What's the Deal With Fender Picks? (Part 2)
In the previous blog on this issue I documented a disturbing development that has occurred with my latest batch of Fender Extra Heavy picks. I have used Fender Extra Heavy's for over 40 years. Summing up;
The strings where, and only where, the pick is stored oxidize/rust - within 12 hours. Even brand new strings.
After a gig there is an orange stain on my finger and thumb where I grip the pick.
For the first time in over 40 years of gigging, a pick cracked while playing.
The pick seems slippery - I've never had trouble with the pick slipping or rotating in my grip before.
Wondering if it was me - something in my skin/oil/sweat? - I had my wife handle the pick and stick a new one in the strings on a guitar. Same result; it's not specific to me.
I have a brother who's an environmental chemist. He told me,
"Unlike metals almost always have an oxidation/reduction problem. That’s why you can’t use, for example, an aluminum bolt with a steel washer — it will seize up every time. Railroads learned quickly they couldn’t use aluminum and steel in passenger cars; the reaction between the two (oxidation/reduction = rust) caused massive rust and decay very quickly. Skin is unfortunately a common exposure pathway for just about all contaminants, including heavy metals."
I performed a lead test on the pick - negative.
I sent an email to Fender through their website asking if there had been a change in the manufacturing process or the composition of the picks and linked to my blog, What's the Deal With Fender Picks?. I didn't really expect a response.
To my surprise, I received a response within 24 hours. Furthermore it appeared that the guy had actually gone to the blog and read it. Kudos to Fender for customer service! He said,
"We have sourced our picks from various vendors over the years. They are made to our specs, almost always from celluloid, unless you use a nylon or delrin pick. I can't imagine why the pick material would cause strings to rust, it's essentially plastic, so it doesn't really make sense. Typically strings rust due to oils and sweat from the players fingers. We've never seen the issue you're describing before."
I know that it's not my skin oil and sweat that's causing the rust. I've been a professional guitar player for well over 40 years and have played over 10,000 gigs. I've never had a problem like this.
To give the guy credit, he said, "We've never seen the issue you're describing before."
So with the intention of furthering the discussion with Fender, I decided to set up a little experiment to provide more documentation.
I thought it appropriate to use...my Fender Telecaster! I used an assortment of picks; nylon, plastic, tortoise shell finish etc. And, of course, a brand new Fender Extra Heavy pick that had never been used. On top of all that, I found a Fender Heavy (a little thinner than Extra Heavy) in my desk drawer at my teaching studio that was 15 years old! Never been used, still in the original package. I know because it is marked, "Fender 50th Anniversary...1955-2005." I decided to include it in my experiment.
I put on a brand new set of strings:
I put the picks in the strings the way I normally store them. The white pick at the 2nd fret is the new Fender Extra Heavy. The other white pick (10th fret) is the 50th Anniversary edition.
After approximately 12 hours:
See the corrosion? - or whatever it is. I find it interesting that there is corrosion on the 4th string, even though the pick is not touching it. Whatever is happening can happen without direct contact, proximity is a factor. Apparently the 5th and 6th string are far enough away and are not affected.
Nada? Hmmm...maybe just a hair. Hard to tell. Could be normal string discoloration.
I pulled the new pick out to expose the residue on the pick:
After 24 hours I pulled the 15-year-old Fender pick out to see if there was any residue on the pick - there wasn't. So I conclude the old pick doesn't have the issue the new one does, at all.
Notice the high E, B and G strings at the 2nd fret. That's where the new Fender Extra Heavy pick was:
Also, after 3 days the "stain" on my finger and thumb looks more like a chemical burn:
The pictures of my finger and thumb have not been filtered, enhanced or altered in any way.
I have concluded the issue of pick slippage was the result of my damaged skin.
After 24 hours:
After 36 hours:
After 36 hours, none of the other picks are showing anything like what is happening with the new Fender Extra Heavy - they're not showing anything at all:
After 48 hours:
All the other picks have no effect on the strings.
After 60 hours:
I could keep going but the point is made.
Something is very wrong with these picks!
The guy from Fender said, "We've never seen the issue you're describing before."
Assuming that's true, I'm willing to believe I got an anomalous batch that happened to be contaminated somehow, possibly chemically. I'm going to contact the guy at Fender again and link him to this blog and see what the response is. I would think that Fender would like to figure out what's going on - I sure would. I'll write another blog installment if this saga continues.
As I said, I settled on Fender Extra Heavy picks over 40 years ago and have used them ever since. I am set in my ways and it's somewhat unsettling to have to switch, but these are not usable.
I have ordered a couple of Tradition Lites from V-Pick. Of all the alternatives to Fender Extra Heavy picks I've tried over the years, those felt the closest to the Fenders. I'll have to play several gigs before they arrive and in the interim I'm using picks from the 15-year-old batch of Fender Heavy picks I found in my desk drawer at my studio.
I have a pile of hundreds of worn-out Fender Extra Heavy picks that my grandkids play with - scary! - those will be put out of reach. I don't want to throw them away just yet - I might want to test a few for other metals besides lead, or test for chemical contaminants.
It sure would be nice if Fender did that legwork.
If I was them, I would. For one thing, if they find that there was a screw-up and only a limited batch of picks were affected, I might gladly return to the fold.
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