Clayton USA Three-Sided Rounded Triangle Acetal and Ultem Guitar Pick Review

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I originally wrote this on November 17, 2008. I still love to play these. They’re good on the fingers for a bright pick sound.

Clayton Three-Sided Rounded Triangle acetal and Ultem Guitar Picks Review

It has been a while since I reached into my pick bowl and brought one out for a review to share with everyone. I think one of my often-chosen favorites is one of my Clayton rounded triangle picks. I have several thicknesses and materials. The two big-time favorites of the bunch are the acetal .80mm triangles and the .56mm Ultem individuals.

I play many, many different types of picks in the process of a week’s worth of guitar and bass adventures (yes, I play with my fingers mostly on the bass, but a pick is all that will do, sometimes). I try to spice up my sound and my technique with different plectrums – many materials, shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and textures. With that said, the Clayton USA three-siders are a very popular choice.

Quick Opinion: They don’t break or wear out very often, so I can’t say “I buy them all the time.”… but… if I’m away from home, these are usually the ones I pick up in the first batch (along with some Fenders). They’re durable, well-made, have a great shape, and have an interesting surface (the acetal ones are not flat).

Put some in your pocket, guitar case, porch table, kitchen table, couch-side table, *and* pick bowl. You might find yourself wandering through some great new sounds!

You can get a staggering array of new ideas for your music with tons of types and sizes and colors of picks here at zZounds.com

Features: Pick feature lists are pretty short, but here goes: The Clayton three-sided rounded triangle picks come in several different materials, several thicknesses from about 1/2 mm to almost 2 mm. Each of the acetal-based Clayton three-siders I’ve purchased have a convoluted surface – they fit to your fingers in a surprisingly comfortable way.

Quality: These picks are really sturdy. Whether you buy Delrin, Ultem, acetal, or plastic, these picks are hard to shred, break, or chip. They do wear over time, particularly on round-wound bass strings/baritone strings, but they last much longer than most other materials.

The manufacture quality of my Claytons has been extremely consistent, never a blem in a bag, and the material has always been extremely consistent and free of bizarre funky spots in material thickness or density.

Playability: Picks are a very personal choice. No one pick is right for everyone. No one pick is right for every sound. No one pick is right for every playing sound… (well, maybe the Pick of Destiny :-)…

For three-sided picks, they’re the most comfortable and easy-to-grip I’ve used. The surface wears smoother over time, but no more than any other pick with the same material makeup.

Sound: Here’s where things are interesting… Once you consider the feel and playability of a pick, there is the sound. As I’ve opined before, different picks cause the same instrument to take on a different timbre, attack, and pick-release. Pinch harmonics/squeals/Billies differ… string length of vibration differs (some picks make a string buzz, while others might not).

Just as importantly, the instrument player feels different when playing different picks. The experience, if you will, can subtly alter the sound by affecting the player in different ways.

In general, thicker picks give more of a thump, thinner picks give a brighter attack and “click”, and medium picks can bridge both. Materials make a difference, too. Of the two in this review, the thicker acetal pick offers a slightly brighter sound than even a thinner Ultem pick. The Ultem material seems to be better for a jazzy sound on electrics. The acetal material, particularly in thinner thicknesses, can cause that wonderful clicky strumming sound when playing acoustics.

So, there is a compounded set of characters involving the player, the material, the thickness, and the shape/edge of the picks. With the Clayton rounded-edge triangle picks, there is a nice and warm nature of the attack, as compared to sharp or pointy picks. In general, I play the Claytons about 1/4 of the time (this is quite a bit, considering that I have at least two dozen pick shapes and materials in my pick tray).

Just as a side note, there are other materials, too, like Delrin… I like lots of different sounds, so I purchased a dozen of several different materials and thicknesses – a great purchase that I’m still enjoying two or three years later.

Value: I believe that the prices charged (in most outlets) for a little back of Clayton USA picks is on par with other brands, if only a few cents more than the cheap brands. I don’t think there is a better value in three-sided round durable picks. If you’re a picking bass player, these are pretty good stuff for durability.

Wishes: None, really. You can even go to the Clayton web site and order custom-printed picks for a reasonable number of beans. How cool is that?

P.S. All your base are belong to us, For great Justice (just search for it on the net, then laugh).

Peterson Tuners’ StroboSoft Mac/Windows Software Tuner Review – Still going strong after years of use!

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

I first wrote this post December 10, 2007. I still use StroboSoft EVERY day on a variety of computers. I hardly use a hardware tuner when I’m noodling through the computer. I now use my iPhone StroboSoft app for hardware/living room tuning… even the occasional gig situation!

Peterson Tuners StroboSoft Tuning Software Review

I record many different types of music via my computer. I use guitars, basses, keyboards, and mic-recorded vocals and acoustic sounds/instruments. I am constantly in need of a tuner which keeps me from having to worry about intonation issues. Chromatic tuners are great, but by golly, they really don’t do the trick for getting a guitar to PLAY in tune. Read on…

Guitars (the whole family, basses, 6-strings, 7-strings, exotics) and just about every stringed instrument are not well-tempered. Read about instrument tempering here. It’s fascinating – opens new window. Sometimes, just tuning your instrument to the exact correct chromatic pitches isn’t going to give you better sound – “in tune”, yes, better sound, no. I’ve fought the tunings of my guitars for ages (particularly acoustics). Tune up to the correct notes, play three different tracks together with the exact same instrument and the exact same tuning – sometimes the three tracks played together don’t sound too good. Why? Tempering. Lack of sweetening.

If you want to tune to the exact pitches your instrument plays, then the StroboSoft sofware (and Peterson’s peerless hardware tuners) will give you just what you want, down to the cent (a cent is effectively a hundredth of a tone). But, some technologies help you by giving you “sweetened tunings” – these tunings include the famous and wonderful Buzz Felten tuning system sweetening settings. There are other excellent tunings available to warm and broaden your harmonic and melodic sounds. With StroboSoft, you can spend your time with your music, not with fiddling with your tuner for hours on end.
StroboSoft Setup Window
Peterson’s hardware strobe tuners are the best of the best of the best. I’ve been interacting with them since I was in school band back in the seventies. Recent Peterson Tuners for guitar, bass and other stringed instruments include sweetened tunings. StroboSoft Deluxe also includes sweetened tunings – all of which work WONDERS for your music and your ears!

I love using Peterson StroboSoft on my computers, but I also love the new Peterson StroboClip tuner! This thing fits in most any case or gig bag and works with just about anything with strings, electric or acoustic! Check this thing out. I use it while I’m doing guitar tech work.

If you’d like to read more about StroboSoft in detail, you can visit the StroboSoft site here:StroboSoft.

Quick Opinion: Buy this piece of software. Buy this piece of software. Buy this piece of software. Really: Buy this piece of software. Your music will sound better, your music will flow better, you’ll have more time to work on your music… Buy this piece of software. Have you bought it yet? Don’t wait. Do it now. Really.

If you’re gigging, playing outside a studio, or on the road – invest in a hardware Peterson Tuner (and take StroboSoft’s capability with you). The hardware tuners are more expensive than the average hardware tuner, but they are worth it. At some point, I’m going to save up enough sheckels and buy a StroboStomp or the rack version for myself… Their hardware is well worth twice (or more) than their current street prices.

StroboSoft sweetened tuning example window

Features: StroboSoft is a snap to use. Install it, go to the setup tab, select your instrument input hardward device, click on “Instrument tune”, then choose what kind of tuning you want (6 String electric? 6 String Acoustic? Sweetened? 5 String Bass?). Pluck your strings, and work your tuners/slides/instrument tuning device until the strobe stops moving up or down. You’re done.

Set up for the first time takes very little time. Just take a few minutes to read their introduction, set it up, and GO. YOUR music will be sweeter, warmer, and more natural-sounding in a few minutes. Be sure to check out and set up the noise canceling feature (so it can tune easier, even on a noisy guitar or mic) – once you’re up and running and understand what the tuner’s doing.

Quality: I have had no issues whatsoever with StroboSoft on any of the three computers I use for recording. It has never crashed, misbehaved, or given me the first issue. Flawless.

In case you’re wondering, this review is glowing because the product REALLY deserves it – not because of any other factor.
StroboSoft Chromatic Tune Window

Value: In my opinion, this software is worth at least as much as Peterson Tuners’ StroboFlip and StroboStomp hardware. I’m very impressed (and, frankly very, very happy) that it costs so little. The forums get answered, the emails get answered, the folks at Peterson care about their customers, and you cannot find a better value on the market.

Support? I’ve needed to have a license re-set a few times (hardware crash, etc.) They’ve always been GREAT. I love their support peeps.

Period.

Wishes: I’d love to see a Mac OSX dashboard widget interface to StroboSoft… just a thought…

M-Audio MobilePre USB Computer Recording Interface Review – An oldie but goodie! Great gear

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

I originally wrote this review April 12, 2007. I still use one of these from time to time on travel recordings… Good stuff, still supported by even the latest Mac OS and Windows… still going strong!

M-Audio MobilePre USB Guitar/Microphone Recording Interface and Mic Pre Review

Tons of people now own computers that are capable of recording music. Processors, hard drives, and RAM are now sufficient to (at least) record music and store it on their disks. Macintoshes with OSX now ship with GarageBand – an excellent means of recording – simple, effective, and transparent (it doesn’t get in the way of the creative process).

The market has become filled with recording interfaces for personal computers. There are some that are ultra-basic and well-suited for jamming along with your favorite music. There are also some that are very high-end, with huge mixer interfaces and large numbers of instrument/mic inputs.

What do you do if you want to record one or two instruments/mics at a time? What if your budget is tight, and you want to get started with making music, voice, or sound effect recordings? I’ve found the MobilePre USB from M-Audio to be an excellent starting point. Although I have more advanced recording equipment and gear, I still keep my MobilePre around to do clean-channel acoustic recordings and to do on-the-go recordings.
You can see more about the M-Audio Mobile Pre (now V2!) here at zZounds.com – Still a bargain 5 years later!

Bear in mind that I could write an entire book on using the MobilePre in the recording process, along with its nuances, its quirks, its strengths, and its weaknesses. But I will keep this review in the realm of just that – a review (not a how-to). Perhaps, I’ll have some time someday to write a user-friendly “how to” on making recordings with the MobilePre… Things are so hectic that I don’t usually have enough time to write a book or tutorial, though…

Quick Opinion: The M-Audio USB MobilePre is a superior and excellent choice for simple/beginner computer-based recording and for computer-based recording on-the-go. Throw this box in your laptop bag with an A-B USB cable, grab your instrument(s) and mic(s) and go. You can record sitting on the porch of a vacation room. You can record that fleeting idea sitting in the hotel room on a business or vacation trip. When one part of the house gets noisy, grab your bits and go to another part of the house. The MobilePre is simple and extremely portable.

It has two input channels, headphone out, stereo mini-plug out, L/R 1/4″ out, stereo mini-plug in, and a single USB cable port. It is powered by the USB connection. It weighs less than a stack of CDs. It is clean, class-compliant, and has a wide range of drivers and freebie (“starter” or “limited”) recording software options. The M-Audio MobilePre is an excellent basic/beginner/mobile choice.

What’s not to like? Go get one. They’re a perfect reliable tool for everyday use.

Usability: Recording interfaces are not always as simple-to-use and elegant as the MobilePre. Really. It’s that simple.

There is one 1/4 unbalanced instrument input port on the front (Unbalanced 1/4? What’s that? It’s the basic mono plug guitar/bass instrument cable type of input you use to plug your instrument into an amplifier – in use for guitars, basses, keyboards, some types of microphones, and more.). The front port is the left channel input for 1/4. The right channel 1/4 input is in the back of the device, as are both the left- and right-channel XLR (XLR? What’s that? It’s the big-diameter, three-pin cable type that is most associated with microphones, but is sometimes used with specially-quipped guitars, amplifier interfaces, and more. Most often, though, most folks will use XLR ports to hook up a mic.) It is kind of weird to have one 1/4 port in the front, and the rest in the back, but it ends up being no big deal after you use the MobilePre for a while. You fall in love with the little box, and the quirky front input becomes second nature.

The left- and right-channel level knobs are easy to use and marked intuitively with a silver pointer ridge. The headphone output level knob is simple, too. I like the little blue light on the front of the MobilePre – it lets me know that the box is active, hooked up, and powered on its USB connection.

You get little green blips on the front panel when sound input is going in to the channels (one each for left and right). The green blip gets brighter as the signal gets stronger. Similarly, you get red blips when your signal is too strong (sometimes called “clipping”). The stronger the clip, the redder the light. When I’m using my MobilePre, I try to let my computer software input meters do their job for me, but it is nice to have the signal strength lights on the front of the MobilePre for when you’re not staring at the computer screen.

The rest of the MobilePre box is simple. Standard input/output ports… all are clearly marked, and the 48v phantom microphone button is simple to use. It is light, easy, and intuitive (if you’re already familiar with the ports). If you’re a complete newbie to recording, devices, and ports, the MobilePre is a comfortable, hard-to-mess-up box with which you can learn.

Compatibility: The M-Audio MobilePre is “class compliant” with some computer operating systems, including Mac OSX. I most often use Mac OSX, and I’ve always been able to plug in the MobilePre and rip sounds into GarageBand or Logic in no time at all. The MobilePre works with almost every major computer operating system in the consumer market. Sorry Linux and Solaris fans – I’m not aware of an official M-Audio driver for those platforms.

I won’t go into a list of what platforms are supported, because it changes more often than this review will. You can see the currently-supported driver list here: http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=support.drivers (opens new window). Bear in mind that as of this writing, Vista is not supported, and Windows XP Media Center is not supported. This may change – check with the M-Audio site.

One important point: the MoblePre works flawlessly and effortlessly with Apple’s GarageBand software (part of iLife), and with Apple’s Logic Express and Logic Pro software packages. I’ve never had the first fit, glitch, or issue with my MobilePre in GarageBand 2.0, 3.0, and Logic Express 7.1. NOT ONE. That’s cool. If you’ve got a Mac, and want to record music, words, podcasts, or other sound-based things, the MobilePre is an awesome place to start out.

Note that my MobilePre is a different color than the factory images:

Features: The M-Audio MobilePre USB interface has excellent features, better than average – and very good considering its price range. The MobilePre has one mic channel with phantom power – remember that both mic inputs don’t support 48v phantom power. It is VERY important to realize that not all budget computer sound interfaces have phantom power (Phantom Power? That’s where the microphone preamp, in this case the MobilePre, provides a little juice to condenser microphones or other mic-like devices.)

Its two-port (two-channel, left/right) design means that you can have two mics recording at the same time, or perhaps an electric bass and an electric guitar, or combinations of both. You can record real two-channel stereo with the MobilePre. (Bear in mind that there are actually four inputs – but only one left and one right can work at the same time.)

Bundled Software (at the time of my purchase) included Live Lite 4 and Reason Adapted (a lite version of Reason). These pieces of software were compatible with both the Windows PCs and Macs in my house. These two programs let you record sound, layer sound, blend, edit, and mix. Both programs are “starter” programs – that is, they are not the full-retail commercial versions of Live and Reason. Some features are not available in the “lite” versions, and certain limitations are in place. If your recording needs outgrow these starter programs, you can purchase upgrades from these starter packages at a reduced rate.

Sound: Clean. Quiet. No bones about it. The M-Audio MobilePre USB box captures as good a sound as you can muster. Of course – your experience, your wiring, recording environment, and recording gear have a great deal to do with the quality of your recording. However, this device adds NOTHING to your recording. It is very clean.

Downside? It doesn’t really have a lot of “oomph” for recordings… if you want brilliant acoustic sound, you should add a tube mic preamp between the mic and the Mobile-Pre… this also solves the “only one phantom power” thing…

For my acoustic recordings, either voice or instrument (acoustic guitar, acoustic bass, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, etc.), I use a nice tube pre-amp to warm up the sound. The MobilePre is very, very clean on acoustic inputs, but is very, very quiet. Sometimes it’s nice to add some warmth and punch to your acoustic recordings. I’ll try to write about that another day. If you’d like questions answered, some basic advice, or have questions, post a contact question to me and I’d be glad to try to help.

Value: The MobilePre USB interface is a bargain. I think it is worth more than it sells for (street price), but I think it is intelligent to market it in the $150 range… (marketing: maybe run occasional $129 “special sales”?)

You can spend $99 to $699 for basic computer recording interfaces – but no single one of them can compete with the features, number of ports, extreme light weight, durability, and overall compatibility of the MobilePre.

I have been asked a great many times about my opinions of starter/beginning recording devices. It is rare that I don’t recommend the M-Audio MobilePre. Even more interesting, I’ve found that folks keep their MobilePres and still use them after they become more advanced at their craft, and after they’ve bought more advanced and expensive equipment. I have more than one interface, and I’m still using my MobilePre for certain acoustic things and for travel.

Wishes: I think that it should be very clear in packaging, or more importantly, web site data, what computer operating systems are NOT supported at the time of purchase, or at least give folks a super-simplified means of looking up compatibility before they purchase.

I like VU Meters. They’re cool and they make me remember the days of old tube stereos – VU meters would be nice. But, since the MobilePre is so inexpensive and so lightweight, I guess VU meters can be left out. Perhaps a “MobilePre Pro” that would give us all back access, lit VU meters, and dual phantom power (one for both left and right)? M-Audio, are you listening? 🙂

Wedgies Rubber Guitar Picks Review – Even after 5 years, I’m still using them every week

TheGuitarReview.com is completely free for personal use, and it would help a LOT if you could help a little bit (you can change the suggested amount in the next screen) to assist me to run the site and the occasional set of strings!

I originally posted this on February 10, 2007. I still use Wedgie Rubber picks a lot when recording in particular. They have a great way of making an acoustic bass sound like finger plucks (which is great when my nails aren’t just right or my fingers are sore). They also make for some cool electric guitar sounds – particularly with rapid up-down pick strokes. Try some! I still love them five years later… I have a box or three of all the weights and thicknesses.

I still keep a Wedgie Rubber Pick in my pocket for everyday use…

Jim Pearson of Vivid Peace's Pocket Picks

Pocket Picks for everyday use

Wedgie Rubber Picks Review

It’s definitely time to return to my Uncle Ricky 25th anniversary pick tray for a new pick review.

I do like to have tons of different picks around to try, to use for recording, and to have for experimentation. Lots of particular picks end up being grabbed out of my pick tray on a frequent basis.

My Wedgie rubber picks are a frequent winner in the pick-grab of the day.
There are times when you want some punch out of your bass-guitar attacks, but not the aggressive, bright attack of a regular 351 celluloid or plastic pick. You want expression and a clearly-defined attack point instead of the warm and broad sound from your fingers.

Also, I’ve found times when my finger-style playing on my 6-string guitars is too warm and my pick sound is too bright –
Those situations are ideal for Wedgies. Wedgies combine the best parts of using a pick with the subtlety of finger plucks.

Quick Opinion: Wedgies are well-made, consistently-made, and (for rubber picks) long-lasting. They are an excellent addition to anyone’s pick arsenal.
Remember, picks are sometimes the least expensive way to change your sound… give them a try…

You can have a blast browsing to your hearts content seeing the different ways you can inexpensively change your sound with different picks here at zZounds.com.

Playability: Wedgies are comfortable and they are easy to grip. The rubber of which they are made is midway between tire rubber and really soft pencil eraser – from a feel perspective. The design has a little cupped place that makes your fingers feel right at home.

Playing with a rubber pick does take some getting used to. It feels a lot like a squishy pick at first, but the attack on the strings isn’t slippery (it grabs the string a little). You have to adjust a tiny bit when you’re going from a hard pick to a rubber pick. On the 6-string, in particular, you start out with a tiny delay of the sound attack until you adjust to the way the pick feels against the strings.
With the bass guitar, the Wedgie pick feels wonderful. If you don’t want to use picks, but want that super-clean attack, try a Wedgie. If you’re new to the bass after playing guitar, you can get right into the groove of playing with a Wedgie. I don’t think there’s any replacement for a well-played finger-style bass technique – but I think the Wedgie makes a great alternative sound.

Features: Wedgies come in three types: Hard; Medium; Soft. They also come in two thicknesses: 3.1mm and 5.0mm. The two dimensions offer you a couple of things… the hardness gives you more or less punch when the string is plucked. The thickness adds more warmth on the thinner one and more volume on the thicker one.
In addition, the thicker and harder picks last longer. Rubber picks have a finite lifetime. I’ve found, after several years of playing them, that Wedgies last longer than many felt picks, and are a reasonably good value. I’ve only worn one or two out. The rougher windings of bass strings produce more pick wear than the finer windings 6-string strings.

I prefer the harder picks for playing on acoustic 6-strings and basses, and softer picks for electric bass and guitar. You may find you like the opposite – but at $.50 each, you can buy several different ones and try to see what you like.

Sound: Next to comfort and grip, sound is the real reason for buying Wedgies.
Plastic, celluloid, and Delrin picks have their distinct sounds. They have similar feel and texture. But rubber picks are a different experience and sound.
Wedgies have an interesting balance between attack and warmth of tone. Their sound is clean – and at the same time mellow.

Value: Although Wedgies rubber picks are more expensive than their plastic-like brethren, their value is quite high. You get a lot of bang for the buck with these, and the manufacturer has done a great job of making them very consistent in material, thickness, and sound. Kudos to the Wedgie folks for giving us a nice blended sound in such a comfortable package.

Wishes: One wish: I’d like to see them come out with an extra-hard. Something that still gives that Wedgie sound, but an earlier and more defined attack. I’d be sure to buy several.