View Full Version : Trimming the sheen

May-31-2004, 12:39pm
I have always loved the crystalline brilliance of the mandolin (ex definitio: bowlback), which I like to bring out even more by using bronze-wound, light-weight strings and super-rigid picks (ivory, natural fossil matter, or the hardest plastics available).

But, in the course of human events, one does come to a performance space that is in and of itself extremely treble-friendly; or the ensemble's instrumentation requires a mellower tone of the mandolinist; or any other such circumstance that makes the natural sonority of the instrument come across a bit too bright, almost shrill.

How, then, does one "trim the sheen", that bright aureole that glows around the tremolo of a bright, brightly set-up mandolin? Obviously, it is impractical to restring the instrument from one performance space to the other. We are left, then, with picks:

What is the next-grade-darker than the high-gloss, virtually inflexible materials I use? I am not, of course, speaking of the gummy, rubbery picks the Germans use; I am not seeking an adjustment from a razor's blade to molasses. What I AM interested in is any material and/or type of pick that would sound a bit, ehm... less like a glass-chime, just for those naturally bright-sounding performance spaces.

Any ideas?

May-31-2004, 1:49pm
One mellower-but-not-rubbery pick material would be cow horn, though I'd try an ivory pick with a rounder tip first.

Bob A
May-31-2004, 4:09pm
The deer antler pick I have cuts the treble a bit. Some synthetic picks are also less brilliant than others. I was fortunate to come by a large assortment of picks of all types, to which I've added from time to time. It is a pleasant diversion to go thru a whole pile of these things when getting a new instrument, or when changing to a different brand of string; it can take an hour or more to narrow the selection to what works best for a given combination of mandolin+stringset+pick. If you're lucky enough to be obsessive/compulsive, you could parlay this into a part-time career.

At least one mandolinist of my acquaintance has standardised on ONE pick style, and makes that do for everything. Doubtless he is more focused on more important variables. I'm still at a point where even a pick makes a difference.

There was a report on the pick tour recently which was very interesting. It is probably still possible to get that huge selection of picks sent to you for purposes of experiment; there are also vintage pick dealers (I swear this is true!) operating thru ebay. I was able to get a couple Kay translucent nylon #1 picks, which work so well on my mandola, from one of them. I doubt they've been made in twenty years or more. There exists a specialist in every area of human endeavor, and most of them are online somewhere.

My own specialty is probably folly, of one form or another. Still, it makes for interesting company.

Jun-02-2004, 12:15pm
Here's a suggestion: try taking a Clayton 1.00 mm *white* rounded triangle pick (http://www.elderly.com/accessories/items/PK14-TRI-100.htm), trace your fave pick on it, rough out the shape with wire snips, and finish it with a 4-phase emery board (found in the manicure section at better pharmacies), giving your pick the desired bevel and smoothness at the tip. These acetal-polymer picks are stiff enough to give your tone the oomph you want, but without the attack noise and brightness you'll get from harder, thicker plectra. (Additionally, this is a great way to experiment with different shapes, thicknesses, and materials; and it's VERY sarisfying when you make a good one.)

Jun-02-2004, 12:58pm
Why drhoneycat, this is the exact procedure I use to fabricate Neapolitan-style plectra out of guitar picks, right down to the buff and bevel with multi-stage cosmetic nail buffers; I even use Clayton (http://www.steveclayton.com/)'s "rounded triangle" as my plectrum "blank!" #I will use coarser files to fine tune the shape after shearing, because shaping the rough edges left immediately after the shear is just to harsh on the fine buffers. #I tend to favor Clayton's "Ultem Gold (http://www.steveclayton.com/ultem.html)" material in 0.8-mm thickness. #I went so far as to write Clayton to try to get them to mass produce the shape. #I was politely dismissed with "Thanks for your interest. #We don't do custom shapes" (...or some similar statement).

Jim Garber
Jun-02-2004, 1:22pm
Just curious as to the shape you have decided on.

Could you scan and post one?


Jun-02-2004, 1:29pm
Sure. I'll try to remember to bring one to the office for a scan tomorrow.