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29 messages

Thumbpick help

04 Mar 02 - 08:00 PM (#662823)
Subject: Thumbpick help
From: Paul G.

Because of sudden and unexpected damage to my thumb nail, which I have always peferred to a thumbpick, I have had to cave-in and put on the plastic in order to perform. So, I've been out and about shopping for he perfect pick (which continues to elude me). That which comes closest is the Zookies L-10. Even though it's a "large" it's very tight on my thumb, which leads me to two questions. First, what are your recommendations for a lightweight thumbpick? Second, do you have suggestions for re-sizing the bloody things? Microwave 'em? Hot water and stretch? I've been practicing with it several hours a day and have gained reasonable competency, an even a liking for the more percussive sound, so I may keep it on for the long-term. All opinions appreciated...



04 Mar 02 - 08:49 PM (#662851)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: khandu

Paul, After years of no-picks, I hate 'em. I prefer the natural thumb! However, when I did use a thumbpick, the way I chose them was to just go in the store and try them on. Never had a particular brand that I favored. Whenever I got one that was too tight I would hot-water it and put it on something a wee-bit larger than my thumb and leave it there a while. Never tried to microwave.

Sorry about your nail troubles. I generally leave my thumb nail short and use the finger-meat to plunk the strings. To each his own! ;D


04 Mar 02 - 09:14 PM (#662867)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: ddw


I'm for the hot water treatment for sizing thumb picks, but I also suggest — especially if you're new to using them — that you find a fine file or emory board and hone the pick on it. I like to take off about 1/8 inch to get the point very close to my thumb. Gives much better control, especially if you're using bare fingers or nails for the other strings.



04 Mar 02 - 09:20 PM (#662869)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,SlickerBill

Speakin as someone who couldn't grow a nail if ya paid me, I've had to do the thumb pick and then some, ie finger picks as well. Thumb picks I've found fit pretty well as is. The Zookie's good. The Dunlop's similar. I've also tried the "Slick Pick", which is a smaller one. There's also a wierd one with a very slender, flexible thingy (technical term) that does the picking; hard to describe. Mainly I go with the Dunlop which I've shaved back a bit and filed down so the tip is a bit thinner. Just mess around until it feels right. If you want to fit them, stick em in a glass of water and shove it in the microwave for about a minute, and then you can work em pretty good. Be prepared to screw up a few, naturally. All part of the fun. Good luck. SB

04 Mar 02 - 09:55 PM (#662885)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: dwditty

Just glue on a fake one till it grows back.

04 Mar 02 - 10:08 PM (#662891)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Bobert

I'm with dyditty, Paul. Plus, if you are going to use a thumb pick then your fingers are going to have to work harder to stay in the mix, and next thing you know you're going to have a worse problem: Picker's Elbow, which takes months to heal and sometimes several shots of cortizone. Just take some clippers and cut the thimb nail back and use the side of the thumb and in no time you'll have a nice callus built up there and you'll look back at this little inconvience as a blessing.

04 Mar 02 - 10:16 PM (#662894)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Lane

A hair dryer will soften the plastic just enough.... it's a little hot when you fit it on your thumb, but that's the price we pay, I guess!

04 Mar 02 - 10:23 PM (#662898)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Paul G.

Great feedback folks...thanks! I've tried the hot water treatment this evening and got good results...then trimmed too much off of the tip! Trying it again. dwditty, I really don't have any interest in the glue-on nail thing. I'm liking the more percussive sound of the pick. My mission now is to find the right pick -- before Friday when I head out for a weekend festival and my first main stage set using a thumbpick. I'm actually having fun working through the nuances of the small rythmic changes...always up for a challenge...


04 Mar 02 - 10:24 PM (#662899)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: DonMeixner

I'm an old National heavy as hell thumb pick fan. I also trim them down a bit too. I use finger picks. The National or Dunlop .025's with the ends more conformed to my finger tip and then the tip of the pick is bent over and slightly outward to create sort of a nail.

Works for me.

I like every thing to be as close to the working surface of my fingers as possible. Using a shovel of a thumb pick puts everything away from the strings and kills the theory of economy of motion. Hence, pickers elbow. The lite weight Ernie Ball picks are great except for the small problem of not staying tight to the thumb. Gimme that heavy National anytime.


04 Mar 02 - 10:29 PM (#662903)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Paul G.

Okay -- anybody else ever had this pickers elbow thing? I doubt I can "earn" that callus by the weekend, Bobert...but I do appreciate the sentiment as there are some things I can do with the nail I just can't imagine doing with the pick -- I do some doubling with the back of my thumb nail after a forward pluck that gives the illusion of more speed than I really have...


04 Mar 02 - 11:02 PM (#662930)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Les B

Paul - one of the better plastic thumb picks I've come across in the past few years is the Golden Gate. I use them for banjo and resonator guitar, but they also, with a little modifying, work well for six-string guitar. They come in two or three (?) sizes and stay on the thumb very well.

They are heavy, but with judicious trimming with a pair of tin snips, and then some sanding down with emery paper, you can get them to just about any shape and weight you desire. They are very resilient. I usually have to cut off a bit of the part that curves over the thumb because it tends to get caught in the strings on the downstroke - banjo especially, and even with that they stay on the thumb well.

They are pricey, however, but you get what you pay for!!

05 Mar 02 - 01:33 AM (#662980)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Genie

Paul, I personally prefer Herco picks. Even their "heavy" pick is really pretty light. They are nylon and quite flexible. They are really like a flatpick that can attach to your thumb, and the picking part does not stick out nearly as far from your thumb as many thumpicks do. I think you can 'un-stretch' them in hot water in the microwave, too.

If you're backpicking a lot, the Herco picks tend to be a little too lightweight, but, then, since it can double as a flat pick, sometimes that solves the problem.

I've known of people using fake nails for picking, but I understand that having fake nails glued on weakens your own fingernails and contributes to nail disease (e.g., fungus).


05 Mar 02 - 01:56 AM (#662986)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,


If you can get hold of Dobro (I think) thumbpick, it is clear seethrough plstic with a sharp pointed tip, sounds great how it feels will vary. I find the little ones just kill my thumb because they are so tight but if somone has a big one they fell good and sound great.Don't hold your breath, everyone alway syas they just soldthe last one this morning. Now withou fingerpicks it just might be overkill,I too have broken a thumbnail and needed something for a six string or banjo (I use picks exclusivly ona 12lve)and I get a small little National thumbpick. Get 5 or 10, then if is two small just pull the God Damed thing slowly looser for about 5 to ten minutes if it breaks try again. Hot water I think is suppose to shrink um? Practice because it is just a differnt feeling, like driving a car from the other side or something like that. Good luck and make some Jello


05 Mar 02 - 10:24 AM (#663018)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Justa Picker

I switch around to different thumbpicks all the time. (I get bored easily. *G*) Varies from Kelly speed picks, to Hercos, to Ernie Balls (my favourite) as well as Golden Gates. They should fit snuggly but not so tight that it's cutting off the circulation in your thumb. The more aggressively you pick, the better the chance the thumbpick will start slipping and sliding around and your fingerpick does sweat in there as well so nice and snug is the ticket for aggressive/hard picking and something a little looser fitting for softer, lighter picking.

05 Mar 02 - 12:19 PM (#663115)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: RichM

My preference is to cut back the working side so it extends only 5 to6mm beyond the part that's around your thumb.
Also, the angle at which you trim, is important. BEFORE you trim, look at your (picking) hand position. I like to leave the longest part of the pick at the outside edge, because of the angle I hold my hand. The trick is to make sure the part that PICKS the string is more or less at right angles to the string, as you hold it. YMMV.

Rich McCarthy

05 Mar 02 - 12:48 PM (#663136)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Cap't Bob

Whenever I use a thumb pick on either banjo or guitar I prefer Frank Kelly's speed pick. They are not good for aggressive/hard picking that Justa Picker mentioned above. The thing I like about them is that they are good for soft to medium finger picking - they don't slip, and they are not tight. They look a little strange, however they do hold up well ~ I've never broken one yet.

You can see them at elderly:

Cap't Bob

05 Mar 02 - 12:50 PM (#663137)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Doug Chadwick

"'re going to have a worse problem: Picker's Elbow, which takes months to heal ....."

Picker's Elbow ????? Are you serious? Perhaps a short course in ergonomics would be advisable before play any more.

05 Mar 02 - 02:01 PM (#663174)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Bobert

Actually it really isn't "picker's elbow". I made that up. It's what everyone calls tennis elbow. I got a bad case of it 10 years ago and finally had to get two cotizone shots. The doctor, who was a picker himself, told me to loose the finger picks and I've played without 'em ever since and had no more problems. Heck, he was probably just messin' with me.

06 Mar 02 - 01:18 AM (#663462)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Kaleea

I also prefer the actual thumb to a thumbpick, however, I do use the thumbpick on the autoharp as the autoharp strings rip the flesh right off one's digits & the fingers alone do not provide enough volume. When one hurts one's thumb, one must make do, so go to your local guitar house & try on all the thumbpicks. There are many sizes to fit most thumbs so we don't have to do alot of work on the little buggers, and quite a few different designs these days. I have a few different ones, including one which is small & has a tiny little tongue depressor shaped thing coming down instead of the "shovel"; perhaps some of the catters can help me with the name of it. It is very accurate for plucking the bass notes on my autoharp & the guitar. If your thumb is really suffering from an "owwie" might I suggest that after placing said thumbpick in boiling water for a few seconds, cover up the thumb with a thin glove so as not to burn one's skin, or at least something like heavy construction paper wrapped around it. Then you place it on the opposite thumb to size the thing so as not to further irritate the angry thumb which has forced you to go out into the world seeking answers to your dilemma. If possible it is better if you can find something about as big around as your thumb to put it on to avoid the chance of skin burns, but we often don't have these such things lying around the house. If the thumb pick is too tight, I would lift it out of the boiling water with needle nose pliers & then after placing it down on a flat survace, place the needle nose inside the hole & open the pliers till the hole is a little bigger & then place in cold water to firm it. If you do this very much, it will weaken the plastic & the pick will be more likely to break. I have found marginal success in attempting to alter the shape with boiling water, I have never attempted the microwave as this can warp some plastics. Since thumb picks come in a variety of sizes & brands, there is usually one which will be close enough to stay on your thumb. If you can find a music store which sells banjos, the banjo shops seem to carry more varieties than guitar shops. Traditional Music festivals are great for finding such things. This is a good reason to pick up some various picks next time we go to a festival as we never know when we might need them! These days, many pawn shops carry a wider variety of picks than do the music shops. Go figure. Good Luck!

06 Mar 02 - 12:40 PM (#663726)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Doug Chadwick

Whatever type of picks you decide on, I suggest you try and get some brightly coloured ones.

I use black plastic picks and have lost count of the number of times I end up on my hands and knees searching for a lost pick on a multi-coloured carpet. It always seems to be the one that I have managed to get "just right" that goes missing!

06 Mar 02 - 05:02 PM (#663914)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: McGrath of Harlow

If your thumbnail damage allows, you could maybe try using the larger size Alaska Pik - the sort that fits under a minimal natural thumbnail, and provides a sort of extension. (Click on that link for a picture)

It's much more like playing relying on a real thumbnail - the angle at which you hit the strings is exactly the same. You can file them down to whatever length feels right. They are the only thumb or fingerpicks I can manage to use - you get the same kind of feedback to the finger and thumb as you would if weren't using them, which isn't true with any other sort I've tried using.

06 Mar 02 - 05:35 PM (#663926)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,Paul G.

What a wonderful diversity of input! My thanks to everybody -- I've certainly learned from the discussion. Here's my progress so far...There is clearly a thumpick shortage here in Jacksonville -- I've been to several shops and found mostly empty bins where the little buggers are supposed to be. I found some nameless, light weight, colorful blue ones, which I like because of the weight and flexibility -- they fit without heating and bending, and as "passable" after some filing and clipping. The heavier Zookies I found are better in some picking situations (strait-forward, constant pattern), but I have a hard time with them when I change patterns mid-tune or need to back-pick. I think the pick with the little protuberance in the middle is the Kelly Speed-pick. I'd like to give it a try but haven't found any yet. I've tried the Alaska Pick on my fingers and didn't much care for them, but am willing to try it on the thumb if I can find one big enough -- I have fairly large hands and large fingers to match.

My greatest lesson is that after all is said and done, I want my thumb nail back! I'm trying a nail strengthening herbal pill from my local vitamin shop. This is the first time in 10 years I've done enough damage to the nail to require a surrogate. While I like some of the percussiveness of the picks, I just can't do as much as I can with the bare thumb. At any rate, it ought to make for an interesting set or two at the WIll McLean Festival this weekend...back to work now...


07 Mar 02 - 03:59 PM (#664478)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,Pete Peterson

Blue thumpbicks? NOW we're talking. They have a brand name but I can't remember them; they're in the Elderly catalog for some nominal fee (like 75 cents each); I keep two in my pockets at all times against losing one. ANyway, those are MY favorites; they seem to be the right ize for my thumb (YMMV) and I can sound a lot more like Mother Maybelle or Roy Harvey with one than without. (I've given up trying to sound like Riley Puckett)good luck

07 Nov 04 - 12:23 PM (#1319612)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,Don Smith

I've used Gibson thumb picks for years and I've found thay give me the best sound but Gibson quit handling them.I've also found that the rest of the thumb picks I use don't give me the same sound I'm used to,can anybody help me find a thumb pick with the same material gibson used for there picks.

07 Nov 04 - 01:56 PM (#1319707)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help

Rotosound are lighter and bigger than Gibsons, but not so light as the Ernie Ball, which I find they can get so light that they whizz off.

08 Nov 04 - 08:31 AM (#1320344)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Strollin' Johnny

Herco 'blue' thumbpicks - great. Not the ones like a plectrum with a loop attached (too ungainly) but the blue 'true' thumbpick, very slim, pretty flexible, give a nice bright sound sompared with the dull clunk you get from those fat Dunlops. I'm told they're v. good for pedal steel and lap players.

PaulG, you don't say where you are - if in the US you should have no problem, but if in the UK they're very difficult to obtain (I had to but a bagfull from the US).

Bobert - re: 'pickers elbow', you sure that wasn't wanker's cramp? (ROFL!) :0)

08 Nov 04 - 08:41 AM (#1320355)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: Mooh

Kelly Slick Picks light for me these days. Half decent for flatpicking if I want to mix techniques a bit too. I like the attack I get with them, they stay on, aren't bothered by upstrokes, don't break in a pocket full of change and hardware, accept heat for shaping and abrasives for dressing the point. I tried the Speed picks for a while but sold 'em all when I found the Slicks.

Peace, Mooh.

08 Nov 04 - 09:07 AM (#1320370)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,Betsy

Go with McGraths advice and if doing a gig and you don't have enough nail then sellotape to the thumb

08 Nov 04 - 10:32 AM (#1320459)
Subject: RE: Thumbpick help
From: GUEST,Golden Gate

ENNYBUDDY who's interested in a _real_ thumbpick has to try the Golden Gate. I broke down and bought all Sled Dog Music had in stock, because no-one else in this part of the country carries them. They are heavy as hell, don't break, and make super percussion possible. Keep on pickin'!