Posted by: Brad Nixon | July 15, 2010

Is That a Pick in Your Pocket, Or…

Guitar players have one advantage over all other musicians in the world: picks. A guitar pick is the flat triangle of plastic (in olden days bone or tortoise shell or even ivory, gad) players use to pluck the strings. You could carry 10 of them in your pocket and not notice them, but just one is enough to prepare you for any eventuality.

Pull a handful of change out of your pocket at the local convenience store and the kid with the ear piercings manning the register will see that pick in your palm and say, “Dude, you play guitar?” The appropriate response, in this instance is A) if you’re over 30: “Oh. Yes. I’ve been working lately on improving some of Cabezaloco’s transcriptions of Bach,” or B) if you’re under 30: “Yeah, man, I’ve got this band, The Murdering Clowns, maybe you’re heard us on KLON?” and you lay a copy of said CD on him, gratis.

No other musician can do this. Granted, an oboist might have a reed in her purse and, by some incredible happenstance, fumble for change at some restaurant just as the incredibly virile and buffed waiter, passing the table says, “Oh my god, you’re not only brilliant and beautiful, but you play the oboe?” As if.

And, believe me, there are horn players out there, right now, walking around with trumpet and trombone and euphonium and SOUSAPHONE mouthpieces in their pockets. Give it up. No one cares.

And, everyone knows The Piano Player. You could be anywhere — a hotel, a school, the music room in a fabulous mansion you just happen to be occupying while the owners are in Palm Springs or Majorca or Sandusky or some other exotic watering hole while you take care of the cats and the lawn. Your so-called friend, the Piano Dude or Dudette says, “Oh, a Steinway Model B, how wonderful,” flips open the lip and rips off the first few dozen measures of Rachmaninoff’s Concerto #3. “Yeah, right,” you say. “You know, they’ve got their own POOL TABLE over in the next room. Let’s try it out.”

Nope, nothing like the good ol’ guitar pick in the pocket. By itself, sui generis, as we say in Miss Corwin’s Class, it’s de minimus but, let’s say you happen to be waiting for a plane in Memphis and you see Steve Miller, Rick Nielsen, Billy Gibbons and Skunk Baxter waiting for their chartered flights, and they’re thinking about maybe forming the next supergroup, and they’ve all got their axes out of the cases when Skunk says, “Dang. No pick.” You reach calmly into your pocket and say, “Here, I’ve got a spare.” Skunk looks at you and says, “Thanks, man. Hey. Why don’t you pick up that ’57 Strat I’ve got over there and sit in with us?”

Just then, of course, the Victoria’s Secret models prance by, on their way to a photo shoot in Aruba and can’t help but admire the Guitar Gods.


There are among us those who would pervert and diminish the Brotherhood: unscrupulous pretenders who carry The Pick, but cannot play a lick. Beware, oh poseurs. You never know when the day of reckoning will befall. You may be changing dollars into confederates at DFW for that long-awaited trip to South Carolina. You may be looking for an MTA token somewhere near Faneuil Hall or standing in line for a cheesesteak on South Street in Philly. That’s when destiny will find you. Right behind you in line is Randy Newman. “Great,” he says, as he sees the pick in your handful of change “Just what I need. I’ve been looking for someone to help me work out this arrangement for the new Tim Burton film score.” (pulls out sheaf of papers). Can you play the second part on this duet section and I’ll hum the top part. It’s in Eb.

Yes, you’ll be sorry then. Don’t carry the pick if you can’t play the lick.

One brief postscript. Every guitar player has an odd assortment of old picks. Many years ago, you could grab a pick or two for free out of a jar on the counter of the local music store. Perhaps you still can in some places, but I don’t see it much now. Those old picks would have an imprint from the store, so it was advertising of a sort. Here are some of mine, a couple of which I probably got from local shops in Ohio more than 30 years ago.

Odds and ends

Odds and ends

Two brief updates to Monday’s blog about the World Cup Final from Facebook, both, interestingly, from colleagues of mine.

Fellow Global Jammer, Jeroen, who’s Dutch, points us to a very funny sign from a Dutch airport, HERE.

First-time commenter, Bob O. tells me that the phrase, “I went to a fight and a hockey match broke out” (which I altered to “soccer”) originated with Don Rickles in about 1966. Bob offers no documentation, but we’ll trust him on this one. Thanks, Bob and Jeroen. I trust you weren’t reading Facebook on company time or using corporate assets.

© 2012 Brad Nixon



  1. I looked for it and there it was – you have a Benny Gabbard pick. Wow.


    • I thought you’d be impressed. I’m saving it for my Carnegie Hall debut.


  2. Thanks Brad — Did you have to diss trumpet players? It keeps the mouthpiece warm and ready to use. Regards – Mark


    • Mark, what you don’t know is that one of my brothers is a professional trumpet player, and I’m used to kidding him … forgot that you were in the audience. Nothing personal, you know.


      • Hi Brad, no worries — I felt kidded too! Good read today! Regards, Mark


  3. Glad the Steinway showed up in this edition of Under Western Skies.


  4. I still don’t believe that in the 1970s there was a music store in Lebanon Ohio, but that Benny Gabbard pick is proof positive!


    • Well, OK, maybe it was 40 years ago and it was in the ’60s. Right there on Main Street.


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