Episode 2: Round (and Sharp) Picks
Ten years ago, Robert Fripp paid me a compliment in his online diary in response to videos and blog posts I’d written at that time about playing Fracture. He said, “Mr. Garone’s work on this is honourable, and has my respect.” This sentence motivated me for many years to continue pursuing Fracture.
More importantly, he made a recommendation that, for some reason, took me years to understand: use a sharp pick.
Here is the video to accompany this episode of Failure to Fracture.
What is Failure to Fracture?
Failure to Fracture is a video series I’ve put together about all the things that have stood in the way of my successfully playing the song Fracture by King Crimson despite years and years of study, practice, writing, and making videos.
- Episode 0: Introduction (includes notation/tablature)
- Episode 1: Stress and Tension
- Episode 2: Picking Picks
- Episode 3: Inefficient Picking
- Episode 4: Overzealous Precision
- Episode 5: Alex Anthony Faide Interview
- Episode 6: Fracture is Impossible to Play
The Problems with Round Picks
Playing Fracture with a round pick is like slicing a ripe tomato with a butterknife. (What?!) In my experience, round picks are great for all sorts of players, but for Fracture, they’re just not the right tool for the job. Here are my thoughts:
- Round picks are more difficult to get a clear, consistent attack
- They need to be nearly parallel to the string for every stroke to maximize sound
- Fracture’s incessant string skipping makes clear tone quite difficult with a round pick
- Round picks can “slide” across strings instead of connecting me with the notes and strings
- I feel like I’m not in control of my playing with round picks
These are very personal reasons, but watch the video and you’ll get a sense of the tonal differences between the round and sharp picks. I play the moto perpetuo with both round and sharp picks, alternating between the two so you can get a sense of how the picks make a difference.
Picks, Picks, Picks!
When Mr. Fripp recommended use of a sharp pick, he wrote:
The recommended pick is a triangular Guitar Craft pick, of which there is a small production line, handmade in Japan by Mr. Hiroshi Iketani. If a Dunlop Tortex is the only choice, I would use the Tortex Sharp & consider that life was hard, cruel & unfair.
Since I had no access to the triangular Guitar Craft pick at the time, I bought Dunlop Tortex Sharps and it made a huge difference in tone and accuracy. (I prefer the yellow .73mm ones.) Here’s what I love about them:
- They make your strings sound much brighter and more clear
- Pick noise is severely reduced
- They’re slightly longer than a normal pick, so there’s more to grip
- Reduces accidental string muting
- Sounds much more like Fripp!
Using a normal pick makes it harder to play Fracture for the reasons I just listed. Normal picks don’t have the clear tone of a sharp pick. They’re noisy and make a lot of noise because you’re almost always rubbing the surface of the pick across a string instead of striking through a string. They’re shorter and not as grippy. Their shortness also makes it hard to let long notes ring during the “death picking” part of Fracture. And if you’re really trying to play like Fripp and sound like him, you’re not going to have good luck with a normal pick.
Guitar Craft Triangular Picks
When I attended the Guitar Circle intro course, some official india rubber Guitar Craft picks were available for purchase. It turns out there are two types of GC picks: india rubber and delrin. My india rubber picks are shiny, slick, and fancier than the delrin ones. The delrin ones have a matte, fine texture and I prefer them to the india rubber ones. Guitarist Steve Ball has a written history of the picks on his website.
These picks are definitely, definitely awesome. Before I had any access to these picks, I bought every sharp pick I could find on the market. The only ones that even come close to the GC picks are the Tortex Sharps Fripp recommended. The biggest advantage (for me) to the triangular pick is that it doesn’t spin or move nearly as much when playing Fracture.
Other Sharp Picks
Now, I understand that it may be my own poor technique that leads to a spinning pick, but I can say that the triangular pick spins the least of any of the picks I’ve seen. Even as I’ve been making this series, I’ve worked pretty hard on my picking grip and have started re-evaluating other sharp picks as I’m learning to better control the pick.
Despite all this work, none of the other sharp picks I have come close to the Tortex Sharps or the GC picks:
- D’Andrea triangle picks are really big. I’ve cut them down to the size of the GC picks, but one of the sides is unfinished.
- White Dunlop Jazz III picks are the best of the rest. For GC-style picking that’s suitable for playing Fracture, these are pretty nice, though a little thick for my taste. The other Jazz III picks are just too thick for me.
While we’re on the subject of picks, there are some pretty crazy picks out there. Ibanez makes one with a sandpaper grip! I ordered this crazy V-Pick “Shredder Lite” triangular guitar pick and it’s SUPER sharp, precisely made, but a little too thick for my tastes. It is nearly the same size as the GC picks and works pretty well. There’s even a woman using this technique with a different pick in the New York Guitar Circle.