Thumb Picks

Murphy Henry

Oh, goody, oh, goody I can hear some of you saying. Finally a blog about something mechanical! As many of you know, I don’t get too excited about the fascinating-to-some world of banjo parts: tone rings, rims, stretcher bands, bridges, tail pieces, head tension, strings, and, yes, picks. I don’t like to tinker with my banjo. I find something I like, often by accident, and I stick with it. (Okay, I did move to light gauge strings because I read that J.D. Crowe used light gauge.)

Furthermore (and here’s the lecture!) I’ve often found that students often tinker with their banjos in lieu of practicing. Note: changing your bridge will not cure all your banjo-picking ills. Nor will changing your picks. Or strings. Still and yet, I know that tinkering is fun for some of you and I certainly don’t begrudge you that enjoyment. After you practice!

Having said all that, someone gave me a thumb pick the other day that I really like. On the pick is the word "COOL” and below that “Beta-medium.” It’s clear plastic, tinted light yellow (maybe even amber?) and it gives an excellent tone when I play. Equally important, it feels good on my thumb. It fits perfectly—good and tight—with no reshaping required. (As you might imagine, I’m not big on having to reshape a thumb pick. Been there, done that. Find it a pain.) In fact, it reminds me a lot of the clear Dobro thumb picks I still use. The initial fit is a bit smoother, though, and the tip is not as pointed. The Dobro picks always took some wearing down to feel exactly right. (And, yes, I did occasionally rouse myself to round the tip off with a file.)

In the Olden Days I used to use the old, tortoise-shell-colored National thumb picks. In fact, when we first visited Winchester I thought finding a cache of those very thumb picks was one of the “signs” that we should move here. I bought them all, but, alas, over the years the plastic turned brittle and the ones I was holding in reserve all broke when I put them on. Very sad. And while the new Nationals looked much the same they were made out of a softer plastic and I didn’t like the tone they gave. I tried Golden Gate for a while (good, hard plastic but a little too tight on my thumb) before moving on to the Dobro brand. And now I find myself liking these “Cool” picks.

Several of my students are using them and they also seem to like them just fine. I have heard these students say that these picks are supposed to be “microwavable” to get the perfect fit, but I’ve not heard any reports of this actually happening.

I’m sure you can Google these picks and find out more about them, but I thought I’d give you my up-close-and-personal report. As always, we welcome your comments!

7 thoughts on “Thumb Picks

  1. Marty Bacon

    Are you sure that new strings or a new bridge or new picks or a new banjo won’t cure all my ills:)? Does Janet Davis have “Cool” picks. And BTW, have you tried Sammy Shelor finger picks. They really are good picks.

  2. Martha Carlton

    I’ve already ordered my “Cool” picks from Elderly Instruments. I did not see any “Cool” picks on Janet Davis’ website. it will be fun to try these new ones. I have a good thumb pick which I am using, but, it is always tempting to try something new which might suddenly turn me into a pro. Thanks for mentioning these picks, Murphy!

  3. Martin Bacon

    I bought Mediums and larges so I would have the right size, so I should have some to share at MM camp.

  4. Mark Heilman

    I also bought some from Elderly Instruments. I wonder if there will be a spike in the Cool picks sales this month?

  5. susan

    SURE DID! Now if we could just get Murphy interested in tap-tuning the banjo head and the air chamber! Murphy, what say you? 🙂

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