Take your pick (plectrum comparisons)

Recently I received a gift pack of TUSQ guitar plectrums from the kind people at Graph Tech. The TUSQ plectrums are made using the same technology/material that Graph Tech has been applying to its saddles and bridges for almost 30 years. This man-made ivory improves the harmonics, vibration control and tone when used in the nut and/or bridge. So I was curious what that would mean when the same material was applied to the guitar plectrum.

The best way I could test this was to play repetitive guitar using a series of different plectrums. Luckily for me I have a lot of unused plectrums to test with. The guitar plectrums I had on hand to test with were:

It was time for a Pick-off! Here’s how each plectrum compared.

iTunes card plectrums made with Pickmaster

The beauty of the Pickmaster plectrums is that they are as thick or thin as the card you decide to cut into plectrums. I chose an iTunes card because that’s what I had on hand. The iTunes card is rather thick and I found it the most difficult to manage when it came to picking. If you find plectrums slip in your hands, a possible advantage of these cards is you may end up with the sticky residue on the back of the plectrum from the ‘reveal your code’ section of the iTunes card. As far as positives go though, that’s pretty weak. I found the tone to be rather ‘tinny’ as well when using this plectrum.

Taylor Guitars plectrums

I picked these plectrums up when I visited the Taylor Guitar factory for one of their tours (which you simply must do if you’re in the San Diego area). The plectrums are a standard plectrum shape and are easy to play. The flexibility of the plectrum is great and I found them easy to play with over a long period of time. I didn’t notice any sparkling tone moments with this plectrum, but it certainly didn’t fall flat in that department either.

Dunlop Tortex standard plectrums

I’ve always loved these plectrums to be honest. Their material and texture make them easy to hold and play with. I rarley experience slippage with these plectrums and I find the tone they generate to be great. As I played my way through the plectrums (I did play in the order that I’m now writing) these quickly rose to the top. The Tortex plectrum just sounds great and plays brilliantly.

Grover Allman nylon plectrums

I received these plectrums free with a guitar pedal purchase I made and I have to say I’m still amazed at how long they last. The texture is great on these plectrums and that makes them easy to play for extended periods of time. I found that I preferred the tone coming from my guitar playing when I used this plectrum. There was a reduced ‘high end’ noise to my guitar playing that I liked. For a thicker plectrum there is still some great flexibility in these plectrums. I look forward to trying the Grover Allman custom plectrums to be honest. That’s on my wish list for this year.

Dunlop nylon standard plectrums

This is another plectrum from the Dunlop family. These plectrums are similar to the style of the Grover Allman plectrums. I found the tone to be slightly more neutral with the Dunlop nylon plectrum. There was a greater balance between the highs and the lows in the picking when playing both distorted and acoustic styles (more on that later). This plectrum had moved to the top of my list.

TUSQ plectrums

The first thing I noticed about the TUSQ plectrums was the sound they made when I dropped them onto my table top. It’s a difficult thing to explain, but you’re looking at a plectrum that looks like your average ‘plastic’ guitar plectrum, but the sound you hear when it hits a solid surface (marble or glass for example) is similar to the sound a small piece of metal might make. I did have fears that the sturdiness of the plectrum would make it near impossible to use. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the plectrum (no matter the gauge) was to use. The plectrum looks slippery, but it is easy to hold and even with my clumsy picking technique the plectrum was easy to keep in position. The most important thing (which is difficult to demonstrate in an article like this) is the tone. I found myself critiquing the tone of my playing as I never had before. There is a small noticeable difference that I don’t believe I captured when recording, but when you are playing and listening to yourself you can hear the highs and the lows being picked up with greater clarity when using these plectrums.

I’m incredibly glad I received these. I love what they’ve done for my guitar playing already.

Summary

As I mentioned, I found it difficult to demonstrate the tone differences in a recording, but I tried anyway. I played the same two tunes for each plectrum and will share with you now the distorted track and the acoustic track using the Dunlop nylon plectrum and the TUSQ plectrum (in that order both times). I loved the tone with both these plectrums, but I feel you can still hear small differences with each. If you like to have greater clarity in the lower notes I feel the Dunlop nylon plectrums are awesome. For me though, the TUSQ plectrum provides greater clarity in both the highs and the lows.

Sound samples

Acoustic picking using the Dunlop nylon standard plectrum followed by the TUSQ plectrum.

Distorted picking using the Dunlop nylon standard plectrum followed by the TUSQ plectrum.

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