Some of the more odd picks in the guitar world come from exotic locations such as Japan or Arabian locations. Instead of the traditional three-sided, plastic, hand-held pick that most of the world is accustomed to, some simpler picks are fashioned out of bone, horn, and other natural materials. Others are more modern- from an Allen wrench to a loose piece of change.
The oud is a musical instrument from the Middle-East. Interestingly, this instrument was played with an eagle feather. Modern times have led oud players to find an alternative plectrum to use, as eagle feathers are becoming increasingly rare. Instead, the risha was invented. The risha is an elongated piece of bone or horn that has soaked in oil to make it softer. Plastic rishas are also available for beginners, and more crude forms of rishas can even be fashioned out of a plastic bottle.
Figure 1 – Imagine playing your guitar with a risha stick!
Much like the elongated risha, the bachi is a tool used by the Japanese music community. The bachi is used to play the Biwi, and is commonly made out of wood. Oddly enough, most bachi tools can be doubled over as a drum stick- which allows for more versatility. While most guitar players would never think to use such an impractical plectrum, these lute-type instruments are usually simple in design when compared to modern guitars. Mastering such instruments with hard to play plectrum increases skill level and in return brings more attention to skilled musicians.
Figure 2 –Guitar plectrum or drum ticks? Both!
Similarly, Chinese culture also used bone as a plectrum for the sanxian instrument. However, modern times have led to the transition to plastic picks that resemble guitar picks. Like bass or electric guitars, the sanxian can be played with fingers or fingernails as well, rather than using a plectrum.
A more modern example that most are likely familiar with would be the banjo. Instead of a traditional pick, banjos and other similar modern instruments make use of a thumb pick, or finger picks. These picks attach to the finger, instead of being held. This follows the fingerless playing method, but gives more attack power and tone than fingers would.
While the guitar pick is no doubt incredibly common- there are no rules when it comes to deciding on a plectrum. Brian May of the band Queen used a six pence coin to play his guitar- which goes to show that nearly anything around the house can be transformed into a viableplectrum. “Rage Against the Machine” guitarist Tom Morello uses an Allen wrench to play “People of the Sun.”
Figure 3 – Lose your pick? Back to the drawing board!
In the constant fret to find the few dozen guitar picks you have lying hidden around the house, or a single room, instead consider checking your pockets or garage for a unique sound. (Don’t grab anything too sharp- it’ll damage your strings)