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!

About Vic Lewis

Vic Lewis is 53 years old, and music has been his all-consuming passion since the early days of the Beatles. He’s played guitar for over 30 years – on and off – but only started to learn seriously a few years back. He’s been writing songs almost as long, has been a regular contributor to the Sunday Songwriters Group (the SSG) at Guitar Noise for the last six years or so, and has set the topics for years 7 & 8. Vic plays mostly rhythm guitar, with a little lead and slide, bass guitar and harmonica and noodles around on a keyboard, and when not playing or writing music can probably be found listening to classic rock or oldies from the 60′s 70′s and 80′s. Vic can usually be found behind a Fender Telecaster or a good book, or around the Guitar Noise Forums. Some of his own songs, and a couple of covers can be found here.

Comments [6]

  1. You didn’t mention my number one reason: “I’m lazy”. Selecting picks, buying them, making sure you always have one when you need one, digging through you case (or dryer lint) or whatever to get one…eh. I can just pick up a guitar and play without one.

  2. I agree but although finger picking is better than using pics it’s always good to have a plectrum.

  3. The mainreason…When I am fingertapping, I always lose my plec…and thats interrupting the whole guitar solo, the whole band and the entire concert.

  4. I dont really ever use a pick either and i agree with you too they get lost in ya pockets and in the guitar !!!!
    I love to play Blackbird ( beatles) and stuff on my acoustic but if im playin my electric ill use a pick but only very rarely :)

  5. I feel natural when playing without a plectrum and have greater control on my strumming.My nails are already hard and the guitar pick seems an unnecessary distraction.Therefore I use it for decoration.

    Though I admit that using a pick will produce a sharp toned sound, but that is no way closer to the sound effects due to the strumming acrobatics I can do without it.

    If your fingers are fragile then the pick if for you.

    This is a wonderful post.

  6. The sound of fingers is more pleasant for most stuff than picks (just think Jeff Beck). Besides, just think of the horrible sound that Yngwie Malmsteen makes on his acoustic. Still I find myself using a pick most of the time. How very strange…

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