Whenever we guitarists contemplate matters of tone, we tend to focus on the advantages and drawbacks of different instruments, pickups, amplifiers, effects, and maybe even our strings. But the humble plectrum (also called a pick) only comes up sporadically in discussions.
In a way this is rather strange, as the plectrum plays a vital role in producing the sound in the first place. The pick is in direct contact with the strings, setting things in motion, so to speak. A plectrum’s size, shape and stiffness all have a direct bearing on how the plectrum feels and on the instrument’s perceived playing feel. This is why picks are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and made of a whole range of different materials.
Players of early string instruments had to use natural materials – like bone, tortoise shell or tree bark – for their picks. Man-made plastics opened up a plethora of new materials for plectrum production, resulting in the wide variety of modern plectrums, most of which are being made using celluloid, nylon, delrin or acrylic.
Even though more than 90 percent of the world’s picks are currently mass-produced in a number of large factories, some guitarists still prefer the different feel of handcrafted plectrums made from alternative materials, like stone, metal or wood.
One such small workshop belongs to Finnish pick maker Christian Jansson, who makes his Pickat plectrums by hand from local rowan.
Rowan wood is suitably stiff and hard-wearing for guitar picks, and it is also a lightweight wood. Thanks to rowan’s very lively grain each Pickat plectrum has its own distinct look.
As you can easily see in the photo above, the Pickat Artisan model (6.50 €) is a little bit longer, but also a slight bit narrower, when compared to the most common, shield-shaped plectrum style. The Pickat Artisan is gently tapered from its back towards the tip, starting with a thickness of close to 2 mm and measuring approximately 1.5 mm at the tip. Well-designed bevels at strategic spots on the pick’s lower regions make for a very precise and fast playing feel.
An additional bonus of the Pickat Artisans is the great grip they provide, thanks to the rowan itself, as well as the hand-applied finish and the burnt-in branding.
Everybody develops their own comfort zone by getting used to playing with the same type of pick for years, which is why it took me a few minutes to get to grips with the Artisan’s different dimensions and the wood’s intrinsic stiffness and rebound.
I’m used to playing with slightly thinner and more flexible nylon plectrums (0.88 mm), which is why getting pinched harmonics right with the Pickats took a little bit of time. Still, I got to grips with the Artisan model really quickly.
Discussing the tonal differences between a wooden and a plastic plectrum on the sound of an electric guitar is always somewhat difficult, especially if your chosen genre means lots of distortion or a long effects chain between you instrument and the amp. In these cases your choice will probably be swayed by the ergonomics and the playing feel of the Pickat.
Swapping picks while playing a steel-string acoustic guitar (or a mandolin) makes the differences in sound surprisingly obvious. The Pickat Artisan adds a charming warm bottom end to the picture, without the sound turning mushy. The trebles are clean and clear, but also smooth as silk. The Pickat Artisan also seems to attenuate most of any unwanted top end clankiness.
Here are three audio clips played on a cedar-topped jumbo (a Takamine N-20) and recorded with a pair of Røde M5 condenser mics:
Based on test driving these picks for a couple of months I can only recommend checking out these Pickats. The playing feel of plectrums is a very subjective matter, meaning the Pickat Artisan won’t be for everyone. But there is so much these handmade, Finnish rowan picks can do for your sound, especially if you’re playing an acoustic instrument. The Pickat Artisan will add roundness, depth and a charming top end sheen to your tone. These Pickat plectrums seem sturdy and they won’t leave behind any plastic waste at the end of their lifespan.
Pickat Artisan plectrums
+ handcrafted in Finland
+ made from local wood
+ playing feel
+ reasonably rugged