Alternate Picks: Seven Ways to Change Your Tone at the Source | VIDEO

May 24, 2016
When we guitarists want to change our tone, we typically think of trying a new guitar, amp, effect pedal or speaker. What we often forget is that tone begins with the fingers, including the implement we use to strike the strings: the humble guitar pick.

There are many varieties of picks on the market these days, ranging from traditional celluloid models that mimic the classic qualities of tortoiseshell to picks made of bone, metal and gemstones that impart unusual qualities of their own.

Here, we take a look at seven picks that put an unusual spin on the familiar plectrum with their material, shape, design or features. Read on, and see if one of these plectrums is the right one for you.  

Hawkeye Picks
These gemstone guitar picks are cut from a range of stones, including moss agate, Texas plume agate, tiger eye, jasper and petrified wood. They produce a clean and crisp sound, and won’t wear down nearly as fast as standard picks (though they could break if dropped on a hard surface, like tile or concrete). Selections include standard, small jazz and pointed picks, each of which is hand cut, shaped and polished by proprietor Shawn Lockhart. Prices vary, but the selection on HawkeyePicks’ Etsy page shows a range of $14 to $17.

TuskBuffer makes picks from a range of natural materials, including buffalo bone and horn. Among the most unusual are their picks made of prehistoric woolly mammoth ivory. The picks are hard but have a comfortable feel and a strong grip that reduces slippage and improves accuracy. They’re also denser than plastic, which adds heft to your tone. TuskBuffer mammoth ivory picks are available in standard, small standard, Jazz II XL, Trifecta, small Trifecta and Sharkfin shapes. Prices for standard picks range from $27.50 to $57.50 depending on thickness.

Epic Grip Pure Titanium Guitar Picks
Dubbed “The most bad-ass guitar picks on the planet,” Epic Grip Titanium picks are super strong, extremely lightweight and durable as hell, while being easy to grip. The picks have smooth, rounded edges and a highly polish face with cut-out gaps that make for a better grip. They produce a stronger attack when held loosely, while a tighter grip softens the tone. Epic Grip picks come in a variety of colors and finishes. $12—$13.

The Firefly Pick
If you’re looking something that sounds and looks different, the Firefly could be just the thing. It features a durable polycarbonate shell that should last for years, and a beveled tip that makes for accurate picking. But it also puts on a light show all by itself. An intelligent computer and sensor array inside the pick responds to any playing style with a rhythmic light show.  The pick comes in three light motion styles (Classic, Duo and Insanity) as well as many different LED colors. The Firefly Pick Duo even flashes one color on the upstroke and a second on the downstroke. The pick is powered by a lithium-polymer battery and can be recharged via USB. It has no buttons, knobs or moving parts and shuts off automatically to save on power. The picks come in a range of colors and are priced at $49.99. Needless to say, you won’t be tossing these out into the audience.

Coarse Picks
Coarse picks are double-edged plectrums that give you two ways to shape your sound. The polished tip provides clean and clear bell-like tones. Flip it around and use the coarse tip to create gritty, raspy textures as the pick moves across the strings. The company says to think of the Coarse pick as “a +1 knob to your signal chain.” The picks come in 10 packs with a metal hardcase for $12.99.

V-Picks Handmade Guitar and Mandolin Picks
Made by hand in Nashville, V-Picks feature carefully calculated bevels and a proprietary blend of acrylics for an articulate and slip-resistant playing experience. The picks come in a range of sizes and style and are available for numerous stringed instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, gypsy jazz bass and more. V-Picks are used by Carlos Santana, Billy Gibbons, Johnny Hiland and many others, and if that’s not an endorsement, we don’t know what is. Pick prices start at $4.

The Ultimate FingerPick
For fingerpickers who have trouble keeping their nails in shape or anyone frustrated by finger and thumbpicks, the Ultimate FingerPick delivers a number of advantages. It fits over your own fingertip to deliver the look, feel, strength and playability of your own nail. You can use one or more at a time, and they are reusable. Even if you play with your fingernails, the Ultimate FingerPick can make the perfect substitute in you break a nail. The picks are offered in medium thickness and in packs of two or three, priced $14.95 to $19.95.

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