Guitar picks, what's the deal?

Occasionally, I see what looks like a guitar pick holder attached to a player’s mike stand, with half a dozen or so picks stuck in it. Why do they need so many?
My speculations:

  1. They mishandle them once in a while and the thing sproings out into the crowd, OR they simply break them.
    2, There are picks of different hardnesses or materials that actually produces different tonalities.

I figure the first guess is kind of a gimme – shit happens on stage.

But what about the second? Would a guitarist changes picks to produce a different sound? How much difference could such a thing make?

Probably #1, plus some musicians will throw out their accesory of choice into the crowd. Drummers throw drumsticks, guitarists throw picks, Tom Hamilton, Aerosmith’s bassist, throws out rubber thimbles he uses. They say “T. H. gave you the finger.”

I generally don’t play with a pick. I’ve gotten more into finger picking, and besides, I’ve never really developed a good pick technique. I drop them more often then not. And then there’s that technique of “palming” your pick while finger picking and then switching back to strum – I never mastered that.

I’ve learned to get a good strum going just using the tip of my right index finger – I’ve got a good callus on it, like my fret fingers.

BUT … back in the day … a nice thick heavy pick is very condusive to a crunchy sound. A rhythm guitarist might choose that gage pick. They tend to last longer and you can really wail. The strings tend to break before the pick.

If you’re into solo playing, a thin pick is easier to get around the strings, especially if you’re going for those hemi-semi-demi-notes, or whatever … picture a super-quick up and down pluck with the pick … that little give or bend to it makes those fast notes easier. But then those thin picks tend to wear or chip awfully quick.

If I recall correctly, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top used a quarter for a pick, which gave its own unique sound

All that being said, most guitarists have their favorite gage pick and stick to it. They generally don’t switch from one to another.

Anyone who has played with a pick knows that its damned easy to drop them. Hence the importance of having a supply at hand. Plus, they do throw into the audience as souvenirs.

For the record, Lindsay Buckingham and Mark Knopfler are good examples of pick-less players.

I lose 'em all the time. I need a suitcase full of picks for me to make it through a week.

I lose them all the time too, but I gotta go with a combination of the “souveniers” explanation and dropping them from sweaty hands. From my experience it would be quite unusual to actually lose a pick during a performance.

I hardly ever use picks myself. Like ** Jack Batty**, I’m more into fingerpicking. Besides, I’ve been told that I hold my pick wrong anyway, and I always feel clumsy when I’m using it: like it’s going to get stuck in the strings and launch into someone’s eye :).
That said, I’ve used light picks in the past, and they tear (really tear, down the middle) rather easily, so I don’t think it’s a luxury to have a few extras lying around.

Then you’re clearly not drinking enough.

There is an inverse correlation between the number of picks you have and the rate at which you lose them. If I have one pick I might have it for a year; if I have ten picks, I’ll lose them all in a month.

The evolution of a pick-using guitar player:

Stage 1: Use whatever is lying around, your friend the cool guitar player gave you or that you got at the guitar shop when you were playing guitars you can’t afford and your parents won’t let you have. Hold it incorrectly.

Stage 2: Begin holding it correctly for a beginner (wrist action all wrong, throwing strum off, but at least you have rhythm). Settle on whatever gauge the coolest person who has influence on you says you should use - Thin if you are a strum happy nut, heavy if you also aspire to dark beer, strong coffee and Jack Daniels when you are allowed to imbibe those things, and medium if your buddy uses straight Fender mediums or Jim Dunlop oranges or yellows.

Stage 3: Exploration - you’ve been playing for some time, you buy one of every pick you can lay your hands on and you try them out. Those Herco’s, with the hole in the middle become vogue for a period, but they are slippery, aren’t they? And those small red Dunlop jazz picks become the shit for quite some time (you actually contemplate calling people “cat” and wearing a beret, too). You experimental nut.

Stage 4: Your rhythm gets better (wrist and arm capable of more complex combos while interjecting Hendrix, SRV, etc. lead runs). You fall back on your old faithful and wonder why you ever left it (Dunlop Tortex yellows for me - with a special bend I put in it so it is a little potato-chippy and fits my thumb better).

As to the OP, Rick Nielson of Cheap Trick, Heart, Kiss, etc. all made a habit of flicking picks out into the crowd. Most players just have them there for spares…

Wow, he’s played for a lot of good bands!

I have this odd rhythm of pole switching between DT yellows and oranges. I like yellows better but I feel oranges are better for improving technique and touch.

Tortex blues for electric and Fender mediums for acoustic and mandolin.

Unless you’re Eddie Van Halen, throwing a pick is a bit pretentious at the Elbow Room or whereever. I keep a few picks on my mic stand in case I drop one–it can really put a crimp in a hot solo if you have to dig around the floor to find your pick. I use this: so I have my slide handy too.

#1 is on the money. I buy them by the dozen and only ever seem to have one to hand.

I also have a habit of dropping my pick into the soundhole of my acoustic, usually when I’m doing a hard strum with an abrupt stop and it just slips out of my hands. I can have extras, or I can shake the damn thing over my head like an idiot trying to get it out.

I use the big Fender triangular flatpicks, medium, with Tortex orange or green picks in the increasingly rare instance that I play electric.

Dr. J

I started with very thin nylon picks because it was the mid 80’s, because in order to really shred, you had to have thin everything (neck, strings, tone too, I guess). It went well with my pointy Jackson V.

I then went through the phase of having to purchase every type of pick imaginable. Jazz tortex picks were never quite my thing (too small), but they were very popular among my friends. I still have all these weird picks in a small box of many sizes and shapes. I personally thought that the “sharkfin” picks were way cool at the time. Now I wonder how I played them.

I eventually learned how to play the dammed instrument, and stop blaming my lack of skill on the plectrum. That is when I went with yellow and green dunlops.

I now play Les Pauls and green dunlops. I bought a bag of something like 100 of them a year or two ago. They work out perfect for my approach and me.

As for the OP: I tape lots of picks to the stand because I sweat when I play on stage, and lose picks periodically. During the middle of a song is not a good time to stop playing and look for a pick you just dropped on the floor. It is just easier to quickly grab one right in front of you.

Speaking of the '80’s … instead of picks on the mic stands, we use to ruin the finish on our guitars with double sided tape, and just stick the picks on there … like all the cool hair bands did.

I actually like ESP picks, the kind with a somewhat rounded edge at the bottom… they’re a bit thinner (shape, not depth) than Fender picks, and it’s more like using my fingernails.

I drop picks like a mofo while I’m playing, especially if I’m strumming really hard, so I’ve got a bag full of them sitting around.

In my band, I’m always switching between sax, flute, percussion and guitar. The only way I could keep from misplacing my pick would be to tie it to a string around my wrist. And that’s so…nerdy:)