All About Fingerpicks and Thumbpicks
A pick set comes with two fingerpicks and one thumbpick. The fingerpicks are available in metal which is adjustable to fit, and plastic which is flexible but is not adjustable. The thumbpick usually is plastic, but nickel silver ones are available if you prefer serious volume from the thumbpick. If you choose plastic or metal is really a matter of your instrument, style, and preference.
There are many styles and brands of fingerpicks available. The most popular over time have been made by National and Jim Dunlop. The Nationals were first patented in 1930 and everybody from Earl Scruggs on down used them. The NP2 is a polished fingerpick in .025 gauge, and comes in Brass, Nickel Silver, and Stainless Steel. The NP1 is a lighter Nickel Silver fingerpick in .023 gauge. The Dunlop metal fingerpicks came later and were successful because they seem to adjust to fit better, and also come in a variety of gauges. Gauge refers to the thickness of the metal in the picks. Dunlop fingerpicks come in gauges: .013, .015, .018, .020, .0225 & .025, with .025 being the thicker. The smaller the gauge, the thinner the metal, and the lighter the sound. Pickers seem to all have different picking styles and different preferences in gauges. Dunlop fingerpicks come in nickel silver or brass versions; they also make a plastic fingerpick. The Ernie Ball fingerpick is nickel silver. The John Pearse Hi Rider is a super-light stainless steel fingerpick.
Dunlop metal fingerpick blades are more rounded than the Nationals, and the parts that wrap around your fingers are wider. The Ernie Ball “Pickey” fingerpick tips are more curved and are pointed. The John Pearse Hi Rider is a super-light stainless steel fingerpick with a unique shape designed to hold to the finger above the joint which holds them in place comfortably and prevents them from falling off.
Stainless Steel picks are bright, crisp & more durable; the nickel silver picks are more durable than the brass and are punchy & loud. Brass picks are softer than the nickel which makes them feel lighter, and are easier to bend around your finger. Some people prefer the lighter sound that they make when playing a string. The plastic fingerpicks seem to have less drag on the string than the metal. Cobalt plated finger picks are said to have no drag and last longer, but they are more expensive.
There are several different types of thumbpicks available. Most people use thumbpicks made from plastic, varying from more flexible to very rigid. They come in small, medium and large to fit different size thumbs. Although they are flexible, they are not made to be adjustable; they can be adjusted to fit by immersing briefly in boiling water. Some pickers do this routinely to get the desired fit. The important thing is to have one that fits snugly so it won't move when you play or going flying off in the middle of a hot picking streak. The regular Dunlop plastic thumbpick is a bit smaller in size than the National thumbpick, and the Ernie Ball thumbpick is more flexible than both the Dunlop and the National. The John Pearse thumbpick is a unique vintage style and is a re-creation of the original National. The National “Black Diamond” thumbpick has a tad roomier fit than the National Shell style. Dunlop “Heavies” are a thicker thumbpick with a longer blade than the regular Dunlop; they come in an Ivroid and a Calico style. Dunlop Zookies thumbpicks feature an angled tip to allow the player a more natural hand position and better string contact by keeping the tip parallel to the string. They come in 10, 20, & 30 degree angled tip. Dunlop nickel silver thumbpick has a turned tip that is smooth and warm sounding when picking the string. Regular Dunlop thumbpicks are available in right-hand and left-hand versions in plastic or metal. Plastic styles are: simulated tort shell style, white, and clear. The Dunlop Red Delrin thumbpick design changes both the shape and weight of the traditional thumbpick. The blade has been extended and reshaped to add more material mass to the pick overall. Dunlop claims this provides smoother playability, a longer pick life and a firm fit.
The thumbpick blade (the part that hits the string) usually matches the rest of the pick in terms of size. A large thumbpick, for example, has a larger blade than a medium one. There are many theories about how long, or wide, or rounded, or pointed a thumbpick blade should be. This is one of those things that really depend on type of instrument and personal preference. If players find the blade too long or too pointed, they often file them down with sandpaper or an emery board. Lengths and widths of blades vary significantly depending on the brand and style you choose. Try several different brands, sizes, styles or materials until you find the set that’s perfect for you.
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