I learned much of my guitar technique from my father, whose specialty is fast-yet-precise rhythm guitar with a large chord vocabulary. One quirk of his style is his preference for the thinnest picks on the market – white .38 mm nylon Dunlops. Over time I developed a preference for picks approaching the more “medium” end of the thickness spectrum. I am not particularly picky about picks, but I do not like thick or heavy picks, and I do not like “non-traditional” pick shapes. And there are a lot of them. Extra-pointy picks. Heart-shaped picks. Wing-shaped picks. Triangular picks. Extra-large picks. Picks with holes in the center. All of which are silly.
Yet I have read rave reviews of Dunlop’s classic “Jazz III” a tiny-yet-thick pick with a sharp point favored by many rock and heavy metal guitarists. Picks are one of the cheapest ways out there to change the tone and feel of your instrument. Why not try something completely new and different?
Dunlop Jazz III Max-Grip Carbon Fiber Guitar Picks – Because these look so much like nylon I had assumed these were “carbon fiber” colored nylon, but it turns out they are indeed made of carbon fiber with the same built-in texture as Dunlop’s popular nylon “Max-Grip” picks. At 1.38 millimeters thick, these are a much thicker pick than I would normally use, and they are much smaller and pointier than the usual shape. And I like them. These are not the fastest, loudest, or most brightest picks out there. Quite the opposite. They are darker and mellower sounding than about any pick I have used, particularly on acoustic, which is useful for mellowing my brightish Ovation, and playing with such a small pick really contributes to a “precise” feel. While I do not quite understand the “jazz” title, these are an arpeggiator’s dream. I thought these might be too thick, but it turns out a tiny little pick like this, which would otherwise lack leverage, seems to benefit from extra thickness. The “maxi-grip” surface, which is built into the material, is also much nicer than the powdery material used on Dunlop’s Gator Grips and Ultex. Surprisingly, although I am generally not a fan of “alternative” shaped picks, these also didn’t have much of a “learning curve.” I believe nylon is the classic material for the Jazz III, and I am not sure how carbon fiber compares to nylon, but either way, the Jazz III is a classic for a reason. A+
Dunlop Jazz III Tortex Flex (.73 mm) – I thought I would like these more since they are closer to the material and thickness I am used to, but this shape of pick feels and sounds better when it is thicker and made out of a different material. This pick is considerably brighter than the thicker carbon fiber version, and somehow either the flexibility or the relative thinness and lightness of the pick gives it an “ungrounded,” hard-to-control feel. Since I have learned to love “7A” drumsticks maybe I could get used to that, but since I don’t care for the sound of these I don’t see much of a reason to. B-
More thoughts on these picks:
I tested these out on acoustic guitar, and I believe things like pick style make more of a difference on acoustic than they would on electric. I also compared them to several picks I had in my pocket at the time – Gibson Medium, Dunlop Gator Grip (.71mm), D’Addario yellow pick (unknown thickness). The larger, “regular size and shape” picks clearly have more volume and power. For room-filling acoustic tone the yellow D’Addario picks seemed to do the trick best, but for an appealing gentle warmth I really liked the carbon fiber Jazz IIIs. The Gibson Mediums were a little brighter and clicker, and the Gator Grips didn’t sound good at all (and have a weird powdery texture that wears off). The Tortex Jazz IIIs sounded thin.
On unplugged electric bass, both were very comfortable and pleasant to play with, although they sound even more different on unplugged bass than on acoustic guitar. The Tortex version is much brighter, while the carbon fiber version is round and tubby. I was surprised by the huge difference. Both are useful sounds to get out of a bass.
While the grippy material on the carbon fiber version is great, I did not feel like I was about to drop the Tortex version. Being such a small pick I find myself gripping it tightly.
At first I thought “Hmm, if the great thing about these picks is that they force you to hold them very closer to the strings, why not just hold regular picks that way?” I tried it, and it doesn’t work. The rounded edge does not allow for as much of an “up-close-and-personal” technique. I also feel like these picks sort of “force” good technique.
I would absolutely recommend these picks (hence the “A+” rating of the carbon fiber version), but with some caveats. Most notably, while I can see the precise feel of these picks being a good fit for lead guitar, I am not a “lead” player. At any given time my left hand is most likely in a chord shape, and my right hand is strumming or playing an arpeggio. I also would not recommend them – at least not the carbon fiber version – for a bright, snappy, or modern tone. For a pick made from modern materials, these deliver what folks would describe as a “vintage” or “old school” tone. Although they can do “wispy,” these would not be ideal for “fast and wispy.”
I am not sure if these will completely become my “pick of choice,” I do see this becoming my first choice for bass.
If you are looking for a round tone combined with precision and a fun feel, this style of pick is absolutely worth a try.