Guide to Wood Guitar Picks
Using a wood plectrum for the first time can be a breakthrough moment for a musician. Some will never go back to nylon or plastic once they’ve tried it. It opens up a whole new avenue for modifying your tone and expands on the choices a musician will already have made with regard to the guitar itself and choices of strings. It is very liberating to be able to produce a brighter or warmer sound simply through changing your pick.
There are a few mental hurdles to navigate before you become a convert. Preconceptions regarding picks that are thick or stiff need to be put to one side in order to concentrate on the benefits that can be felt in terms of the speed, accuracy, tone and feel of your playing.
A wooden pick has a tendency to ‘grip’ the string more than an acrylic would. Where an acrylic pick is characterized by it sliding over the string as a smooth surface against the string, a wood pick will have the effect of slightly ‘grabbing’ or ‘resonating’ the string because of its texture.
In my experience, this improves the feel and gives a greater sense of ‘interaction’, ‘control’ and ‘dynamism’. This effect varies with the hardness of the wood from which the pick is made. The harder it is, the less it grips and the brighter the tone. The softer the wood the warmer the tonal response.
There are other more subtle advantages. The nature of wood provides the added benefit of reducing ‘pick noise‘ (the clicking) that is produced by the majority of standard plectrums and replaces it with a more pleasant ‘percussive sound’. A nice benefit particularly in a studio environment.
Ultimately, the pleasure comes from the ability to interact with your tone setup in a quick and effective way. Without changing anything else in your setup you can produce a different sound by simply swapping from a hard to a softer wood pick.
One thing to bear in mind is that the relative hardness or softness of the wood will also dictate it’s durability. In practice, this means that the softer woods will change shape (wear) more readily. This effect will be magnified through use with metal strings as compared to Nylon.
In our opinion, the altering shape of the pick is part of the immersive appeal of using a natural product. I tend to think of it more as a plasterer might with his trowel. The plectrum gradually moulds to my particular style of playing and I find that the feel it gives me improves as this progresses.
Janka Hardness Test
The Janka Hardness test was designed to measure the hardness/ resilience of a given wood. This is achieved by calculating the force required to press a steel ball (11.28mm in diameter) a distance of 5.64mm into the timber (half the ball’s diameter).
The value is generally expressed using the American ‘pound-force’ system which results in a scale between 0 and 5000 to cover all known species.
The rating will vary depending on the direction of the grain of the surface upon which the test is carried out. For our purposes the information we have tried to collate for the Timber Tones range of picks relates to tests carried out on perpendicular rather than end grain.
We have tried to make some more sense of this on our website by individually describing the 18 different types of exotic wood picks from the Timber Tones range. We have used the Janka rating for each wood type and have projected the impact this should have on durability. We have also used it to demonstrate the anticipated tone effect that each wood’s character should produce on a sliding scale from ‘warm’ to ‘bright’.
We have also provided some information with each plectrum, describing the various timbers’ origins and uses. It‘s nice to know that you are making use of a resource that would otherwise go to lanfill or be burned as a waste product from the manufacture of large products such as furniture.
You may also like to have a look at our Tone woods article which goes into some depth on the same effects brought about by using certain woods in guitar construction.
Please be warned… Wooden picks look and feel great . They even smell nice! And once you get the bug, you’ll probably want to try one of each (We know we did)!! We apologize in advance…