Norman Blake: Wearing Out The Pick

Norman Blake may not be a first generation bluegrass musician, but he definitely qualifies as first generation flatpicking guitarist.

If you are a fan of Doc Watson then you will enjoy Norman for sure. He has always specialized as a fiddle tune guitarist, but also has a wonderful voice, a great songwriter (Ginseng Sullivan one of my favoritesand can play a whole host of other instruments.

What I noticed at the end of this song is Norman’s pick is starting to wear out, and he’s getting a scratchy sound that is indicative of a tortoise shell pick.

Of course I have no real way of knowing because you can’t see the pick… but I’ve been there and know that sound all too well.

The tortoise shell pick is by far the best for picking bluegrass but has a few limitations. First being, it is illegal.

Second being the cost, you can find them but they can run upwards of $60 or more for just one pick.

Loosing them is not something you want to do, so my advice is (this is from experience) don’t bring your collection to a gig.

One major drawback of the tortoise shell is it is really not practical for a gig. They can wear our quickly, as any perspiration can cause the pick to start making that scratching sound. If you are a flatpicking guitarist, you know what I’m talking about.

The positives of the tortoise shell of course is ultimate guitar tone, but you have to be in ideal conditions and have on hand some fine steel wool, plastic polish or mirror glaze, and a dry rag. David Grisman had me polishing up some of his picks when I played with him years ago. The next time I saw him, he came out with his own Grisman pick (which was a heavy plastic) with his name on it.

The best replacement I’ve found is the BlueChip pick, and it seems everyone’s using it. And it doesn’t wear out at all! I think it is made out of bakelite plastic but it’s supposed to be a secret. Besides being fantastic for live, they are almost as good as a tortoise shell in the studio.

Where to get the BlueChip? For right now, just google it and you can get to the manufacturer’s site. Eventually I will put a link here.


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