Why 11? Because it's 1 more than 10 innit?? That and because handmade guitar picks have so much to offer, and they're often overlooked as a valuable piece of gear. Yes many of them can be a bit strange looking & conjure a bit of wonder from the uninitiated. There's even an immense amount of pick materials available that would make anyone's head start to spin.
Perhaps you ask yourself, how does one even play with such a thing?? Others might be instantly turned away by sticker shock. Following suit, the question is: Are they even worth the extra cost & effort?
You might be surprised to find they're exactly what you've been looking for. The secret ingredient to your tone & signature-sound equation? It's a possibility.
Since the time Iron Age Guitar Accessories was brought to life, we've been asking around & exchanging feedback with thousands of guitarists as to why they chose handmade guitar picks. They do in fact make a viable option to your guitar playing needs, but are they for you?
Such a small piece of gear with a potential for profound impact shouldn't be overlooked. Below you'll find the compilation as to why a hand crafted pick might be for you. Let's kick this off. (Reading time: 7 Minutes)
1. Grip - The grip on a plectrum is perhaps the single most sought after characteristic for a pick. Nobody likes dropping a pick in the middle of a song or much less on stage. In this regard, handmade picks excel against the majority of mass-produced plastic picks.
The reason is that grips of all sorts can be built into the plectrum itself. Things like custom engravings, rough patches, laser etchings, divots, & grip-holes are all possible with handmade guitar picks.
Grips do exist for the more common picks, although they tend to be more limited in scope & almost tamed back to some degree. At other times, a "grip goo" or some form of adhesive is the only option besides scoring the picks yourself.
2. Tone - Yes, you will in fact change your sound when using most handmade guitar picks. Will it be better or worse? That's up to you to decide! However it's often commented to us just to how much of an improvement using a bone or wood pick has made to one's playing.
Some picks tend to bring out a certain resonance from of the strings bouncing off of them. The result can be a bright & clearer tone, or on the opposite spectrum, something more fully-bodied with a warmer sound.
Some contributing factors for tone include things like the pick's density or hardness, the sharpness (or lack of) of the bevel, & the finish on the plec. Some can be polished to a slick finish while others are left with a rough grit to produce a more biting tone.
3. Durability - Can you remember the last time a plastic pick lasted more than a week of heavy usage? Some won't last you even through an entire practice session. These are the bulk picks, and where they shine is in quantity. If you want some more specialized & perhaps more durable, there are other options available.
There are some woods that will remain playable for quite a bit longer & slowly take shape to your picking style. Same thing goes for harder materials like bone & horn which tend to be more durable. Here's what our friend Tim had to say about our bone picks after a couple of weeks of playing:
@Timothy.Mah: After playing this pick, it has been holding up better than any pick that I've tried in a while. The only thing is that the shape warped a little but warped to compliment the way I pick. However it did not chip like other picks I have used over the years. The pick glides off the strings nicely and has a bright mid-range tone like it says on the website. The point of the pick has not worn down yet unlike my other picks which the tips would be gone. I highly recommend this pick to anyone who plays guitar!
When durability is taken to extremes, we're looking at materials like agate which are actually harder than your steel strings. Agate(quartz) rates a 7 on the Mohs Hardness Scale while steel sits below at only a 5. You won't be putting a dent in these agate picks through regular playing.
For other extremely durable picks that aren't literally rock hard, check out our thermoplastic picks crafted from engineering-grade plastics. They're incredibly slick so they slide across the strings with minimal resistance, keeping the integrity of your stings in tact for just a bit longer.
4. Exciting New Shapes - Sure there's still the classics we've all grown to love, but there also a bit of innovation that goes into handmade guitar picks. A simple 351 styled pick can take on a 3rd dimension and completely change the way you approach picking. You'll also find many more bi/tri angled picks that have various picking points for added versatility. Almost like a Swiss-army knife, these types of picks can be made a more common find.
After all, who doesn't like trying new things? You're likely to find something new & exciting with some experimentation. Whereas the more common picks almost seem like a 2 dimensional object, thicker & handmade guitar picks are taking a 360 approach to the way we play guitar.
5. The Thicker The Better - That's all preference of course, but you'll never know until you've played a pick beyond 2mm. Thicker picks tend to have a strong correlation with more durability, that's somewhat true. If you don't mind refinishing a pick from time to time, you can definitely get a whole lot of play-time out of a single plectrum. Some brands even have re-finishing kits that allow you to easily shape & polish your pick to extend its usability.
Another interesting point that was brought to our attention is how a thicker pick actually fills the gap between strings. This means there's less effort to get from one string to the next. It might take a bit getting used to, but they that's less distance that your pick has to travel before striking the next note! Depending on how accurate you are (or sharp the pick is), this has the potential to add to your overall efficiency.
6. Materials - There's a ton of materials out there now, and many more to be discovered. Some are exquisite & rare like gemstones, others sought after for their resemblance to tortoise shell, and some are just too dang cool to pass up. They make for an interesting conversational piece that's also as functional as you make it. The materials themselves add a lot of the characteristics mentioned above too.
They can make or break the pick, determining their grip, tone, workability, and ultimately how well they will play in a practical situation. There's something for everyone, whether it be wood, bone, stone, crazy looking acrylics, or even glow-in-the-dark plastics. The material itself in a nice feature that adds to the whole experience of owning such a finely crafted piece.
7. Ergonomics - Learning to keep both of your picking & fretting hands relaxed is undoubtedly important. Nonessential tensions can be transferred onto your playing & this can be heard in your playing. An ergonomic pick can help reduce the stress put in your picking hand & allow a more relaxed approach to playing. This also translates into more comfortable playing which has the potential to keep you playing for extended periods of time.
An ergonomic or carved design can also attribute to your grip, which will keep the pick firmly planted in between your fingers. For those who have trouble gripping, an ergonomic & very thick pick can also help lessen the pains of medical conditions such as arthritis or tendinitis. So all in all, you get a more comfortable pick, potentially more time on the strings, and a more solid grip that keeps the pick locked in place.
8. Economics - One thing to off-put many is perhaps the price-tag on both premium & handmade guitar picks. They are time consuming to craft, some require special tools, & they take lots of practice to get a consistent product.
The big questions however, is are they worth the extra cost?
Now we're back at quantity vs quality, the difference between having a golden dollar vs 100 pennies. For some, a very durable pick can pay itself many times over versus going through picks after every song. For other players, the tone & feel is simply unmatched by a traditional plectrum, and the extra cost is worth it to them.
Do you see it as an expense or an investment? It's durability, tone, & playability that come into account to construct the overall experience.
9. One-Of-A-Kind - Yep, no two picks are every really the same. There might be some that are like it, but your pick is truly unique to you. With handmade guitar picks, you also run into the occasional limited edition picks that are here today & gone tomorrow. It makes them that much more special to have, and playing them from time-to-time makes for a more enjoyable experience.
As with any other pick however, they will begin to wear down. This is not necessarily a bad thing though. As the pick begins to wear down, it also starts to adjust itself to your natural picking angles. It becomes custom tailored to your playing style & literally molds to the way your pick. With a more durable pick, it might take longer to reach this state, but it will also last longer.
Limited edition dragon's blood jasper plectrum
10. Painstakingly Crafted For YOU - A real quality handmade guitar pick is undoubtedly designed with the end-user in mind, not simply a check in the box. That means they're made by real people looking to make you the best possible product that not only fulfills your need, but also delivers an exceptional experience from start to finish.
There is no "one-size-fits-all", at least for us there isn't. Sure every pick is optimized for playability, but we strive to tailor each pick towards a certain playing style. We attempt to match the desired characteristics of a pick to the needs brought to light by a certain player.
For example, our bone spearhead features a sharp point & solid durability with the lead guitar player in mind. While those who are heavy pickers & shred till dawn might require extreme durability as well. In comes the LFS-Spearhead thermoplastic pick to meet the demands. Shown below is the partial process to making one of our thermoplastic picks. The overall process takes at least 45 minutes per pick.
11. Originality - It's not super likely that you'll find another player who exclusively uses the same pick you do. Having your own preference in picks just adds to your originality & helps to develop your own signature sound.
So why follow the same old beaten path? Django Reinhardt was known for using a button to play & Brian May is known for using a sixpence coin as a pick. What will you be remembered for? Add some character & distinction to your guitar-gear arsenal today!
Brian May of Queen holding his coin pick.
TLDR: After exchanging feedback with thousands of guitar players , we've come to the conclusion that handmade guitar picks are truly a viable option. The big questions is: Are they right for you?
Guitar plectrums are an often overlooked piece of gear, but can potentially have a massive impact on the way you approach the guitar. Yes they can allow fine-tuning of your ideal tone, but they also go beyond that. Various grips, shapes, materials, all sorts of other factors can come into play. The outcome is a combination of desired characteristics that are brought together to form a novel experience you won't find anywhere else.
Do you have anything else to add to the list? How about the first handmade guitar picks you ever tried? Let us know what you think about choosing boutique picks versus the mass-produced stuff.
Thank you for reading & if you found this interesting, feel free to share it with fellow guitar players too!