Copper in the Arts

September 2012

Zenfire Guitar Picks: Exploring the Unique Sounds of Copper

By Michael Cervin

Zenfire Picks Handcrafted phosphor bronze picks.

Photograph courtesy of Zenfire

Dave Woods is quite picky, especially when it comes to his music. When he couldn't find just the right pick for his guitar, he was inspired to create his own, and Zenfire Picks was born.

"Standard plain copper is too soft for a long lasting guitar pick---it wears out too quickly," he says. "So, I added a hardening agent that allows me to make a pick that can literally last for years."

He's been making picks for 30 years and has been playing guitar since he was just six years old. Although he originally using traditional plastic or nylon guitar picks, he was never happy with the sounds they produced.

"Nothing fit or sounded right," he says. "Guitarists are traditional, many of them have never moved beyond the plastic pick. There are many materials which are better, more natural, like copper," he says. Woods experimented with brass, aluminum, and plain copper but he noticed that the picks were wearing out. That's when he discovered Phosphor Bronze, also known as tin bronze, which are alloys containing copper, tin and phosphorous. The addition of tin increases the corrosion resistance and strength of the alloy, being perfect for a guitar pick.

"But the copper is a very good sound for a pick, so it was a matter of finding a property that was harder," Woods says. "It makes a difference, you get more of a glassy tone; the sound stands out more with a harder material, like brass or copper." He buys scrap from various metal recyclers and uses templates to hand cut the copper, and then he hand files them, using only steel wool to shine the copper and bronze picks. He also does custom orders on his picks because everyone is looking for something different. "A more rounded tip will give a sharper attack," he says. "These are hand made, not mass produced, and I put a lot of myself into them." He was driven to make the picks because he needed to make something better than what someone could buy in a store.

Although he does craft some picks from aluminum and steel, he prefers the copper and brass picks himself. "They look so good and are easy to work with," he notes. And given that many guitar strings have a phosphor bronze coating on them, it seems that the copper pick and copper coated strings work seamlessly together.

"After 40 years of playing guitar I have not found another pick that works as well, feels as great, lasts as long, and keeps me as eager to practice and play as the very picks I created for myself," sayd Woods.

Resources:

Zenfire Picks, Temecula, CA

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