Graphtech Tusq Picks
Graphtech is well known for making nuts and saddles with their novel synthetic materials that replace ivory and bone. When I heard they started making (among others) small Jazz III style picks, it immediately piqued my interest. I had to try them out.
Tusq Pick Line
They are offering Tusq picks in many different variations. As far as shape goes, they have a clone of Jazz III called “small teardrop”, a standard pick and large triangle pick. All of them come in three different flavors – “bright” (white color), “warm” (ivory-ish color) and “dark” (gray) and few different thicknesses ranging from 0.68mm to 1.4mm. I got few different sample bags with different shapes, thicknesses and flavors to try. But for the purpose of this review, I’ll stick with the small teardrop model, as I’m exclusively using smaller pointed picks from other makers.
Jazz III Comparison
Jazz III, with all variations, is probably the most popular pointed pick, so it’s fair to compare Tusq with the standard red Jazz III that it is based on. For comparison, I used the 1.4mm model which is the same thickness and shape as the original Jazz III, so it’s down to differences in material. Small teardrop is virtually identical as far as shape and feel goes. They have embossed letters done similarly to Jazz III that help with the grip. Edges are rounded similarly to Jazz III, very round, smooth bevel. The material itself is a bit more slippery than nylon or ultex, but it doesn’t cause any issues with the grip. I’ve read a few negative reviews stating that these are impossible to hold due to self-lubricating properties of Tusq material, but I didn’t feel that way. Compared to nylon and even ultex, Tusq feels stiffer, so there’s no flexing at all, except with the thinner models. I prefer the 1.0mm and 1.4mm models, but it’s nice that they have thinner models that could be good introductory picks to the Jazz III world for people who are used to thinner picks.
Jazz III picks are loved by many primarily because of the precision you get having a small pick with a pointed tip. Tusq picks are precise, but maybe a bit less than the actual Jazz III. The tip is not very pointed, unlike some Gravity picks I’ve tried, and Tusq material is more slippery. That, combined with the smooth, round bevel causes the pick to slip faster from a string. Maybe it will just take more time to get used to faster release, but after few weeks of playing with these, it still feels like I lose some of the precision with faster release.
First I tested the tone of pick themselves by throwing them one by one on the top of my desk, all from the same height. That may sound silly, but you can clearly hear the difference between different materials, isolated from other factors like bevel, tip, flexibility, etc. It’s just the material that you’re hearing. Bright Tusq is the brightest sounding material I’ve ever heard. Brighter than any other picks I have, nylon, ultex, acrylic, tortex… “Warm” model doesn’t show any noticeable difference compared to the “bright” model in both tone and feel, but the gray “deep” material sounds much warmer when dropped and feels a bit less slippery.
Now, how does that reflect to the real life when strumming the guitar. Brighter sounding and stiffer material makes the sound brighter, but faster, more slippery tip somewhat negates that. The sum of all factors is that all three models sound a bit brighter than Jazz III, but compared to each other, the difference is pretty small. On the acoustic guitar I can tell the difference between “dark” and other, but I cannot tell the difference between “bright” and “warm” models at all. They are not the brightest picks I have, but they are far from warmest. As far as EQ goes, they are a little above the middle. Rich sound with warmth and brightness with very little picking noise. Unique material adds some high end brilliance that doesn’t make the pick overly bright, but only adds something to the balanced base tone. That makes them suitable for both acoustics and electrics.
I would really, really, really like to see the model that is more pointed than this. It’s great that they have many variations of thicknesses and material flavors, but being stuck with one not-so-pointed tip is a limiting factor. Having a more pointed tip, like one of Gravity models would definitely help with the precision, but could also bring the tone to the full potential of the material.
I read several negative reviews online stating that Tusq picks wear out way too fast. I’ve had them for several weeks and didn’t notice any wear at all. Also, I tried sanding one of them (see the update below) and the material is way, way harder to sand down than celluloid or nylon. I don’t think these have any issues with longevity. They probably won’t last forever, but they will not wear out too quickly either.
It’s worth noting that, like the Jazz III, there is not a lot of picking noise that would make them less suitable for acoustic guitars.
I definitely recommend checking these out. They are priced slightly higher than Jazz III, due to the novel materials used, but still significantly less than boutique hand-made picks, which is fair, since these are mass-produced picks. And they do offer some advantages over Jazz III, like more stiffer feel, a bit more brightness and the freedom of choice between different thicknesses. There are mixed bags of picks that you can get from Graphtech which are perfect for experimenting and finding the right one. Go check them out.
Update – DIY Mods 🙂
Curious to see (and hear) how Tusq would perform with a sharper tip, I took one of the 1.4mm bright small teardrop picks and tried to replicate the tip shape and beveling of Gravity Sunrise pick which is so far one of the brightest, punchiest sounding picks I’ve tried. 5-10 minutes later I got the Tusq pick to have almost identical tip to Sunrise and compared the two, the same tip shape and V kind of bevel instead of a more rounded U bevel that Graphtech had. Having a more pointed tip helped with precision but did not add any brightness. On the contrary, it took some top frequencies down. Also, it noticeably reduced picking noise. I would assume that self-lubricating material they are made of increases speed of the pick and doesn’t allow the tip to “catch” on the string and release it abruptly the way acrylic does. That’s the key to bright sound. It was an interesting experiment and I’m glad I did it. I will consider doing this to my other Jazz-shaped picks as it sometimes improves tone and more often than not improves precision. This version is very nice, rich sounding and very precise. Definitely a keeper.