What's the Deal With Fender Picks? (Part 3)
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
In the first 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.
In the second blog I summed up some things I did to rule out skin oil/sweat, and issues with the strings. I did a lead test on the pick - negative. I noticed the "stain" on my finger and thumb started to look suspiciously like a chemical burn.
I told how I sent an email to Fender through their website with a link to the blog not really expecting a response. To my surprise I received an email from Fender Consumer Relations within 24 hours:
"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...We've never seen the issue you're describing before."
It was apparent that the guy actually went to the blog and read it - brownie points for Fender Consumer Relations!
Since someone from Fender actually engaged with me I set up a demonstration to show the severity of the problem. Different types of picks along with an offending Fender Extra Heavy, complete with pictures. Go to the blog to see all that if you're interested.
I sent the Fender Consumer Relations guy a link to the blog. I said,
"Thank you for your timely response! I didn't really expect that! Customer service wins every time. I set up a little experiment to verify that the problem is the pick. https://www.masterguitarschool.com/post/what-s-the-deal-with-fender-picks-part-2 If there's some kind of chemical contaminant going on I'm sure you would like to know."
Many people responded to the blog with various theories and opinions about what the problem was. Several thought the picks were off-gassing somehow. That made the most sense to me.
One thing I haven't mentioned up to this point; I've kept the batch of new picks in a sealed zip-lock bag. When I open the bag, a distinctive odor immediatly fills the room.
One of my musician compadres here in Kansas City had the best explanation of this theory which I copy-and-pasted and sent to the guy at Fender. I said,
"In my opinion this is the best explanation so far:"
"This celluloid is “gassing” like an old pick guard. I noted the green hue of the fret. The pickup covers and pots of the double Johnny Smith pick guard on my Super 400 deteriorated so bad from the celluloid breaking down that I had to replace all but the actual pickups and switch. In mine, the gasses collect in the closed case and do the damage. These picks seem WAY too toxic as the corrosion appears in a matter of hours. My bet is they’ve switched to a really cheap Chinese supplier."
"I'll send this off to the product management team. This is the first we've ever heard of anything like this."
I asked to be kept in the loop as far as what they found.
After a couple of weeks with no word I contacted the Consumer Relations guy asking if the Product Management department had come to any conclusion. He said,
"They have not heard of any other instances of this happening. We still use the same materials we always have, so there was no real issues. We have never heard of picks gassing before."
So...that's where we are; "...no real issues." It feels somewhat dismissive. There ARE obviously "real issues" with at least this batch of Fender Extra Heavy's.
I find it hard to believe that this issue affects only this batch of 144 picks. Wouldn't a single production run produce thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of picks?
For now, I have switched to V-Pick Tradition Lite.
Just for grins, a final batch of pictures. This is after about a month:
And finally, I come into my studio this morning and notice this:
The high E string broke at, you guessed it, the 2nd fret - the exact spot the Fender Extra Heavy was lodged.
So, from the time I lodged the pick into the strings, it took about a month for the pick to degrade the string to the point that it broke on its own.
Since Fender does not seem interested in pursuing this issue any further, I'm going to clean this guitar up, put on a new set of strings and throw my batch of Fender Extra Heavy picks away - in a sealed zip-lock bag! The guitar may need a fret job because of all of this.
I'm giving the benefit of the doubt and assuming the Consumer Relations guy actually did forward the stuff to Product Management and wasn't just telling me that to get me out of his hair. In spite of what I consider to be an unsatisfactory and dismissive conclusion from Product Management to this episode, I was encouraged with the Consumer Relations department - they were responsive and at least somewhat engaged.
They actually read the blogs.
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