I’d never thought so much about picks (or plectrums as they’re formally called) as I have since I began the quest to find the right pick for the varied playing demands of a mandolin.
There is the flexibility of the pick (or thickness/weight) and the shape of the pick that make a huge difference in ease of playing and getting that great mandolin tone.
A pick makes more of difference in the tone of the mandolin than other instruments. I’ve played with a pick on the kantele, ukulele, mountain dulcimer and guitar without giving the kind of pick too much thought. Not so much for the mandolin.
For a ukulele, the pick can be made of felt and be a softer plectrum. Actually, I prefer finger picking and the nylon strings of a ukulele do not have near the tension on them as a mandolin.
For a mandolin, the pick can’t be too soft or flexible. If it is too flexible, then it makes a slapping sound and really makes it hard to learn how to tremolo. Picks that have been just great on the kantele and the mountain dulcimer just don’t cut it on the mandolin.
The pick for a mandolin also has to the right right shape. A triangular pick works well for the mountain dulcimer. And it was great for my beginning mandolin forays, but now as I work on my tremolo, the pick is too pointed and trips on the strings as I try to increase my speed playing the tremolo.
Plus, I now realize, the pointed pick is also a lighter gauge pick. A thin pick gives the mandolin a tinny sound whereas a har
der pick gives a cleaner and better tone.
The Pointless Pick, deisgned for guitar and dulcimer makes the tremolo efforts easier but it is harder to use for crosspicking on the mandolin.
I recently ordered my first set of Golden Gate picks. They have the right kind of curve needed for playing the mandolin and are thicker/harder than the Pointless Picks, which is what is needed. As well, the Dunlop Primetone semi-round (1.3) have a textured grip.
Playing continues to progress on the mandolin. The following version of Amazing Grace is played with a Dunlop PrimeTone and does provide a tone I like. The mandolin is accompanied by ukulele friend who is coming along quite nicely, I must say. Makes learning mandolin a lot more fun, too.
The Kesh Jig, below, is played with a Herdim pick. I like the point for helping me pick out those triplets in the jig, but the tone is not quite what I’d like. Also accompanied by ukulele friend.
As well as letting you hear the tone of two different picks, these audio files also help me keep track of my progress — mentioned in an earlier post about monitoring one’s progress in learning to play a new instrument.