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Gypsy Jazz Plectrums - A Rough Guide | Learn To Play Gypsy Jazz Guitar In 2024 | Gypsy Jazz Guitar Lessons In Kent

Updated: Feb 20

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Lessons in Kent | Learn to play Django Reinhardt style swing guitar with Jonny Hepbir

Available one-to-one, hourly, day sessions or online. All aspects covered for rhythm and improvisation.


Plectrum Dilemmas.

If you're new to Gypsy Jazz guitar, you'll soon discover there is a veritable tsunami of information out there. The internet has produced literally thousands of 'how to do it' instructional videos, best guitars/amps to get and of course, the best type of plectrums to use.

This is my personal view on this and I have literally tried every type of material/size available. The first couple of years were the worst, because back in the early 90's, everything was up in the air with the world wide scene and no internet. So unless you'd been to the Django Reinhardt Festival in Samois sur Seine, France or asked players on your local scene what they were using, it was all a bit of a stab in the dark.

Those first few years were the worst for plectrum dilemmas for me. I was already playing professionally full-time in a Hot Club style band and Gypsy Jazz guitarist friends of mine were swapping and changing all the time.

The first few Samois Festivals I went to, I went through everything like coconut shell, formica, plastic, horn, ebony and all with a variety of thickness.

We all felt we'd hit the motherlode around 1998 when a good friend of mine managed to source a load of turtleshell from old arts projects and junk shops. This was it! the same material Django used. We were going to become Gypsy Jazz guitar gods.

This was years before CITES laws and the general unethical usage of animal material.

We had thin ones, thick ones, small ones, big ones. It seemed like every few weeks I'd be using a different pick.

Then at the end of the 90's, custom made composite picks started to appear. They had bevels cut into them with indented thumb grips and different sizes available. Instantly playable with no need to wear them in.

What the Gypsies used.

I used to try and check out what all my favourite players used around this time. Fapy Lafertin showed me a large bit of turtleshell he used, amusingly saying it was from a creature that lived in the mountains. Stochelo Rosenberg had a crafted bit of old ivory. A young Jimmy Rosenberg once didn't have a pick during a Samois jam so someone handed him a bit of polished stone!

I was using a custom composite at the time and I suddenly felt that the 'rules' exploded when I played rhythm for Bireli Lagrene at a Django memorial concert in Wrexham in 2003.

I'd had the enormous pleasure of jamming with him for a lot of the day, far too excited to notice his plectrum, but when we got to the venue in the evening, he realised he'd left his picks back at the hotel.

I had a selection on me, everything was there, all the materials, all the sizes. I also had a Fender medium about 2mm which I lent to pupils at the school I taught at.

Bireli went through every one but his face lit up when he saw the Fender!

I was so horrified I joked and said no! you're not allowed to. He replied that he couldn't play properly with any of the others, too big.

A few years later when I had the first opportunity to play with the influential Lulu Reinhardt, he whipped out a 2mm Dunlop tortex. He said all the custom ones were easy to lose and expensive but he could get a pack of 10 for a couple of euros.

My friend Ducato a very fine Roma player uses the same, he hates the fatties.

Of course, they were all beasts no matter what they used.

Plectrum test.

So since 1998 I've been using predominantly three different picks at various times made up of the main three materials. The custom composite, the mass produced plastic and the turtle shell.

Here's a shot of them, they've all been played in a fair bit and I have plenty of copies of each but these are the regulars.

Composite, mass produced and turtleshell plectrums.

I thought it would be good to do a short demo of all three. So in order, I'm playing them over three choruses of 'Sheik Of Araby' using the same Django Reinhardt solo motifs for continuity.

Gypsy Jazz plectrum secrets.

The 'secret' is, use a rigid plectrum. The tone is ever so slightly varied, the rest is up to your own preferences. A thin, bendy one won't help you develop a good technique if you're new to the style.

A good, confident technique will surpass any plectrum or mild guitar dilemmas. So I would recommend working on that, the music and learn to relax when playing with others.

A plectrum, no matter how snazzy, will not make you play faster. A good technique will do that.


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