Saturday, October 27, 2018

Take Your Pick

Text and pics by Manfred Junker
Over the last six months or so I did some research on picks that would suit me and my playing best. I feel most comfortable with triangular shapes and I am going for a fat/beefy/warm/dark sound with a minimum of string-noise (both with and without the amp). These are factors that brought down the number of possibilities quite a bit.

It is very interesting to hear the differences between picks and for me it was a great learning experience as it is absolutely important to explore the pick as a vital part of one´s sound. Below you will find an overview of what I spent my money on.

Fender Classic Celluloid (heavy/extra heavy)

These "standard" inexpensive picks are available from several companies and I have used them for a long time. Obviously the extra heavies sound darker and therefore I prefer them. You can make them sound even better by using extra fine sandpaper to bevel the side where the pick meets the string - a process which happens more or less automatically when you play a pick over a longer period. Repeat this procedure from time to time to keep the surface smooth.

Hense Cream Speedy 1,4mm & Happy Turtle Pick (1,4mm)

These picks from Germany are pretty expensive (19,90 € each), but really worth a try. The sound of both goes in the direction that I was looking for (dark, warm, beefy), with a minimum of click-noise. Both have beveled and polished sides, which is always nice to begin with.

The Cream Speedy is one of my favorite picks on my semi-acoustic guitar - to me the sound has a certain amount of "dirtyness" that I like on that guitar. After playing it for several weeks I realised that the material wore off a little bit, but after some sanding the pick was smooth again.

The Happy Turtle Pick is advertised to have the sound and feel of classic turtle picks. However, the special material (in German it is called "Milchstein") is not 100% even, which kind of distracted me, but fortunately one of the three sides felt ok. The sound is very good on electric, archtop and nylon-stringed guitars.

To avoid unwanted warps, see to it that the pick does not get wet.

To conclude, I do not regret spending that kind of money for a piece of plastic, but now I always do double-check my floor before vacuum cleaning!

Two picks by Jim Dunlop that really surprised me

The 3,0mm Large Tri-Flatpick (the left one in the picture) is obviously pretty thick. If you can handle that, it gives you a really dark, warm sound (the darkest out of all the picks I checked out). I was surprised that it works best on my nylon-string guitar! Especially when playing chords, there is more click noise than with other picks (and it certainly depends on the guitar and the strings you play) - some guitarists might even like this and call it a "percussive quality". It´s quite inexpensive: 8,65 € for a pack of 3 picks.

The Dunlop 1.50 Primetone Triangle Pick has turned out to be one of the favorite picks for me. 10,24€ for a pack of three is a very modest price for a hand beveled pick that sounds just the way I like it on each of my guitars! For me the quality is at least on the same level with picks that are much more expensive (like the Hense picks and the Blue Chip pick which you can read about below. Try it!

The Blue Chip TAD60

This is by far the most expensive pick that I bought. 46,90€ (!) really is a crazy amount of money - and

1. This was before any punitive custom tariff had been imposed against US products.
2. Yes, I told my wife about it 😊

Nevertheless, this 1,5mm pick sounds very good on all my guitars. As advertised, the material does not wear out and the beveled sides do not have to be polished - my pick looks exactly the same after several months!

The sound is pretty close to the Dunlop Primetone 1,5mm which is much more inexpensive - not better or worse, just a little bit different. That is the reason why I probably would hesitate to buy it again - it is simply way too expensive. But as it is I am glad to have it.

Two Duralin picks

Here are two picks made of Duralin. They are both availaible from Planet Waves and D´Addario - which I believe is essentially the same company. Whereas the heavy one on the left side feels and sounds ok (somewhere in the region of a Fender x-heavy celluloid), the black one (1,5mm) is a real surprise. It sounds very good, much warmer than the purple pick, with a minimum of click-noise.

For me the only problem is the teardrop-shape which I do not feel as comfortable with as with the triangular shape. I contacted D´Addario and asked if there was any chance to have the black one in that shape. For reasons I cannot understand, it is not - all the other slimmer picks are available in both shapes!

So if you are happy with the teardrop shape, you should really check that one out.

Two really disappointing picks

The yellow Dunlop Ultex pick sounds way too bright for my taste with lots of click-noises. Sanding it did not help at all... maybe it is a good one if you are playing other styles than I do.

Even though I did not have good experiences with wood picks before, I fell victim to the beautiful ads of Thalia, which praised their "Exotic Wood Picks" and promised a "warm tone that sounds better with each use." Made up of two or three layers of wood this pick produces a thin, scratchy sound that comes with excessive click noises. I even tried to make it sound better by sanding way, sorry, forget it!

D'Andrea Pro Plec 346 Rounded Triangle (Shell 1.5mm)

After several friends mentioned this pick, I thought I really should try it.

Hard to get - I found it nowhere in Germany and the only source seemed to be a dealer in Italy who charges 30€ for the postage alone! But I finally got it from for very little money: 10 picks for $7,90 plus $5,74 postage!

And it is really great - a nice warm sound on all my guitars with very little click-noises. Even though it is not beveled or polished, it easily matches or even beats the quality of all those expensive picks I checked.

In short, an exceptional pick!

Manfred Junker is a Jazz-Guitarist from Konstanz, Germany. To listen to his music and read about his projects, click here.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Peter Beets Trio with Kurt Rosenwinkel

It is not often that I watch full concerts on Youtube. It's usually isolated clips that I view. It's pretty incredible what is available on Youtube and there's so much to see ... However here's a concert that I enjoyed so throroughly that I watched all the 9 clips of the playlist in one go. The musicianship is outstanding (Peter Beets' solos are pretty out of this world too and the trio is really tight) and Kurt's modern jazz guitar sounds blend wonderfully with the more traditional, acoustic setting of the classic piano trio format. Club jazz at its best. What's more, you get to hear to hear one of the best modern jazz guitar players both on a set of standards and more modern tunes such as "Inner Urge" and the Coltrane tunes "Satellite" and "26-2." Kurt is a much more lyrical player than I thought he was. His ballad playing on "Turn Out the Stars" and "More than You Know" is superb. You can select individual tunes by clicking the icon in the left upper corner.

The concert was recorded on may 1, 2015 at the Kurhaus in Scheveningen. The mix is not the most balanced (especially for the bass player, he deserves much better) but on the whole the sound quality is decent enough. Enjoy!

Peter Beets - piano 
Kurt Rosenwinkel - guitar 
Frans van Geest - double bass 
Joost Patocka - drums

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thomastik Infeld Jazz Swings versus d' Addario Chromes

A few years ago the Thomastik Infeld company was so kind to send me a few packs of TI Jazz Swings so I could test and review them on my Blog. Well, as it happened I have strung all my guitars with them in the mean time (on some 012 and on some 011) and have been playing them ever since. So that review is long overdue. But here it is ...

Prior to my conversion to the TI Jazz swings in 2015 I had been using d'Addario Chromes for about 20 years. To great satisfaction I must add. I still think Chromes are great sounding strings for Jazz archtops. So why the conversion? Let's have a look. I'm going to focus on 3 variables: feel, sound and durability.

This is undoubtedly the main reason for my conversion. TI Jazz swings feel much more comfortable than Chromes due to the lower strings tension when using similar gauges. As a matter of fact, the string tension on a set of 0.12 TI will be more or less equal to a 0.11 set of Chromes and, consequently, a set of 013 TIs will feel like a set of 012 Chromes. That's partly because the string gauges are slightly different starting from the G string and partly because Chromes feel "stiffer" somehow. The TI's smoothly polished nickel winding on a round core versus the Chromes' stainless steel winding on a hex core will make the TIs way more flexible and therefore more comfortable to play.

Many argue that TIs will sound more mellow than Chromes. So Chromes are a bit "brighter" sounding. This makes sense, because hex core strings tend to sound brighter than round core strings. Personally, I did not notice THAT much difference between TIs and Chromes sound wise. Both brands sound great. In addition, it is argued that round core TIs will have more sustain than hex core Chromes and that they sound more vintage. The superior flexibility and sustain of round core strings is explained in this short vid:

Both brands will last a long time, that's for sure. Both TIs and Chromes will easily be on one of my guitars for at least a year. Sometimes the only reason I change a set is because the intonation finally goes bad.

This is only a minor advantage but I do like the TIs red wrapping on the wound string ends and the brass plated high e and b strings!

Though I always liked Chromes, I will stick to TIs from now on. Over here in Europe they are cheaper than Chromes and I really prefer the superior "feel" of the TIs. Sound wise, they are not worlds apart but I think the TIs produce more sustain and are a bit more mellow sounding. Heck, I finally found a guitar related advantage of living in Europe! I get the best strings for half the money but you guys in the US get the vintage Gibsons for 1-2 k cheaper and have way more to choose from ...

To sum up, the TI Jazz Swings are very reasonably priced in Europe, a joy to play and they last forever. End of story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Night of the Jazz Guitars

The Night of the Jazz Guitars is a guitar project that was initiated by the German jazz guitarist Andreas Dombert in 2002. He recorded two CDs (2002, 2006) with his former teacher Helmut Kagerer. With the addition of Paul Morello in 2010, the duo became a trio. A year later, Morello invited Larry Coryell to do a quartet album in 2011 and a tv concert of this quartet was recorded in the same year at the International Jazz Week at Burghausen.

Since 2014, "The Night of the Jazz Guitars" has been touring and recording in different line ups and with different guests such as Philip Catherine, Michael Sagmeister, Ulf Wakenius, Pat Martino and Jesse van Ruller. The line up is only guitar, no rhythm section!

But let's go back to the original 2011 quartet line up with guest star Coryell which was recorded wonderfully for tv. IMHO this is currently one of the most enjoyable live jazz guitar concerts available on Youtube. Sound and image are excellent. The music is highly arranged and at times almost chamber music like but the interplay is gorgeous, inventive enough and even adventurous at times. Both standards and originals are featured. Enjoy!

The studio album is available at Amazon here.