Recently, while browsing through the “Meet and Greet” forum of Guitar Noise, I came across a thread from an Australian chap who posted a link to his website. This guy makes plectra (that’s “guitar picks” to our American readers) from agate, a semi-precious stone, and after a couple of queries, he challenged me to try one of his plecs. For free, yet. So I took him up on the offer.
My plecs – he actually sent me two to try, the one I picked out and a different one – duly arrived today, so I’ve been giving them a good work-out. Now I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big fan of plecs – I only usually use one when (A) I’ve broken my index fingernail, or (B) I really want to attack the strings close to the bridge. After dropping a thousand plecs down soundholes, usually when I’m in the middle of a killer riff or solo – well OK, I don’t actually play KILLER riffs or solos, but maybe I could if I wasn’t concentrating so hard on keeping hold of the plec and could pay a little attention to the music! – I eventually gave them up as a bad job, and concentrated my energy on using my fingers.
First impressions: They arrived in a little padded bag, each plec in a small plastic re-sealable bag. On taking them out, the first thing that caught my eye was the absolutely gorgeous look of them. One is pinkish, with a couple of subtle shades of pink and a white streak runnning through it. It has a rose etched on one side, and the “Starpics” logo on the other. The other is blue, with a ripple effect running through it. There’s a translucent quality to them – holding them up to the light, you can almost see through them. The next thing I noticed was the weight – they’re a lot heavier than a plastic plec. They feel strange when you first hold them, it takes a few seconds to adjust to the feel of them – they’re like no plec you’ve ever held before. You’d expect such a beautifully crafted, highly polished piece of mineral to slip in your fingers – but they don’t. The etched rose and the etched logo help with the grip on the pink one – yet strangely, the blue plec, with no etching, stays pretty firmly anchored in place too.
So what do they sound like? Well – the first thing I noticed is the almost complete absence of that irritating pick noise. That, and the fact they seem to glide through the strings like a knife through butter, even though they’re far more rigid than a conventional plec.
I tried them first with my acoustic guitar. I played the riff to Bob Seger’s Night Moves first with my nail then with the starpics plec. I got a slightly mellower tone, and virtually no pick noise, with the plec. I played the chorus riff to Boston’s More Than A Feeling – score two to the plec. It seems to bring out mellower undertones – or overtones, I’m not too sure which! – in my acoustic playing. Next, I tried Turn Turn Turn – strummed it close to the bridge with a plastic plec, then again with a starpics plec. Again, the starpics plec won hands down – far less pic noise, though there were some percussive undertones, than the conventional plec.
Then I tried them on electric. I have a Cube 30X amp, and I tried every setting. It’s always been a source of discontent with me that on the occasions I’ve had to use a plec – no index fingernail – I’ve got an awful lot of extraneous noise when I’ve used the bridge pick up. Almost as much noise as when I’ve just put new strings on the acoustic and you get that horrible squeaking when you slide a barre chord down a couple of frets.
I tried Under The Bridge and Alison with the clean channel – sounded great. Both those songs feature nice mellow chords with a bit of picking, and though I didn’t quite master the intro to UTB with a plec, the starpic does seem to mellow out the sound a lot.
I tried a couple of Stones riffs – Brown Sugar and Start Me Up – using just partial chords on the D G and B strings. I used the lead setting on the cube and some gain on the “Black Panel” and again on the “Brit Combo” settings. I seem to have suddenly gained far more control over my plec – I wasn’t hitting any bum notes on the A or top E strings.
All Right Now by Free has long been a favourite – tried that with a bit more gain and yet again I was impressed by how easy these picks are to control. That was on the “Tweed” setting.
Then I tried the R-Fier setting – model of a rectifier amp. Needed something a bit heavier, so I tried the riff to Paranoid and the intro to Heart Full Of Soul the old Yardbirds song. This is about the only place I didn’t score the Starpics higher than a normal plec or my fingers, but on Paranoid – I usually play that song with all downstrokes – I had a slightly tricky time adapting said downstrokes with the plecs, but I’m sure with a bit of practise I could manage it.
This was far outweighed by finding out I could finally do something I’ve been trying to get a handle on for a while – pinch harmonics. I had such control over the plec, I found I could actually hit about one in four – as opposed to the one in twenty-or-so which is my normal strike rate!
So overall, I’d have to say – bear in mind, this is with about two and a half hours worth of playing – I’m VERY impressed with these pics. I haven’t used a pic for a while, and tend to avoid them if I can help it – I like to think I can get better control with my fingers. But these Starpics don’t slip, and you can use them for anything from mellow ballads to heavy metal – I think Mr Groenveld has found a convert in me!
And hey, you don’t have to take my word for it – look at the testimonials on his website: Starpics. You may be pleasantly surprised by a couple of the names there!
I know the pics seem expensive – twenty quid for a plec! – at first sight, but if it’s the only plec you’ll ever need, you’ll probably save that much in a couple of years. And as a green bonus, you’ll be helping to save the planet – so much plastic thrown away or lost every year can’t be doing the Earth much good. And as for my propensity for losing picks….well, they’re so beautifully crafted, I am going to do my best to look after them. I’ve had mine about twelve hours and still got them and that’s GOT to be something of a record!
About the Author
Vic Lewis was born 24 days before John Winston Lennon met James Paul McCartney at a church fete in Liverpool, who thoughtfully went on to provide a lot of the soundtrack for his life. He picked up a guitar for the first time as a teenager, noodled around with three chords for 30 years and then found, in no small part due to Guitarnoise.com, that there was more to life than A D and E. When not found behind a Fender Telecaster or his SPT acoustic guitar, he can usually be spotted wearing red t-shirts watching Football, Rugby League or Cricket, or reading books by Tom Clancy or Terry Pratchett.