For decades now the Jim Dunlop jazz iii has been the dominant force in pick choice for technically minded guitar players. It was around 10 years ago now that i settled on the jazz iii XL as my preferred guitar pick. I've tried all of the different variants of the jazz iii and liked them all, but found i would settle on the red version of the XL. But is it still the best guitar pick when it comes to playing the most demanding music? This was a question i posed during one of my practice sessions, and this has lead me to do some extensive research into the current guitar pick market. Never has the jazz iii had as much competition as it does now, and I've spent many hours trialing lots of the contenders to the jazz iii throne. In this series of posts about these guitar picks I will share with you my findings, but first lets look at why the jazz iii is so popular, and has cornered the market for technical guitar players.
Size and Shape
One thing that has really made the jazz iii stand out is the pointed tip. Because of its sharp point and shape, the pick is extremely accurate, and actually slices through the string, allowing guitarists to play really fast. The sharp tip combined with the thickness and rigidity of a jazz iii also allows for a very wide range of dynamic possibilities. A standard jazz iii is also a lot smaller than a normal guitar pick, which to many players makes it faster. The jazz iii also comes in an XL size variety that gives you a bit more pick to hang on to. Players who are looking to have bit more versatility from the pick, rather than just it's speed tend to go for the larger XL version. Between the standard and XL shape though, you can find something you like in a jazz iii for playing practically any electric guitar style.
Material and Durability
The jazz iii is most commonly associated with nylon as its material in red or black "stiffo" format, yet over the years different variants of the jazz iii have been made from all sorts of materials,including carbon fiber (max grip variant) ultex and tortex (which is dunlops variation on delrin). This basically means that whatever style you play, there is usually some jazz iii variant that will suit your playing. In terms of durability, jazz iii picks tend to last pretty well, which for musicians playing technically demanding styles is a real bonus. Nobody wants their favorite pick to go blunt after only a few hours playing, and jazz iii picks do well to withstand the rigors of intense shredding, metal riffing and complex jazz and fusion runs.
Jazz iii picks allow you to pick very fast because of the sharp pointed tip, the stiff and non flexible thickness and the materials they are made from. A jazz iii has a pretty quick release from the string, which means it just glides across the string rather than resisting it. Again this contributes to boosting your picking facility and allowing you to play faster.
Comfort and Grip
The jazz iii has an extremely comfortable shape, which is wider at the top than at the bottom, meaning you get plenty of grip area but it chamfers down to the accurate playing tip. This shape is classed as a teardrop pick shape, which is a favorite of many technical players. All jazz iii materials grip well, and certain jazz iii models have added grip aids such as the max-grip versions to improve pick slippage during sweaty gigs and sessions.
Another attribute of the jazz iii is that it is a very accurate pick. Due to the comfortable shape, sharp tip and stiffness, it makes the pick very easy to control. Larger more flexible picks have a tendency to flap around a little and sometimes catch other strings when you are trying to rip through runs. With the jazz iii you feel more confident that you can hit the note you are looking for with pin point accuracy.
The ability to play dynamically is an important factor in almost any guitar style. Variations in your dynamics when soloing or playing rhythm guitar parts are essential for building tension and release, changing tone, accentuating different parts of riffs and melodies etc. The jazz iii is capable of many different dynamic ranges due to its stiffness. Its a lot easier to get quiet notes with harder picks than it is loud notes with soft picks, making stiffer picks a more versatile option.
The different pick materials the jazz iii is made from all have their own characteristic tone, and all have resonated with different players over the years. There is probably no guitarist that is fussier about his tone than Eric Johnson, and he loves the warm soft response of his signature jazz iii. Although the black and red jazz iii's are made from the same nylon, the black version is slightly stiffer and therefore sounds ever so slightly more clicky with a little more attack. The ultex version of the jazz iii brings a lot more brightness to the table, while the tortex versions hark back to the tone of the original tortoiseshell picks. Whichever jazz iii type players have settled on, for so long they have been very happy with the tone of these picks.
The jazz iii was originally named after the genre of music it was designed for. However over the years the pick has found its way in to the hands of musicians from genres spanning blues, rock, funk, jazz, country, metal and fusion. The fact that the jazz iii can cope with so many varying styles has helped it become a mainstay in the rig of top players from all genres all over the world.
One thing that is important to musicians is that if a part of their gear breaks or fails in any way when on tour, on a session, teaching or whatever else they may be doing, is that the piece of kit can be replaced easily and quickly. No guitar player wants to lose or break their favorite pick only to find hours before an important gig they cant get hold of a replacement. With the jazz iii, you can get hold of one in almost any decent music store.
While maybe a bit dearer than a standard guitar pick, Jazz iii's certainly wont break the bank. Prices range from 75p up to £1 depending on where you shop in the UK, with the players pack (consisting of six picks) costing around £5. You can find players packs for around $6 on amazon.com so they are reasonably priced compared to other high end picks.
Jazz iii's sound great, so why look for a change?
If you think about all the great guitar players you like, they very rarely use the exact same rig for their whole lives. Sometimes we just fancy a change. I just happened to be playing one day and i didn't feel particularly comfortable with my picking technique, so this just made me wonder if there was something more comfortable out there to try. I also wondered would a new pick rekindle my passion for fast alternate picked lines. I did find that as i was falling out of love with my picking technique, that i began using the legato approach to playing a lot more. As a player i have always felt that i didn't want to end up being boxed in to one technique, and missed the aggressive attack of alternate picking. this just inspired me to look for a change. I'm not saying that jazz iii's are bad, as its been a great pick for me for many years.
So what's the competition?
When i started looking in to this in October 2015, i was literally blown away by how many pick manufacturer's there actually are! in the ten years i played nothing but the jazz iii i never really bothered to look for anything else as i was so happy with it. In that time all sorts of new pick manufacturers have sprung up, and it was quite overwhelming to know who to choose first. So basically i made a list of the ones i fancied, and went through them methodically, playing each pick for a solid few weeks to give it a thorough review. Here is the list of picks i have tried so far, Click on the name of the pick to view their web page:
- Timber-Tones - Jazzy Tones Max
- Timber-Tones - Funk Tones
- D'adarrio - Nylpro plus
- D'adarrio - Black Ice
- John Pearse - Buffalo Horn Sarod
- Chicken Picks - Badazz iii 2.0mm
- Dava - Jazz Grips Gels, Nylon and Delrin
- V-Picks - Medium Pointed
- Jim Dunlop - John Petrucci SIgnature model
- Hawk Picks - T6 Abalone blue
Naturally at this point you will be wondering how i got on with each pick, and whether its better than the jazz iii. Over the coming weeks i will be adding a review of each pick to my site so keep checking back to see each new picks review and how it stacks up to the jazz iii. Here's how the reviews are going to look; i'll give an overview of how i got on with the pick at the start of the review and what my thoughts are. Then i will break down each pick by the ten categories i looked at for the jazz iii which will be:
- Thickness, size and shape
- Comfort and grip
- Material and Durability
The pick will get a score out of ten for each category, and then an overall score out of 100 based on the results for each category. Ill give my final verdict on the pick, and then it's up to you whether you want to give one a try or not! don't forget to check back here for the reviews, and also if you are looking for more helpful tips on choosing a great pick, or want a more extensive list of manufacturers to check out Click here.
So is the jazz iii still the king?
With all of the amazing picks I've tried so far in this quest, i personally would have to say that no, the jazz iii isn't king any longer. It's still a great pick, and i'm still using them as a part of my teaching, but the pick i believe to be the new king? well you will have to read the reviews and find out.