Banjo For Beginners

The ultimate guide to banjo for beginners.

Banjo Picks

Almost all banjo players that play Scruggs style use picks. Picks provide a longer louder, and clearer tone. They also continue to create the same sound despite any sweating on your hands. Usually banjo players will use two finger picks and a thumb pick. Materials vary, and I will go over the advantages and disadvantages of each in this article.

All finger and thumb picks are either made out of metal or plastic. Metal creates a louder tone than plastic. Most plastic picks sound fairly similar. There are differences, but mostly noticeable to the banjo player, not the audience. Metal picks, on the other hand, have a very noticeable difference between materials. Brass picks are a little smoother and warmer tone. Nickel picks are louder and clearer. Cobalt are more expensive, but less likely to squeak on the strings. If you find your metal picks squeaking, take a bit of leather and rub the metal against the leather. This should remove any build up that causes unpleasant sounds. Metal is easier to adjust, but harder to get a comfortable fit. Plastic has a shorter life then metal, but is cheaper to buy.

First, we cover thumb picks. The majority of thumb picks are plastic. Heres a classic example of the golden standard for thumb picks, the National NP-7w. I’ve seen many banjoists use this, including Belá Fleck and Steve Martin. Its pretty common, sounds good, and is fairly cheap. There are some more expensive options, including the Blue Chip Thumb Picks but these run around $40. Some people swear by them, but $40 is quite a bit when you can get 12 National Thumb picks for $17 shipped. There are also metal thumb picks but these are rarer. Why? Well, your thumb strikes harder than your fingers. To even out the sound, plastic is used on the thumb and metal on the fingers.

Second, finger picks. See the above links for examples of metal fingerpicks. I would recommend against plastic finger picks. Oddly enough fingers come in many different shapes, and it is almost impossible to fit a plastic finger pick without compromising the durability. As noted above, metal finger picks help keep the sound even throughout all the digits.

A major difficulty with finger picks is fitting. Most thumb picks are a one size fits all, and need no adjustment. However, with finger picks adjustment is paramount. If your picks don’t fit right, you will notice and the playing quality will go down. I would recommend a pliers of some sort (a leatherman works great if you have one) to get a precise fit. When you fit the finger picks remember that your fingers will change slightly in size in different conditions. If your hands are dry, your fingers will be smaller. If your hands are sweating profusely, your fingers will be bigger. Try to fit the picks tight, but not unbearably so. You don’t want to struggle to get the pick off. The picks will feel a little weird at first, but you will get used to them. Eventually the picks will form to the subtleties of your fingers and fit like two tiny gloves.

Just to get started, I would recommend this. Its fairly cheap and has two sets in case you break one. One last thing; the playing part of your finger picks goes on the pad of your finger. Happy Picking!

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