In subsequent blogs, I will write about my preferred amps, tubes, types of speakers, pickups and such, but for now, I want to focus on something that’s an afterthought, the guitar pick.
About five years ago I grew frustrated with my tone. I felt I’d hit a sonic wall. I expanded my harmonic vocabulary far beyond the usual pentatonic major and minor scales. Yet I couldn’t soar over the proverbial sonic wall. A Fender guitar, plugged into a Fender amp, is a classic blues setup. Adding an overdrive pedal for sustain is standard. After all, on gigs with Albert King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Hubert Sumlin and B. B. King, over the years, I saw them plug their guitars (be it Fender or Gibson) into an amp, most often a Fender Twin, and achieve their unique tones effortlessly.
Chris Thomas King
Guitar tone tips ...
Modern mass produced guitars and amps don't sound the same as they once did for various reasons. A modern Fender amp cannot get you over the sonic wall unless you spend $1,000 on pedals, and still, to my ear, it won’t soar. Don’t get me wrong, modern amps work just fine for playing today’s popular music. But when it comes to in your face blues guitar, the tones we all love from bygone masters, modern Fender amps will not lift off.
While recording my latest album “Hotel Voodoo” I questioned everything about my guitar rig. I even questioned my technique. But I never questioned my ear, which told me something was amiss. The plectrum, in my opinion, is what most differentiates the guitar from other stringed instruments. For example, if played with a bow, the guitar wouldn’t sound much like a guitar.
Changing your guitar pick can change your tone dramatically. For years, I used only Fender medium guitar picks when playing electric guitar. Then I started experimenting with thin picks. Thin picks were fine when playing rhythm. Thin picks, on a song such as Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing” works well on a cranked amp. The softness of thin plectrums acts as an attenuator. But when it comes to my solos, the thin pick was useless. I always found myself reaching for a medium plectrum.
On the other hand, a small rock hard heavy pick, AKA the jazz pick, allowed me to play faster solos. But more importantly, it dampened the piercing bright tone of a modern Fender amp. The so-called jazz pick acted as a low pass filter. It allowed me to pick harder because I had confidence that doing so wouldn’t increase the annoying piercing tone of modern Fender amps. Jazz plectrums have become my pick of choice. However, I still find comfort in medium picks (perhaps out of habit) for rhythmic arrangements.
Today, with the help of a jazz plectrum, I can achieve those classic blues tones. In summation, before buying new pickups, again and again, you should experiment with various plectrums. It’s the cheapest way to change your tone for the better.