If you’ve been anywhere near the guitar in your lifetime, the chances are extremely high that you’ve used one of these very plectrums. The Jim Dunlop .73mm Tortex is – reportedly – the widest used pick on the face of the earth, and its distinctive hue has found its way into the hands of players from across the musical spectrum. Today, Heavy Repping! takes a close look at this icon to find out what makes it so special. To do this, it’s worth taking a look back at the history of the company we casually refer to as Dunlop.
Started in 1965 as a side business by then-chemical and processing engineer Jim Dunlop, this towering colossus of the guitar industry began in my home town of Glasgow, Scotland, before moving to Benicia, California, USA in 1972 and setting up business there. Jim was an apprentice of Bill Wallace, who was the creator of the first hip replacement, and his first creation, the Vibra-Tuner, attached to the guitar using a suction cup, detailing the instrument’s tuning with a reed (you won’t take your Snark for granted next time eh?). He engineered what would become the 1100 series capo in his living room, and after learning what guitarists were and weren’t into when it came to picks from Guitar Player magazine, he moved into the pick game on March 19, 1972.
The Tortex material, a variant of the Delrin acetal homopolymer developed by DuPont in 1960, would come to be the backbone of the company’s pick line with the release of the first Tortex pick 1980, though Dunlop started out using Nylon. The higher strength and resistance of Delrin made it a much more viable plectrum material in the long run, and the titan that is the Tortex line took over.
Matt Pike from High On Fire used a .73 for all his early stuff. Matt Bellamy, Alex Turner and Josh Homme all love a bit of yellow Dunlop action, and in all honesty, it’s not hard to see why. Though these are easily a quarter of the thickness of anything I’d normally use, the sound is bright, well balanced, and strums brilliantly. What’s even more interesting is the comparison to its multi-coloured, multi-thickness siblings, the .73 is, to these hands, the one that feels the best. From the .88mm upwards the right-angled edge of the 351 shape hits the strings like a house brick and both the .60mm and .50mm feel like a bus ticket and till receipt respectively.
The .73 is cheap, universally available, utterly uniform and the right thickness for anything bar the most hard-nosed shredding. It’s so easy to write off the obvious answer to a problem as boring, but throughout all the changes that players make to their rigs, knowing that they can walk into almost any guitar store on earth and buy a fistful of these for pennies and with ease makes the humble yellow teardrop a true legend. Magnificent.
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