Why I Don’t Use a Plectrum

A few months ago, a jam buddy whom I met through Guitar Noise – “Darth Ordinary,” as he’s known on the forums – Darth Ordinary – invited me to jam with another GN member, a relative newcomer who goes by “Apache” on the Guitar Noise forums. We had a really fun night; Ms Apache was a gracious hostess, and at times we rocked!

She did seem slightly astonished, though, that I didn’t use a plectrum at all. For all those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, a “plectrum” is a synonym for “pick,” the “pick” being a guitar pick, or mandolin or lute for that matter. I think I shrugged her query off at the time with something like “I just don’t like plecs.”

Couple of months later, one of the grandkids started to take guitar lessons at school – oh, how I wish I’d had that option at the age of eight! – and after a couple of lessons, asked me why I didn’t use a plectrum, because “Sir says you should always use a plectrum!” I tried to explain to him that there are no hard-and-fast rules to playing guitar, sometimes you have to do what feels right for you, rather than what you “must” do according to the book and that there is no single, definitive guitar Bible.

It got me thinking, though. Why don’t I use plecs? Well, here’s a few reasons why……

1 – When I was a beginning guitarist – a real newbie – I lost count of the number of times I lost control of the plec and it went between the strings and straight into the soundhole. I had to stop playing, turn the guitar upside down and shake it all about till I got the plec back.

2 - I hate “pick noise.” If there’s anything I can do anything to eradicate it – and if that means strumming with my fingers – I’ll do it.

3 – They get lost so easily. I can put one in my pocket, but when I want it it’s disappeared. I’m talking about the convenient little pocket on the right hand side of a pair of Levis or Wranglers – they’re the only jeans I can buy because I have a 36 inch inside leg – that’s just above the deep pocket. You’d think they’d be safe in there, right? Wrong! It’s a Bermuda triangle into which plecs might enter but will never be seen again, except in an episode of Torchwood or the X-Files. Or the lint filter of the washing machine.

4 - They might disappear for a while, but then they end up blocking the lint filter in the washing machine. Three hundred quid for a washing machine, seventy-odd quid to call a technician out, a hundred and twenty quid for repairs, for a 50p plec. Priceless…and that’s just the look on the wife’s face when she gets the bill.

5 – I like to play a lot of songs that are fingerpicked. Think “More Than a Feeling,” “Every Picture Tells a Story,” “All Or Nothing,” “Ticket To Ride,” “Play With Fire” – it’s much easier to play those songs with your thumb and three fingers than playing bass notes, skipping strings, playing the treble strings then playing the bass notes with a plec and then fingerpicking the other three strings with two fingers. Why make something reasonably easy more complicated?

6 – Plecs are expensive. Well, no they aren’t really – but 50p for a little piece of plastic is taking the mickey. When I was a kid, that 50p would buy fish and chips for five and a large bottle of fizzy pop that’d last a week, and enough change left over to buy a local evening newspaper. Buy a plectrum from, say, the Cavern at Liverpool, and it’ll cost you three quid nowadays. Fish and chips for almost a week back then, or a banquet for thirty people!.

7 - Tone’s in your fingers, so I’m told. Why introduce an extra factor into the equation? Your fingers are far more sensitive than a plec – it only deadens the feeling, and adds ever-so-slightly to the reaction time between your brain and your fingers.

8 - They wear your strings out more quickly. You use a sharp, pointed thing on your strings, it’s bound to cause more wear and tear than a comparitively soft fingernail. Even if it is plastic, it’s still going to wear your strings out more quickly.

9 - There isn’t a guitar shop in my town. 30, 000 people and nowhere to buy picks, strings, sheet music, capos, etc etc etc. I am not going to pay £4 for bus fares – the price of 8 plecs – to go and buy a couple of plecs for 10% of the cost of the bus fares. I may not be a genius at Economics, but even I can recognise the real cost of an article as opposed to the cost price. They probably cost about a penny a unit to manufacture – that’s a 98% profit per unit. Like I said, I’m not very good at economics but I do know the difference between making a profit and profiteering. Feel free to correct the maths if I’m wrong…..

10 – I can always borrow one for five minutes if we’re playing “House of the Rising Sun” and I need to hit those strings hard and close to the bridge!

11 – And then I can give it back afterwards – some people are very possessive about their plecs. Some people are very possessive about my plecs, too – I’ve lost count of the number of them I’ve took to my local pub on a jam night and not taken home with me!

12 - I really don’t fancy the idea of going through all that over and over again and waiting for the 32nd re-incarnation…by which time you’ll probably pay as much for a plec as I paid for my Telecaster a couple of years or so back.

13 - Did I mention they get lost too easily?

14 – I’m superstitious so I didn’t want to end with #13.

15 - It’s better to play without a plectrum and get used to not needing one, than to play with one and get dependent on using one: think, “Oh my God! What am I going to do now! I lost my plectrum!” Of course, you know you haven’t really lost it – it’s either on the carpet or gone into the soundhole. Or it’s in the lint filter.

16 - Strings wear out faster than plecs. Strings wear out faster if you’re using plecs. Plecs cost 50p, strings cost £6. Or the cost of twelve plecs. You can play a guitar without a plec, but you can’t play without strings. Even if you own lots of plecs! Do the math – you know it makes sense!

17 - They’re not bio-degradable. You might lose one now and then, but it’ll still be around a thousand years from now. If you believe in reincarnation, approximately sixteen lives from now it’ll turn up again. For about thirty seconds, till you lose it, misplace it or drop it down the soundhole of your guitar or it ends up in that lint filter…..and that’s where I came in.

Looking forward to seventeen good reasons as to why you should use a plec. After all, an intelligent and civil discussion is always fun to read!