The Science – Plectrum Terminology Explained

If you spend any time on this site, you’ll have come across any number of phrases unique to the Plectroverse. To the uninitiated, this can be a bit intimidating, so in this article I’ll be talking about the codes, abbreviations and shorthand used in the pickiest of places. I’d also like to say that while these aren’t universal by any means, I’ve seen a fair few cropping up elsewhere, and this is mostly a guide for HR! rather than anything else. Read on, and get involved!

  • 73/88 etc: Numerical designations in double digits refer to thicknesses in 100ths of a millimeter – 0.73 = 73 etc, chiefly in relation to the standard set in 1981 by the Dunlop Tortex series.
  • 351/346 etc: Numerical designations in triple digits refer to the shapes standardised in the 1920’s by D’Andrea, coming from the hammer die used to stamp picks into existence. 351 = standard teardrop, 346 = smaller triangle etc.
  • Chirp/Chirping: The high-pitched squeaking noise made by plectrums over a 3mm thickness. Chiefly the result of a high surface area or deep bevel passing over the plain strings. In extreme cases, this can manifest on the wound strings, but this is a lesser occurrence. Common with highly polished surfaces, like Acrylic and Abalone.
  • UHMWPE: Abbreviation of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene, an extremely high tensile strength plastic favoured by companies like Plexstrum and BHL, used in anthroplasty and body armour, among other things. Watch my video explaining this material here!
  • PEEK: Abbreviation of Poly Ether Ether Ketone, a semicrystalline thermoplastic used in pressure valves, geothermal wells, and plectrums. Most commonly seen forming the Winspear Stealth series, it sheds a fine black dust during use, not unlike carbon fibre.
  • Push: When a pick focuses its EQ strength in the mids to the upper bass frequencies, this is referred to as push. Commonly results from materials like Ultem, Delrin, various Woods, and Kirinite.
  • Pop: A very direct, urgent attack resulting from sharply tipped plectrums. Common with materials like Aluminium (Metapixs), and matte finish thermoplastics, such as those used by Chicken Picks.
  • Scrape/Breath: The ‘scrooh’ sound that comes from materials like Stone, matte finish thermoplastic, ghost-buffed acrylic and corn maize. Present in some metal picks, though not definitively.
  • Ghost Buffing/Master Polishing: A process in the striking edges of predominantly acrylic picks being roughened in order to both lessen the natural chirp of the polished surface, and to give the picks themselves a grittier sound. See here for a Gravity comparison.
  • Bevel: The slope of the pick towards its edge.
  • The Little King: HR! terminology for the Jim Dunlop Jazz III.
  • XL: HR! abbreviation for the Jim Dunlop Jazz III XL, principally referring to the Ultem one, if I’m honest.
  • Tagua: Vegetable Ivory, a pure cellulose creation of the Ivory Palm Tree, used in jewelry, picks etc. See my video on it here.

Hopefully, this will allow further posts on the site to make a bit more sense, and while these aren’t necessarily universal phrases, they’ve cropped up enough to merit both inclusion and collation here. If there’s any I missed, let me know on Facebook/Instagram.

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