Tremolo Pick

  1. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    There are a ton of discussions in the Forum on picks. I'd rather not have to wade through those if I don't have to.

    What kind of pick do you guys prefer for tremolo - stiff or somewhat flexible?
  2. HonketyHank
    Stiff. Easier for me to control. Thin picks tend to snag on the strings, interrupting the regularity of the tremolo. I suspect this just indicates that I need more practice or I need to alter my technique or both, but that's where I am at.

    Long time, no see. Good to hear from you.
  3. illinoisfiddler
    At this point, I prefer a Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0 (black) which is quite stiff. The only time I like a lighter pick is with "strummy" stuff and then, somewhere in the 1.15mm-1.5mm range which is still stiff.
  4. Ellsdemon
    I'm with Hank, stiff is a lot easier. But, I will use a thin pick when I need to be quite. Either the kids are asleep or I don't won't to bother others while camping. It really just boils down on your grip, and not the pick.
  5. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    People have different preferences, Sherry, that's why so many threads and so many opinions.

    I would suggest you not use a floppy, flexible pick. They won't produce enough sound, and they are no good for tremolo or for any fast playing in my opinion. They will flex, and then snap back into shape as you play. This will hinder tremolo or fast picking.

    A rigid pick is best. Thinner picks, if used, should be made of a very stiff material and not be so thin as to become floppy. I prefer thinner, rigid picks, like the Wegen 1.2 or the JTpix 1.0.

    I prefer tremolo with a sharp point, as you can get clear sound with it, whereas rounder corners lose some of the sound color and tend to give a "darker" sound from my point of view.

    I play tremolo with a rounded corner pick (the Wegen) and with sharp cornered picks (JTpix, Cool picks). It depends on whether I want a darker sound, or a louder, clearer sound. Thin but rigid pointed picks provide a louder, more bell-like sound while thicker, rounded points provide a more muffled, darker sound. It depends on what I'm playing musically as to whether I prefer a darker sound or a brighter one. Whatever pick I prefer to play a specific tune with, that's the pick I use for tremolo in that tune.

    All the above is just my own preference and my own opinion. I don't care if anyone disagrees, this is a personal thing.

    So my advice to anyone is always to try a bunch of picks. There are numerous shapes, sizes and materials to try out. Use what gives you the sound and the feel that you want. And don't worry about what kind is best for tremolo. You will need to learn to play tremolo with the same pick you prefer for non-tremolo playing, unless you have the desire to make some kind of super-human switch in the middle of a song every time you want to tremolo. As I struggle with tremolo, a year or two back I discovered it is easier to do a tremolo with some picks for me than others. But that discovery was of no use to me in the end, because I want to play a good-sounding tremolo, not an easy-to-play tremolo, necessarily.

    So keep trying a bunch of picks, unless you've already found one you love, and learn to play tremolo with whatever picks you love.
  6. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Thanks, all. I should have asked about round vs. pointy corner also. But Mark addressed that and I think rounded corner makes more sense.

    Thanks for missing me, Henry. I've been fighting discouragement and haven't been to the Café much lately. I'm at somewhat of a crossroads with my playing.
  7. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sherry, great to see you around here again. It has been a while, and I'm sorry to hear you have been frustrated with playing.

    My tremolo is still a mess, so take my advice with a box of salt. I'm liking lighter picks with a sharper point. Every time I go into one of the local shops I grab anything in picks that looks new and different, and a month or so ago I ordered a bunch from Strings by Mail (SbM). (Just tried to insert a link. The "link" link is broken, and freezes my computer. No bueno.) They have a bunch of brands and types I can't buy locally.

    Conventional wisdom has it that mandolinists like heavy picks, at least 1.5 mm, and up to 3 mm or so is even better. Not true for me. I seem to do best with picks that are about 1 mm. The plain old 79˘ celluloid Dunlops work well, and I got a few celluloid Pyramid picks from SbM. The Pyramids come in some very pretty pearly colors, with a nice palm-tree-and-pyramid logo. The .98 Pyramids sound better for me than the 1.20s. Might be my imagination, but I often think anything in pearl sounds particularly good on my instrument. SbM also has Golden Gates in a pointier shape, and I have liked those. The more common Golden Gate is too round, and in my hands sounds muddy. Got a thick, bevelled V-Pick, which has its moments. I've tried a couple of Blue Chips when picking with Cochiti Don. Liked the lighter one he had, a 40 I think, but I haven't bought one. I like the Dunlop Ultex, the buff-colored ones with a rhinoceros logo. They're only 49˘ each! My next order will include some Dogals and D'Andrea Pro Plecs, more in the classical style. Forgot to get those the first time.

    This is all with my oval-hole A Kentucky, strung with J74s. My F-style Reno is still in the shop—good thing I have a back-up. I'm curious to see what I think about all these picks with it when it comes home, as it's a very different instrument.

    Especially if you've been having a sinking spell mandolin-wise, go to SbM and buy yourself a whole bunch of new picks. For $15–$25 you can get all sorts of shapes, sizes, thicknesses, brands, and colors. You'll love some, hate some. My preference varies from one day to the next, and yours probably will too, at least for a time.
  8. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Good advice, Louise. I like your taste in picks, mine is similar; thinner and pointier, as long as they are stiff enough not to flop around.
  9. Southern Man
    Southern Man
    I'm just using a heavy Fender guitar pick, used on the rounded side, for now. I have not considered a different pick for different situations and that is probably beyond me right now.

    I did sign up on the main forum for the pick sampler, which will allow me to receive a large box of varied picks and try them all out for three weeks.

    It's a resource you might take advantage of.
  10. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    More excellent advice, I think. Nothing was more enlightening for me than receiving the pick sampler.
  11. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Oops! I just read Mark's post all the way through. I like my stiff purple pick, which I play with the pointy end. I'll experiment with it for tremolo. As to trying a bunch of different ones, I don't believe my state of mind is ready for that.
  12. illinoisfiddler
    One thing that hasn't been mentioned here besides the actual pick, is tremolo technique. I find turning the pick slightly in relation to the strings can help smooth a tremolo. Does anyone else do this?
  13. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    "I find turning the pick slightly in relation to the strings can help smooth a tremolo. Does anyone else do this?"

    Just a guess, but I'd say many tens of thousands people do that. Many teachers also recommend that. I think that the tilt should be as slight as possible, and a rounded corner in conjunction with a big tilt is almost like death to a beautiful tremolo. Too much "glide" doesn't allow the strings to ring enough.

    There are some who practice and teach a more straight-on and untilted approach, mostly classically trained and Italian style players.
  14. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    By the way, I keep chiming in here, it's only because I feel talkative. I'm no tremolo expert, still struggle with it often, and just expressing my own opinions here. Those who've been in here for a couple years probably know that I've given tremolo a lot of thought, research and practice, because I suck at it.
  15. illinoisfiddler
    People that are putting the pick exactly parallel with the strings will have trouble with the tremolo, as will those with the right hand "death grip" which is very easy to do when you tense up.
  16. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sherry, is your pointy purple pick one of those "Big Chubby" ones? Clear purple, nice big divot in the middle to hang onto? I have one of those, and that's the one fat pick I like.

    Mark, you are the only person around here I've ever heard refer to a Cool pick. I picked up one of those locally, kind of fluorescent yellow, non-slip, quite pointed. Like it!

    Illinoisfiddler, there are a few angles involved. Is the point dead on, or are you using the side of the point? Is the pick perpendicular to the plane of the strings, or tilted a bit towards the floor or ceiling? Is the flat surface of the pick, well, flat, or is it tipped a bit to the right or left? (This conversation would be much easier in person than written.) Everyone probably has a slightly different combination of these three angles.

    Oh, Sherry, one of my favorite picks is a pearly white one that was a giveaway at a Dale Watson show, with his logo on it. You live in Texas—get thee to a honky-tonk for a Dale Watson show and see if he's giving out picks!
  17. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    illinoisfiddler, I doubt anybody really plays perfectly parallel to the strings, but I don't know what everybody does. If you hold the mandolin at a tilt (not parallel to the ground, but headstock tilted up) you should automatically, comfortably have a bit of tilt to the pick where the pick strikes the strings. The tremolo sounds best to me when the pick is only very slightly tilted, just enough to get the tremolo, and not too much tilted. I think most people, if not all, have trouble with tremolo starting out, no matter what they do with the pick. It might be easier to do it with the pick tilted a whole lot, but it's not the best sound. tilted too much can ruin the tremolo to my ears, and perfectly parallel to strings is too difficult to master, so everyone finds their sweet spot after a while.

    The death grip kills a tremolo, you have to relax, and the typical tendency is to tense up concentrating on making it work ... that tendency has to be overcome.

    In this video, I am attempting a tremolo with a fairly pointy 1.2mm pick:

    In this one, I am attempting some tremolo with a rounder tip 1.2mm pick, and I can hear the difference with a softer, darker tone to the tremolo:

  18. illinoisfiddler
    The turning of the pick works for me, maybe I don't keep the headstock high enough, or my hand geometry is different. Turning the pick slightly darkens up the tremolo and makes it smoother. Note I am using a standard Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0mm pick with a somewhat pointy tip. I don't round it off. But of course, if you tilt the pick too much you get more of a scrape sound rather than the tremolo, but that can be used for some special effects!
  19. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    "But of course, if you tilt the pick too much you get more of a scrape sound rather than the tremolo, but that can be used for some special effects!"

    We're on the same page here. Most days I have to tilt a little more for tremolo than for other picking. Everybody's different and for myself, I play better some days and worse on others. I hate the sound of thick, round, scratchy picks tilted too much in my own playing, but anything can be used for effect and in the end it's a matter of personal taste.
  20. Sherry Cadenhead
    Sherry Cadenhead
    Louise, my purple pick is a Dunlop Big Stubby 2.0. I like everything about it. Mark, I believe I gave you one when you were here.
  21. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    Yep. And it’s pretty cool! Thanks, Sherry.
  22. illinoisfiddler
    Mark I don't play with a really rounded pick, I use an off-the-shelf Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0mm black and just let it wear as I play. Maybe that is why I like to tilt it a bit for tremolo.
  23. Mark Gunter
    Mark Gunter
    "I use an off-the-shelf Dunlop Gator Grip 2.0mm black and just let it wear as I play."

  24. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    Sherry, those are good purple picks! And, to get back to the initial question, probably a good choice to use to work on tremolo.
  25. Kay Kirkpatrick
    Kay Kirkpatrick
    Lots of good advice here to try out. I prefer a thick (1.3-2.0) beveled pick at the angle mentioned above. My best effort at tremolo is on my Wegen Big City, but 'best effort' is still struggling to attain consistent decency. I, too, have one of those purple Big Stubby picks and I enjoy it.

    Mark, I have to say you did a fabulous rendition of You Never Can Tell; thanks for sharing that!
  26. Louise NM
    Louise NM
    In regards to Illinois fiddler's comment about pick angle, last weekend I had the good fortune to attend a right-hand-technique class with Radim Zenkl. His advice is to keep the pick at about a 30° angle to the strings.
  27. Mark Roma
    Mark Roma
    I have been practicing my tremolo using a Dunlap Primetone Semi-Round Sculpted Plectra. It sounds nice and has a "pointy" side to switch up things and see what sounds and works best.
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