Pick.
Weeks later I watched again a video of Paul Gilbert, where he explained his picking technique. He plays with a really little tip of the pick, he is moving his picking hand as little as possible and he talked about the scratching of the pick on the string, what he loves. Scratching on the string? I shaked my head rapidly. Scratching means friction and friction should be good for speed? Really, Paul? This was the total opposite of my opinion, that the pick should cause no friction at all on the string.
So I gave the Tortex another try and I worked hard on reproducing Paul’s technique and after a few days I got interesting results:
If you hold the Tortex very tight and using just a little tip like Paul they feel much harder than you would think before. But they are still so flexible, that they not stop at a string.
The rough material of a new Tortex produces the “Scratch”-effect. The friction of the Pick produces a tone just from petting the string very tenderly. The response is amazing. It reminds me more of a bow-response. Before learning guitar I studied violin and this kind of scratching the string reminds me very much on bowing a string-instrument. The advantage is, that you can play very close on the string. With a very hard, slippery and gliding pick you need a strong attack to force the string to vibrate. Otherwise you will have just nothing or just a click. But the material of Tortex can force it with very little and soft movements.
After I realized that I thought: Okay Paul, now I understand it.
Meanwhile I think, that I can play much more musically with this kind of pick: I have a wider dynamic range and it’s much easier to get a tone.. Before with the hard picks I felt like slaying the instrument. Now it’s more like petting.