Posted by yellowdog on Sunday, November 9, 2014
I've been playing Irish and Scottish Traditional Music in sessions for several weeks now with a very unusual pick, and I couldn't be happier with it. It's a common Fender Thin Plastic Pick with a 1/2-inch steel staple at a slight angle near the blunt end. I selected this pick because my triplets were too slow and I thought the smoothness of the plastic pick would enable me to play triplets faster; and I added the staple at the wide end to help me grip the slippery pick.
This combination of pick and staple worked beautifully. My triplets were noticeably faster without more practice and the staple made it almost impossible for the pick to be dropped or even shift between my fingers. Even better was the sound from my banjo which was much brighter and clearer. My inexpensive Gold Tone CC Irish Tenor with resonator removed sounded like a fine banjo!
The volume range from the banjo was also improved. Sound brightness and clarity did not decrease when the banjo was played either quietly or loudly. The banjo's maximum volume seemed to be increased also.
I made several of these picks making slight changes to the position of the staple. All sounded very good but the best sound was noticed using the pick illustrated in the three drawings in the photos section of this homepage. I did not notice until I made the drawing of the end view that one end of the staple had completely penetrated the pick and touched the side of the staple on the other side of the pick, essentially forming a loop. I can't say if this unplanned variation resulted in the slightly better sound of this pick over the others.
There are logical reasons why this pick and staple combination should give a louder, brighter and clearer sound. I learned working with stapled paper in other experiments over the years that staples can act as sound surface wave amplifiers. This occurs because both ends of the staples touch one side of the paper (or pick) and the waves flow through and over both ends of the steel staple to the other side (flat side) of staple on the other side of the pick. Because they are the same frequencies and because they meet coming from different directions they add to create larger surface waves. The larger waves then travel in both directions back to the original side of the pick where they are deposited very near each other on the pick surface between the ends of the staple. The waves would meet again on the plastic surface, coming from different directions, and so be amplified again, etc. This sequence of events would be modified to allow for the perforation of the pick by one end of the staple as shown in the drawing but in either case this routing is a positive feedback loop that should result in great amplification of sound surface waves on the pick, which would be transferred to the strings and converted to audible sound. Because these distances are extremely small very high frequencies such as those in harmonics should be amplified without noticeable distortions, and amplified harmonics should improve sound quality. Much of the brightness in the sound of the banjo is probably due to the fact that the waves are traveling over the steel giving the sound of the banjo a bright, "steely" timbre.
I got the best sound quality with my fingers placed directly over the staple but it is very easy to move the fingertips during play to different positions on the pick closer to the tip of the pick. Most books about ITM playing recommend holding the pick as loosely as possible, which is certainly easy to do and do without fear of dropping the pick.
The staple that I used was a "Swingline type S.F. 4 premium staple" with "precision engineered chisel point for maximum penetration" Swingline number 35450.
I will probably continue using my Dunlop nylon pick and Gibson Mastertone playing American music, and I probably will always use this stapled pick in Celtic sessions. You certainly couldn't ask for an easier and cheaper way to play ITM easier, faster and with a great sound than stapling a Fender thin plastic pick. If you play ITM I recommend that you make one right away.
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