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Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks

20 Mar 00 - 10:51 AM (#198067)
Subject: THANKS & thumbpick search
From: GUEST,Anthony

Dear Mudcatters,

I'm fairly new to this site, but have already discovered what a wonderful community of friends and neighbors this is!

Two items:

First, thanks for all the great P.A. advice. You good folks probably saved me a lot of money and frustration. Basically I learned that I haven't done nearly enough research yet. We now plan just to rent sound equipment until we understand our needs better and learn more about all the new toys on the market.

Second, I'm on something of a quest and need your help:

For many years (most of the 60s and 70s) I favored a particular kind of thumbpick, which now seems impossible to find. I always called them "ribbon" picks because they were very narrow across both the thumb loop and the shaft -- about a quarter of an inch. These picks were made out of hard plastic and came in a variety of colors, including a fake tortoise shell that seemed to wear a little better than the others.

The last time I saw this style of pick for sale was about 10 years ago at tbe Signal Hill music store in Mountain View, Arkansas. They had a dozen or so mixed in with a big jar full of Nationals, Gibsons, etc., and I bought all of them. Now I've got two left, both badly worn.

At the suggestion of a friend, I e-mailed Thom Bresh and asked if he could help. Mr. Bresh wrote me back a very friendly note saying that he remembered the pick I was talking about, and that they were favorites of his father's -- Merle Travis, as most of you probably know.

Mr. Bresh continued that this particular thumbpick was also used by Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley's guitarist at Sun Records), and that he had been looking for them -- unsuccessfully -- for years.

What made this pick so neat was their flat-pick like "feel," especially on upstrokes. I think this was produced by combining narrow pick width with a fairly heavy gauge of plastic. In other words, the pick was thick-gauged enough not to bend much at the curve where the loop joins the shaft, but they were narrow enough across the surface to flex just a little along the picking surface.

Also, the narrow width allowed the longish, rounded thumb loop to rest entirely BELOW the nail, which meant they were extremely comfortable to wear.

The Fred Kelly "Slick Pick" is designed along similar lines except that it's a little wider, is made out of Delrin instead of slick plastic, has a shorter shaft (too short, I think), and has a stubby, square-cut loop end that digs into your cutlicle.

If Mr. Kelly would modify his design just a bit (Delrin is great pick material, in my opinion) he'd be there. But since that seems unlikely does anyone know if these old-style picks are still made? Or is there at least someone who has an existing supply for sale?

I'm sure a number of us older thumbpickers would be willing to pay a premium for them.

Thanks to all, Tony

20 Mar 00 - 11:03 AM (#198070)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Rick Fielding

Hi Tony. I relate to your trying to find "exactly" the right kind of pick. For many musicians the kind of equipment used can make the difference between being happy with the results or always feeling that "something's missing".

I can't help you with that particular thumbpick (although I remember them) but I can tell you that I've gotten used to "customizing" all my picks. That wonderful little machine, the battery powered "Dremel" tool, is worth it's weight in gold to me. I start with a "Golden Gate " thumbpick (much superior to the others in my opinion), and start sanding it down so that the "pick" part is very thin but still sturdy enough to last through 3 months of gigs. You might want to try and customize your own.

One other suggestion that's proved useful in the past is to contact VERY rural music stores (takes a little Yellow Pages work), you'd be surprised what kind of things they bought in 1970 and still haven't sold. Good luck.


20 Mar 00 - 11:33 AM (#198085)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: GUEST,Anthony to Rick Fielding

Dear Rick,

Sanding down the blade!! What a GREAT idea. Three quick questions:

What "Dremel" tip is best?

Are you somehow able to smooth out or polish the picking surface after sanding to keep it from scraping or "grabbing" along the string?

Do you sand just the back of the blade, the front, or both sides? (I realize we're talking about a bevel that is only a tiny fraction of an inch, so it may not matter.)

20 Mar 00 - 12:59 PM (#198127)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: GUEST,Les B

What Rick suggests is exactly what I do, since I can't find those good old thumbpicks anymore. Golden Gates are more expensive but they're tough and well made. The one other thing I have to do is some careful trimming with a stout pair of scissors or tin snips so the thumb loop doesn't get caught in the strings. After the trimming I use fine sandpaper or emmory cloth to polish the rough edges.

The other thing I miss from the 60's are a certain type of plastic fingerpick that worked well for guitar. I haven't found a suitable substitute for those yet, though I get by with Dunlop metals like I use on the banjo.

20 Mar 00 - 01:00 PM (#198130)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Mooh

Anthony, I've been re-shaping thumbpicks for years. I usually start with whatever heavy sandpaper is on my benchtop sander, or even a light file, until I get it down to close to the size/thickness I think is best. Next I use a medium guage sandpaper to size/shape it even closer to perfection. Next I use a light or wet/dry sandpaper, trying the pick for playing comfort as I go. Finally, I buff it smooth with a buffing wheel. Mostly I just shorten the point because most thumbpicks are too long for my liking when they're new, but sometimes I need to thin out the whole pick. National and Dunlop seem to be the most common brands in this neck of the woods, and I find them both easy to work with. Dunlop steel picks sometimes get the treatment too. I do wish I could get a thumbpick of the same material as my favorite Dunlop Gator .71mm flatpick. My attempts (though not so recent) to marry a flatpick to a thumbpick loop have not been particularly successful, but now that I'm thinking about it, I will try it again. Pliers with a padded or flat jaw and a small hobby vise are handy to help hold your work, good light helps folk like me too. Anybody out there got any ideas for me? Peace. Mooh.

20 Mar 00 - 01:30 PM (#198147)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: canoer

Mooh the Mechanic! As you know, your "attaching" project is extremely difficult because of the forces involved.

Have you ever seen an ACRI thumbpick? It has a bronze thumb loop, with a thin short Delrin pick section riveted on the bottom. Rivetted like a grommet, not like an ironworkers rivet. Speaking only as a beginner, I love this pick above all others. But in any case, I mention it as a resource for you, in looking at one successful way of fastening a flatpick to a thumbloop.

20 Mar 00 - 03:29 PM (#198208)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Mooh

I'll check it out! Thanks! Don't you just love cyberfolk?

20 Mar 00 - 04:17 PM (#198229)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: GUEST,Anthony

Yes, I've seen the Acri's. They are primarily designed for banjo players, but work pretty well. My one complaint is that the blade ought to be attached with a small setscrew rather than a grommet. That way you could replace it or experiment with different gauges and lengths.

But I still want my skinny little picks, and I guess they're gone forever!

Thanks TONY

20 Mar 00 - 04:32 PM (#198233)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: MK

Tony, this is a little off of the beatin' path from what you and the others describe here, but have you ever tried Herco's? They look like a flat pick, but with a round insert that fits over your thumb. Once you get used to them (about a 1/2 hour of playing) you can switch effortlessly from fingerpicking to flatpicking, and back and forth...I use them from time to time, depending on my mood and what I'm playing..but also use thin Nationals as well. Most major stores carry the Herco's...You might want to check them out just to formulate an informed opinion.

20 Mar 00 - 05:57 PM (#198260)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Clinton Hammond2

Yay!! Herco's!! I love 'em... find it hard to pick with any other type.. last time I bouth them, I bought a gross.. now I have picks that will likey outlast my music career...


20 Mar 00 - 06:33 PM (#198286)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: McGrath of Harlow

The only picks I've ever found which suit me are Alaska picks - you know, the one's which hook on to your nail, and feel like an extension of the real nail. You can file them down to the rigghht length, and wear them on the thumb as well as the fingers. It's like having extra tough nails, but the right length, and with a spare in your pocket for when the nail breaks.......

Except that Alaska picks are made of such crappy fragile plastic that they keep breaking, and they feel all tacky and scratchy.

Now if only I could find some with the same basic design, but made in some decent material...

20 Mar 00 - 09:48 PM (#198387)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Mooh

Have you tried the brass Alaska picks? I too have used the Herco pick but the ones I've tried have been too loose on my thumb...good concept though...maybe I'll try them again. Again, the Dunlop Gators in a thumbpick would be nice. Oh yeah, I also use an emory board to touch up my nails AND my picks, particularly flatpicks, to extend their life a bit. Mooh.

20 Mar 00 - 10:11 PM (#198403)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Sandy Paton

I find the Herco combination thumb/flat pick too light, even the so-called "heavy" ones. Doesn't clamp onto the thumb firmly enough. I also agree about the plastic used in the Alaska picks. Wish they'd improve it. I had to give up on 'em, although the idea seems like a splendid one. So, I just hang in there with a National large on the thumb and real-life nails on the fingers. When I split a fingernail, I use Krazy Glue and Kleenex to build a strong backing. It looks diseased, but it works for me.


20 Mar 00 - 10:13 PM (#198404)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: DonMeixner

I use Nationals, they are the only ones large enough for me. I like the way they stay put. I use them on Guitars Autoharps and banjos. Usually along with .025 Dunlop steel finger picks. The plastic finger picks I find too tight and wthout enough dig in them.


21 Mar 00 - 12:01 AM (#198461)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: ddw

Tony, I know exactly how you feel; I had a favorite kind of fingerpick that just dropped off the face of the earth a few years back. I've had to adapt to National metals, but there are some things I just can't do with them — like a brush down with my index finger. The plastic picks I liked flaired out at the end, but the curve of the Nationals just yanks them off and fires them into the sound hole.

Just a thought on the picks you've found that substitute, but don't fit well; have you tried putting the picks in boiling water or in those heated beads an optomitrist uses for glasses frames and bending them to fit your thumbs? I've done that in the past and it can make a world of difference in comfort and/or holding power.



21 Mar 00 - 02:20 AM (#198511)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks

Hi all, Does anybody have a mail-order source for Acri thumbpicks? I've been looking for some in the Northern California area for some time with no success.

21 Mar 00 - 02:35 AM (#198512)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: canoer

ACRI mail-orders from:

Go to bottom of homepage, click "gear", on that page click "thumbpicks" at upper left, and ACRIs will stare you in the face. Lefts, rights, large, medium.

Be aware that they are often out. It took me a while to connect with them at just the right in-stock moment.

Good pickin's!

21 Mar 00 - 12:43 PM (#198719)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Mooh

Folks, While we're on the subject, you know those cool belt packing multi-tools? Mine's a Gerber which contains a small two sided file, great for on-the-fly touch-ups to nails and picks. Peace. Mooh.

21 Mar 00 - 01:26 PM (#198744)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: Rick Fielding

Hi Great thread! I use the little cylinder-sander on my Dremel and then emory board to finish up.

One thing I've been making for people for about five years now is a flatpick riveted (and crazy glued) to a Golden Gate thumpick. I love 'em with autoharp and 12 string. I play hard and the existing ones are just too light weight for me.


21 Mar 00 - 01:33 PM (#198749)
Subject: RE: Thanks Mudcatters! Now, about thumbpicks
From: catspaw49

I use Golden Gate too, but they are expensive as thumbpicks go. And I must not be the only one with a thumb that the Herco's don't fit...too loose for me too.

I think we need a thread on the Dremel. The number of thing the little sucker will do is amazing! The router attachment is fantastic and for binding and purfling cutting (with the right adapters) it can't be beat.