I never thought that something as simple as a pick could control your playing style as much it does…until I started experimenting with different guitar picks. For YEARS I’ve used the exact same Fender medium picks (celluloid) – and ALWAYS the tortoise shell ones. I’ve used those since I was a teenager in high school (and I’m 42 now). I guess it’s one of those “stick with what you know” things.
So I’m in a cover band and we play 6 decades of music, dance rock, pop, classic rock, disco, country, alternative – everything. We picked up “Panama” by Van Halen recently and I noticed that it just eats up my picks (from the pick slides). I’m complaining about it every time I practice so my wife googles “what guitar pick is best for playing rock music”? I never would have thought of something that simple, and the thought of changing picks just never came up.
After reading some of the links she found I saw that most of the famous players that play fast don’t play with the larger pick sizes. Comparing my Fender medium to what they play with is about a 40% difference in size. I’ve always gone with the Fender medium because I have big hands anyway, the pick was easy to hold between my thumb and forefinger.
Comparison of Dava Control Picks to Fender Mediums
I got my guitar magazine in the mail that same day and saw an ad for these Dava control grip picks – so I ordered them (6).
Once I got them in the mail I played with them about a week at practice, and a gig. The rubber overlay makes it easier to grip them. I never noticed how the Fender mediums slip in my fingers until I used these. They’re slightly harder then the Fender medium picks, and I did notice that if you pick too hard or aggresively the rubber does grab on the strings if you stick it in too far every now and again. Playing things like pickslides does eat on the picks a bit, but only about half as much as the Fender mediums. They also wear about 40% less than a Fender Medium, and they’re about 20% less in size with a more focused tip then the Fenders. All in all, these picks were better than the Fenders by far. But I was buying Fender Mediums for $25 / 144 (a gross) and these Dava control picks were $3 for 6. Fender picks are about 16 cents each in bulk, and these are 50 cents each. I wouldn’t regularly pay that much for them.
Different Types of Guitar Picks
At least ordering the Dava picks got me out of my norm and showed me that different (and better) alternatives do exist. I spent some time online looking at different picks and these are the ones I decided to order and try out:
Dunlop Tortex pick review
One of the first picks I tried was the Dunlop Tortex. It comes in varying degrees of thickness, and I believe my Fender mediums were .70mm. I don’t like heavy picks, but the Dava was heavier then my Fender and easier to use. I ordered the Tortex picks at .88mm (more than a medium, less than a full heavy). They are about 1/3 smaller than regular standard guitar picks with a pointer tip. They are smooth, and when holding them it feels kind of like a painted surface. I don’t like that feel so much, but they were much easier to pick with – and I was a more accurate player when using them. Better than Fender, but not my ultimate choice. They just make my fingertips feel weird.
Dunlop Ultex pick review
So I tried the Dunlop Ultex pick next and I got this one at 1.14 thickness. I like this pick because it’s the same size roughly as my old Fender mediums, and the tip is slightly pointer. I found that in comparison to the others the larger size made me play sloppier and slower than with the smaller tortex picks. Better than the Fender picks for sure, but again not my final choice. This might be good for acoustic guitar for some people.
Big Stubby pick review
The next one I tried was the Dunlop Big Stubby pick. I think I ended up trying all Dunlop picks by accident, they just had more choices with different options than anybody else. The big stubby pick is about 15-20% smaller than a Fender medium but twice the thickness. This is the first pick I ever played that had rounded edges. This isn’t really possible on standard picks because they’re too thin. It has an indent in the center about the size of a dime slightly to make it easier to grip. The rounded edges actually make it easier to alternate pick, but the tip isn’t as pointy. It’s also still a bit too flexible (despite the thickness) – seems like more of a pick for using on acoustic guitar or for rhythm guitar playing than for lead. Nice, but just not that suitable for my everyday playing.
Dunlop Jazz III pick review
Finally I tried some Dunlop Jazz III picks. These are not to be confused with the Ultex Jazz III picks, which are the same size but made out of a different kind of plastic. I don’t like the way those feel.
The regular Jazz III’s are usually red or black (I use red, because they’re easier to find at a gig when dropped). They are a little more expensive (about 50 cents each or $12 for 2 dozen). However, I found over time that just one of these picks can last a month to 6 weeks, where a fender medium previously barely lasted me a week. So I don’t mind the added cost really.
The funny thing about these picks is that they are way harder and less flexible than anything I ever would have chosen on my own (without reviewing a bunch of picks at once). And when I play with them, I can barely see the tip of the pick when I play – my fingers cover up 90% of the pick when playing. But because they are so small I play more accurately then I ever did before. After doing a little research I also found out that both Eric Johnson and John Petrucci use these picks – which I guess is no surprise (how accurate they are as guitar players).
Since I first wrote this article, I have never used Fender medium picks again – and I have been using the Dunlop Jazz III picks exclusively for 5 years now with no issues. It was probably the biggest single change to my playing in more than 30 years. Also, since Dunlop has written an article entitled “Inside the Cult of the Jazz III”. It turns out a who’s who of guitar plays with these, such as Mick Thomson, Kirk Hammett, John Bonamassa, and more.