Making Plectrums

Making Plectrums

I saw that somebody was selling plectrums on eBay made out of old credit cards…so I made a couple myself. Not quite as good as ‘real’ ones but playable. Has anybody else tried this - or using other materials?

Re: Making Plectrums

In my old heavy metal days, about 25 years ago, the best guitarist I knew had no money, and he used to go to the grocery store and grab the whole rack of the little plastic bread wrapper ties. They would last about a single guitar solo, but they were free!

Today’s modern nylon picks are pretty amazing. (I’m a fan of the snarling dogs, with the sandpaper-like grips). So I don’t know why I would think about trying to make my own 😉

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I remember years ago — when plastic wasn’t so prevalent in our lives — trying to make a plectrum from a squeezy bottle. I cut a piece from the middle and borrowed my mother’s iron to flatten it out. There was a ‘poof” and a cloud of white smoke, and the plastic was gone. The smell lingered for weeks, though. I’ve since tried all types of plastic without success. Come to think of it, I haven’t tried an actual tortoise yet, but if I see one he’d better run…

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For the oud or cumbus, I use the strapping used for packaging building materials - you can pick up scraps of it in different strengths at any building site.

Pictures on this page at my site:

http://www.campin.me.uk/Music/Cumbus/

Another one is the picks used for the cobza/koboz, the Romanian/Hungarian folk lute. Cut from a PET bottle but circumferentially, and flattened. They work very well for that, but the point of them is a the slap you get banging them onto the pickguard between the widely spaced strings. I can’t think of any other instrument where you do that.

http://www.campin.me.uk/Music/Cobza/

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I like the cümbüs link. V interesting. Never found a suitable material for making picks though. Dunlop nylon flourescent green nylon for me every time

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Are good picks really that expensive?? 😉 Just buy them and you’ll have a lot of time for different things… But if somebody knows how to produce excellent strings on your own, you can send me a message… 😉

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I have seen one guy using a credit card and another using a library card.

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something i know only too well. depends on your style of playing and personal thickness preference. credit cards are good i use them a lot but the ply tends to split and makes an awfull sound eventually. milk bottles are good for the very thin style of plectrum. i have shaped a 10p before and sanded the edges smooth, which i did like but i do like heavy picks. and i was playing death metal at the time. bone is good too particularly beef shin bone after you have made a stew. make it while its still warm as its loads easier to work. also make sure there are no dogs around! you just need to remember that any home made pick thats not made from metal will need replacing more often than a purpose made one like the cellulose ones i tend to use for acoustic stuff. but i would recommend bone as you can file, cut and sand it to whatever you like.

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I knew a Banjo player friend who use these little plastic bread wrapper ties. < They worked a while, and as you say there Free >

But as they would say in Norn Iron - ” As long as the bread’s
Ormo ” - lol..

jim..

http://www.yourormo.com/

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I think it depends a lot on what instrument you’re talking about. I used to make flexible guitar plectrums out of ivory (old piano key veneers). But these days you can buy 100 assorted plectrums for £8 on Ebay, so why bother? If you can’t find one out of the hundred that suits you, you probably won’t be able to make one either.

For mandolin family instruments a lot of people prefer a thck, rigid plectum with a profiled tip. I used to make them out of off-cuts of box or ebomy, but these days I just use a 3mm Jim Dunlop "Stubby" with the tip re-worked a little.

Of course, anyone who thinks their 5-course mandola is a cittern should be playing it with a Raven’s quill.

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we’ve been making guitar picks out of old credit cards for years. I can’t afford to keep buying new ones; the kids don’t return them or they fall on the carpet and get vacuumed up. I trace a real guitar pick on to the credit card and cut it out with scissors. I can make six picks from one credit card. I wish I could buy the plastic in large sheets from the credit card companies.

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I bet they spend hours on guitar forums discussing whether Visa or Mastercard gives the better tone.

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For lounge music, it’s Diner’s Club.

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A few months ago, during a stay in London, I went to do a bit of busking in Richmond-upon-Thames. It was only on my disembarcation from the no. 65 bus that I realised I had on *the wrong trousers*, and consequenty had not a pick about my person. I went off in search of a music shop, but soon found out that there had not been one in Richmond for some ten years - the nearest one was across the river in Twickenham. I walked over the bridge, before asking directions from a friendly local (Contrary to popular belief, these do still exist in the suburbs of London); I was advised to take a bus.

After overshooting my stop by a quarter of a mile, I eventually found the music shop - closed. I tried calling the phone number above the shop - only to reach a recorded message, of course. So, in desparation, I began rummaging through my wallet and, putting aside my various bank cards, National Health card, builders merchant discount card etc., I came upon an old French phone card, adorned with a picture of the Eiffel Tower. It was over 5 years since I had last been in France and I could bnot remember whether there was any credit left on the card; neither did I know whether such cards were still valid. Besides, I was not planning any trips there in the near future. The consistency was not unlike that of a Jim Dunlop nylon 0.73mm.

So I walked along the high street, surveying the shops for a likely candidate. Eventually, I came to a big hardware store where I asked to borrow a sturdy pair of scissors. The shop assistant obliged and, for the next ten minutes, I stood at the counter, carefully fashioning plectrum shapes out of the phone card - much to the curiosity of the other customers. Having used all up all the available material, I returned the scissors with a torrent of gratitude and took the bus back to Richmond.

As any plectrum user knows, plectrum choice is a very personal thing, and the slightest diference in shape, weight, flexibility and texture can make a big difference. So, the hard-edged, not-quite-smooth-faced phone card plectrum took some getting used to after the feather-edged, rough-with-smooth textured JD nylon. But after an hour or so, I was finding it a satisfactory substitute.

… I could continue the story, but I have not planned a conclusion, so it would be safest to stop here.

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The plectrum is the first point of contact you have when producing a sound. If, therefore, you don’t give a toss what kind of sound you produce, you’ll use any cheapskate method available. And you’ll find they’ll break at the most inopportune moment. This is fine if you’re totally broke all of the time. My advice is to get a life and buy ready-mades. They’re designed to do the job. Even then you’ll find you’re on the never-ending path to the Holy Grail in trying to find the one true plec which produces the perfect sound. Trust me on this. After several decades of playing mando and banjo, I’m still searching!

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Well Gerry -
If anyone you should know, for I have seen you many times at fleadh’s, aggressively throw down plectrums on the pub floor shouting word’s as it bounced, like… F&c£ N’ B*$T£RD…
And worse word’s that that sometimes - lol…
jim,,,

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Credit cards are too thin. Those credit-card shaped yokes you get when you buy a mobile-phone card are thicker and more substantial. I don’t use a plectrum for guitar (I play mostly classical) but for the Appalachian Dulcimer. A guitar pick is too small, in my experience. But a triangle-ish shape out of a phone card is about what is needed. Or what suits me, anyway.

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A friend of mine who plays with plastic fingerpicks reports that he made his first set by softening toothbrush handles in hot water, bending and filing. This would have been back in the 1960’s, when it was still hard to locate specialty items unless you happened to have the right catalog in hand.

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A friend of mine once attempted to play a mandolin in a pub session using a plectrum fashioned from a beer mat. This did not work but gave me the idea for playing with cardboard plectrums when I was staying somewhere where my playing in my room might offend someone.

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Love the roadkill idea, plus the links to the Cumbus. Never heard of these things. Fascinating thread.

Just intrigued though - if you have more than one plectrum, aren’t they plectra, strictly speaking? Or maybe that’s just for classically-trained guitarists.

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Yes, and it’s fun - I have made them by reshaping different pieces of wood, polymer and metal, like scraps and old coins. Every material will sound different.

Whatever can be repurposed into a plectrum is fun to experiment with. I also file a speed bevel onto all store bought picks of a suitable gauge because they’re too clumsy otherwise. You can buy them this way but for what the article is, not worth the money.

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Could use a hotel key card; they
start to pile up after a bit of go.

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Whats a speed bevel?

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There is a way of folding a foil crisp packet into a plectrum but I’ve never managed it very well.

A friend plays his vintage guitar with plectrums he sands down from bits of orange tail-light. Mazda I think.

Django Reinhardt famously, or allegedly, would use a trouser button if nothing else was available

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In the days when trouser buttons were big of course.

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One problem with using a plectrum made out of a credit card is that when you approach the vital part of the tune, there’s always a risk that your instrument might turn round and say "I’m sorry, sir, but your card has been rejected" 🙂

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being using old (as never had a new one) credit card ‘pic cut outs’ for over three decades now and they really are just a quick fix, the recent hotel room cards even harder and worse (shouldn’t really be cutting them out of those but they do turn up in bags)

i really should buy some after all this time as most of mine (at any given time) are found or given to me - found 2 last night, one on stage and one on the pub floor, both hard but i’ll use them - i always do

to let you into a secret, i’ve session playing friends who keep a spare ‘good’ one in their handbag (gives away gender), and the number of times i’ve had to call upon it …

and don’t mentiion the tuner