Those who switch from guitar to ukulele find themselves asking: why don’t picks work? The problem is that guitar picks are designed for longer strings. Even the thin ones are constantly jabbing at your uke’s finish, as well as unseating and nicking the strings. They also don’t work well for many of the techniques that are unique to the uke.
So why use picks at all? The truth is that you really don’t need them. For re-entrant ukes, fluorocarbon strings are soft enough that you can comfortably strum and pick with your fingers. And I recommend that you do that. It’s really nice not to be a slave to the pick. But at the same time, a pick can add new techniques to your reportoire, the way playing your uke with chopsticks can. (But that’s another post.)
Never felt good about felt.
Felt picks that were commonly used with the uke in the past, but you’ll find they’re not conducive to speed playing. So I’ve made my own picks out of Yupo. What’s a Yupo? It’s synthetic watercolor medium made from Polypropylene. It comes in pads or giant sheets and is available in most art stores. It’s pricey, but a pad or big $5 sheet of Yupo will create enough picks to last a liftetime.
Yupo has a smooth white matte finish and is a little thinner than a playing card. Because it’s plastic, it’s a lot more durable than paper. At the same time, they’re very easy on strings and don’t nick them up. Yupo picks will loose their flex and smooth edge eventually, but will give you hours of playing time. You can also trim the worn edges with scissors to get a little more life from a pick.
Making Yupo picks.
I use a one-inch round craft hole punch. After some experimenting, this seems to be the optimal shape and size. Simply punch out the picks and fill up your uke case with them, keep them where you practice and pass them out to friends.
Playing with Yupo picks.
Its easier to show than tell. This video covers various techniques.
Yupo can add a nice variety of tricks to your ukulele playing technique. These can be a big help to guitar players switching to uke, since strumming with your index finger is a very foreign technique at first.
J. Kevin Wolfe
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