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Thread: pointy vs round picks.

  1. #1

    Default pointy vs round picks.

    I read an interview w/ Chris Thile about his preference for round picks. He prefers them to reduce pick noise. Grisman apparently agrees. I submit that pointy picks (similar to a Pettinne) give a superior tone. To me, the argument in favor of a round pick is analogous to the argument in favor of thin picks rather than heavy picks. Round picks make it easier to play w/ low pick noise but sacrifice a great deal of tone. Thile is clearly a great player but his tone is lacking. (same for Grisman) If used properly, a pointy pick can do everything a round pick can and more just like a heavy pick can do everything a light pick can and more. It seems very few great players use light picks so why do these great players use round picks?

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  3. #2
    jbmando RIP HK Jim Broyles's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I frankly don't see how anyone can get any tone out of a rounded pick, but I wouldn't say Thile's and Grisman's tone was lacking. Mind you, I am not as enamored of their tones as some seem to be, and I honestly believe that the emperor needs to be told he has no clothes sometimes, but their mandolins sound good most of the time.
    "I thought I knew a lot about music. Then you start digging and the deeper you go, the more there is."~John Mellencamp

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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Welcome, and ya may wanna duck...I'm not good enough yet to say anyone's tone is lacking...I'm listening to Grisman (Tone Poems) as I write, and just finished listening to the Punch Bros latest offerings...I don't personally have issues with the tone on any of the tracks I've heard tonight.

    I think, for the most part, it's about personal preference and what you play best with. I don't yet play with really heavy picks (1.5 or greater) because I feel like I do lose tone as I go heavier. But, I also don't even try to pick mando with anything lighter than 1.0 anymore, because I feel like I also lose tone and speed there (and also get more pick noise). I go through phases where I really prefer a rounder pick, though presently I'm playing a regular shaped Fender Heavy. In a couple of months I'll probably be playing with something else. I think the rounded picks are easier to tremolo, but that's just me. On my mandos I click the fretboard extension pretty much the same regardless which pick I'm using.

    I also think tone is a very subjective entity, and your desired tone varies whether you're playing BG, classical, jazz, or whatever else you may play...I tend to play with what feels and sounds good to me, and I don't worry about what Grisman or Thile play, as I'm not anywhere near their level...no issue with your criticizing their tone, but I'd say to play what you like and don't worry about what anyone else is playing with...the same discussion can be had regarding strings, style of mandolin, etc.
    Last edited by CES; Sep-06-2009 at 10:25pm.
    Chuck

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  7. #4

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Thile's tone is lacking? Tone? I always felt that that was his strongest suit.
    I have played around with round picks a bit lately having to shape them from big fat triangular picks because I haven't found round ones for sale. The reason for this is that I have been having trouble with my thumbs and with the pick turning on me. With a round pick it can go right ahead and turn and I can maintain a lighter grip! I think that everyone finds what works for themselves and there a hundreds of picks to chose from. Some will use heavier picks or shorter picks or pointed or not pointed and they get used to that and that is about all there really is to say about it. Thile likes round? He's a pretty great player so why second guess him? I hope Grisman uses a "Dawg"-

  8. #5
    Registered User Chris Biorkman's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Chris Thile uses a pointy pick. I prefer rounded, but can play with both. I think it's just what you're used to.
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  9. #6

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    It depends on many factors, the mandolin, the strings and how the two work together, the style of music, the tone that you want to get out your axe. If the mando is too bottomy with not much in the way of highs, you may want to use the pointy pick, conversely, if the mando doesn't have to much bottom end and too much high end you may want to use the round pick to compensate. How they handle is also a factor, a pointy pick may hang up on the strings if you should pick too deeply and so slow you down. In short, "Do what thou wilt, under the law."

  10. #7
    Registered User Chris Biorkman's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I think Mike is right. My Ellis is a pretty dark sounding mandolin that sounds better to my ears when played with a pointy pick. My Kimble is brighter and I prefer a rounded pick with it.
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    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I have tried the very rounded picks, like the Dawgs and the Golden Gates. I feel like they ride over the strings too easily, so it makes me reflexively want to "dig" more to get some "bite," either by attacking the strings harder, or more flat to plane of the string. But if I have a pick with more of a point, not a sharp point, but a very slightly rounded point like you might find on Fender Extra Heavy or Pro-Plec rounded triangles, I get just enough "bite" that I can relax my hand and wrist. But as gets said over and over, it's personal preference. And I really don't care about the personal preferences of big name players, because those are THEIR personal preferences, and I am quite comfortable with mine.

  12. #9
    Registered User Jim Ferguson's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I will weigh in on this discussion as probably one of the more neophyte players in the discussion I am sure. Having picked up the mandolin ~5 years ago (after a 35 year hiatus) I experimented with lighter gauge & heavier gauge picks right from the start. It took me all of a couple of sessions plucking around to realize that FOR ME 1) the heavier picks were best, & 2) the rounded picks were best.
    Here is why......I am a heavy player whether strumming or picking (although I am much more refined now than earlier on in the relearning process). Soooo.....I have never had an issue with loud enough tone (much to the chagrine of my bandmates....:-) Also......the rounded picks made it easier for me to do tremolo. The sharp picks made tremolo a challenge for me.
    Re: Thile & Grisman & tone.......I have listened to both and never thought that either was tone-challenged.
    Peace,
    Jim

  13. #10
    Mano-a-Mando John McGann's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Quote Originally Posted by mandotopia View Post
    Thile is clearly a great player but his tone is lacking. (same for Grisman) If used properly, a pointy pick can do everything a round pick can and more just like a heavy pick can do everything a light pick can and more. It seems very few great players use light picks so why do these great players use round picks?


    Lots of Irish players use light picks, lots of classical players use pointy picks- these are different sounds. Personally, I think the sound of someone playing their behind off is what counts, whether point, round or a piece of gravel!

    Maybe you should tell Dawg and Chris their tone is lacking Better yet, show 'em how it's done right!

  14. #11

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Playing with a round pick makes the tone change in a way similer to the change your voice has when you speak into a drinking glass. If/when I get a chance to talk with Thile or Grisman I will have this discussion with them. Many good points have been made about pick type compensating for mandolins w/ boomy base or extremely bright high end. I thought I might be stepping in it when I chose to critique two of the best mando players on the planet. Saying they lack good tone was perhaps poorly worded. What I should have said is I believe their tone would be even better if they put the time into a pointier pick. I acknowledge that personal preference trumps my opinion. Peace
    Last edited by mandotopia; Sep-06-2009 at 11:12pm. Reason: missing word

  15. #12
    Registered User Chris Biorkman's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Thile plays a pointy pick! The Blue Chip CT 55. Before that, he played a Wegen TF-140, which is also a pointed triangle. There goes that theory.
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I play Irish music and I like a pointed pick but don't like the tone of thin ones. I use the green Dunlop pointed jazz tortex which are .88. They might be considered thin by comparison to some. I've tried using rounded picks and just can't get the triplets to speak the way I need to. It was like trying to play with a baseball. I like the tone I get with the Dunlops.
    Steve

  17. #14
    Spencer Sorenson Spencer's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Shape isn't the only factor. The pick I like best on my F-hole mandolin is a Wegen MF150, which is pretty round. I have a Golden Gate pick, which is exactly the same thickness (1.5mm) and very close to the same shape, but I do not care at all for the sound with that, as it seems more muffled to my ears. The differences are the material, as the Wegen is stiffer and the beveling, such that the playing edges are different in thickness. What causes what is a good question that somebody else can try to answer. I've found a pick that I like and that's enough for me.

    I use a pointed pick on the round hole.

    Spencer

  18. #15
    Mano-a-Mando John McGann's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    I play Irish music and I like a pointed pick but don't like the tone of thin ones. I use the green Dunlop pointed jazz tortex which are .88. They might be considered thin by comparison to some. I've tried using rounded picks and just can't get the triplets to speak the way I need to. It was like trying to play with a baseball. I like the tone I get with the Dunlops.
    Most players feel the same way about getting the triplets 'snappy' with thin picks. Most players are using Irish banjo techniques, and many use the same pick on the single strung banjo as well as mandolin, and play the instruments with the same approach, which evolved around the banjo's instant decay/lack of sustain compared to (modern) mandolins. The right hand does everything, and there is hardly ever any left hand slurring.

    The trouble for me is the tone with a lighter pick when I'm NOT playing triplets, which for most tunes would be a very high percentage of the time so I use a 1.5 and I don't play blazing picked triplets as often as most mandolinists, in favor of other ornamentation techniques. The fiddle style ornaments are more subtle and get swallowed quickly in a session without being mic'ed, so there's always a tradeoff...but a mandolin gets swallowed whole anyway, which is why so many (Irish style) mandolinists play banjo as well!

    Seriously, it would be cool to have a pressure activated section of the pick that would shoot a lighter extension out at the moment you want the lighter pick for the triplets...I'm sure top engineers are working with the nanotechnology specifically for this application at this very moment!

    I use the shoulder ('dumb end') rather than the point. Bigger and fatter tone IMHO.

    High cholesterol isn't bad if it's the good kind
    Last edited by John McGann; Sep-07-2009 at 7:19am.

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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Grisman's tone has always been lauded as one of the fattest around. Put on his Quintet record and give a listen. The recording space and set-up surely has a lot to do with it, but ultimately it comes down to pick on string.

    Beauty is in the ear of the beholder.

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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I like a flappier pick (Dunlop nylon .73 or Clayton acetal .50 or .63) for banjo. I can't use them on the mandolin. John's ability to play those other ornaments on the mandolin is really something.
    Steve

  21. #18

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    My source for the Thile uses a round pick was an article in the Fretboard Journal. He was pretty clear that he, like Grisman, uses a round pick primarily to solve the pick noise problem. Pointy picks do not cause more pick noise than round picks though it seems easier to limit the noise with a round pick. It also seems easier to play fast with a rounded pick. I have played for 30 years and have tried what seems like every material and shape of pick and settled on an enlarged Pettinne shape made of celluloid (cut and filed from a larger guitar pick) and have been happy for about 10 years. I play mostly folk/rock jamband and classical styles. I was trained by Herman von Bernewitz in the orthodox arched wrist classical style and have always applied these techniques to other styles and feel no need to maintain the orthodoxy if it doesn't do the job. The classical mandolin world spends a lot of time on very minute details of pick shape and right hand technique so I have become rather opinionated about these issues. People change picks all the time so maybe the Thile story is old news. I will look into a blue chip pick since so many people seem to like them.

  22. #19

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    For me, it seems to depend on the pick (material, etc.), and probably the mando. I prefer a rounded Blue Chip (TPR50), as the pointy one is too bright for my taste, but I like a more pointed Red Bear, as the rounded ones are too dark for me. Feel-wise, I like the bite I get from the point, but tremolo for me is smoother with the rounded. Always trade-offs!

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    Registered User Charley wild's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I've spent the last thirty or so years playing with the shoulders of Fender Heavy picks because of a medical problem. Just lately I have tried to use the point some. For some reason I can use the point on a mandolin with no problem. (On a guitar I still can't use the point). I like it a lot! A lot more volume and a LOT more control. It's a real awakening. I just got frustrated with rounded picks. The sound I was getting wasn't consistant. Especially with tremolo. I always thought the rounded edge made tremolo easier. I have no problem doing it with the point. Again, more control. I'm rambling. Anyway you're never to old to change or adapt. I'm a confirmed "point" user from now on!

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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Yeah, you did step into it in my opinion. Thiele and Grisman have racked up quite a lot of CDs in their careers. What's your score after 30 years?

  26. #22

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    Quote Originally Posted by Michael Gowell View Post
    Yeah, you did step into it in my opinion. Thiele and Grisman have racked up quite a lot of CDs in their careers. What's your score after 30 years?
    Now what does that have to do with anything? Y'know there are a lot of great unrecorded musicians who have opinions every bit as valid as someone who's made lots of records. If everyone who hadn't made as many records as Grisman or Thile kept their mouths shut things would be pretty darned slow at The Cafe......
    jeff bonny

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  28. #23
    Registered User jim_n_virginia's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I think it's whatever you get used to too! When I studied with Herschel Sizemore for a while I was VERY surprised he used a VERY thin rounded pick. It was very flexible and yet he could pull tone like nobodies business.

    Now I myself have tried to play with rounded off picks and I just can't for the life of me get used to them. I can't even turn the pick sideways and play with the shoulder! I NEED somewhat of a point it doesn't have to be a sharp point but somewhat pointed and I need the pick to be thick to play and I have no trouble doing triplets with a 1.5mm pick.

    Like I said it is just what you get used to!

  29. #24

    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    This may be oversimplified as I'm not nearly as good as most on here, but personally I use a standard dunlop 1mm. When I'm doing a lot of melody picking I'm pretty close to the pointy edge, as I move into tremelo I seem to naturally rotate the pick almost completely on its side (rounded). For me, I can get much more accurate speed on non-tremelo breakouts with a point. But, I don't hold my pick as recommended by most, so that may affect this somewhat. I hold it where the point is more in parallel to my index finger, and perpendicular to my thumb nail - so my pick is not really "giving" in the back direction much at all. I've tried the recommended route many times, can't get there with any confidence. Finally a private lesson pro said "hey, if this works for you quite banging your head against the wall!"

    Patrick

  30. #25
    Registered User SincereCorgi's Avatar
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    Default Re: pointy vs round picks.

    I had my first lesson with a local bluegrass eminence the other day (sigh... my first step over to the dark side) and this exact topic came up- he suggested that I start using a round pick instead of what I'd brought with me (a Fender heavy). Now, like most of you, I've tried a lot of picks and the one that I've settled on seems pretty good all-around and not too expensive. This gent was emphatic, though, that the bluegrass mandolin sound is better achieved with a round pick.

    Anyway, what clinched it for me he then borrowed my Fender heavy to demonstrate and played a lick on his mandolin, then played the same lick with his own pick. To my ears, the pointy Fender heavy won hands down- I thought it made his mandolin sound great, ringing and clear. His round pick tone, however, was very 'Grismatic', which is nuanced and dull (not perjoratively 'dull') and sort of sneaky- it really slaps the accents and retreats to almost nothing for the other notes.

    I don't know what to make of this. This guy has years of experience on me and knows bluegrass inside and out, so I've been thinking that maybe there's some nuance that's escaping me. Just my 2.

    -Trevor
    Last edited by SincereCorgi; Sep-08-2009 at 12:19am. Reason: typos

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