So, I’m taking up the banjo after many years of guitar and ukulele. I’ve got an old Harmony Bakelite in the closet and I picked up a Saga in not too bad shape. It’s a start. My question for the forum regards finger picks. What brand for beginners and where is a good place to get them? Don’t want to support eBay or the other big on line shop. I do live near some good local shops. Give me a good brand to start with.
Don't know what music stores are near you, but I'd expect them to have National and Dunlop metal fingerpicks and National, Dunlop and possibly Golden Gate plastic thumb picks. Any of these should be fine for a beginner.
An advantage of Dunlop finger picks is that they come in different gauges, allowing you to choose the balance of comfort and sound that works for you. I'd stay away from the thinnest, which may be .015. They feel too flimsy to me. In fact, maybe stay away from under .020. Nationals come in only one gauge, I think.
A lot of people like the Golden Gate "clown barf" thumb pick, so called because its multi-color plastic looks like a partially digested clown suit. Thumb picks are sold by size. You'll have to try different ones to see what feels good.
As you progress you can think about treating yourself to expensive picks (like $40 for a thumbpick). Or just stay with the economy versions. They work for me.
Finger picks are tools - and uniquely, they're tools we don't just use - they're tools we WEAR. All of us go through a lengthy process to determine the picks that work best for us as individuals.
Because of how personal they are, I'm normally loathe to recommend specific picks. I do make an exception for beginners based on my experience as a teacher. I have found the split-band Pro-Piks to be better than anything else I've seen for new players because they're remarkably easy to adjust to a wide variety of fingers. The split bands mean we can adjust the band away from the cuticles if, like me, you believe that if God hadn't intended us to bite our nails, He never would have given us teeth. And they tend to stay on, too - and produce pretty good tone.
See them here. You can order them direct from the manufacturer using this link; if you live near a music store with a decent acoustic music section you might be able to find them there.
although I do not use Dunlop, they come in several gauges and the bands have a slight flare at the edges that might be more comfortable. i would start there with a fairly light gauge so they are more easily shaped to fit your fingers.
For thumb picks, I'll recommend Dunlop "Zookies," (goofy name, I know). They have a tip that is angled at 15, 25, or 35 degrees to help compensate for the offset angle of the thumb in respect to your two picking fingers. Before these came out, I used to have to dunk the tips of my thumb picks in boiling water and twist them while soft, a real pain in the ass which would mess up the thumb band half the time. Zookies allow for an attack on the strings that is perpendicular, which improves the sound (eliminating any scraping across the winding) as well as play-ability. Honorable mention to Graphtech "Tusq," which sound great (incidentally, look into switching out your nut with a tusq nut - you'll be glad you did) but are not angled.
I didn't like the plastic thumb picks as the hurt my thumb. I ended up buying one from prefect touch. perfecttouchpicks.com/thumb-picks.html#/ They cost a lot more but I have never regretted the decision. For this old beginner it was money well spent.
At the beginning..three years ago with two years of lessons..I bounced between rounded and pointed picks and found rounded were too heavy..I got clumsy..kind of fat fingered...so I use Ernie ball pointed. A bit “twangy” but that’s a banjo. A quick search on ebay resulted in no pointed picks...I am sure they are there somewhere. I’d like to try another brand just for grins.
As an aside, I tried a jam camp, tried participating in jams and figured I don’t know what I am doing and can’t “get into it” so back to playing for my own enjoyment. Probably what I should do is find one or two guitar or banjo players and develop jamming from there instead of full immersion.
banjobenclark.com, banjoteacher.com and elderly.com all have great selections if you can't find anything locally that fits. Getting a pair of good fitting bands and nicely curved blades and thumbpick that matches in sound is important. Dunlops, Propik and Nationals are probably the most widely available brands, they all work pretty well tho some people like me avoid wide fingerbands.
I use a pair of round nosed pliers wrapped in vinyl tubing (sold in hobby/jewelrymaking supply stores) to bend them, pic in my Media Link