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Improved Stapled Pick For Great, Loud Sound. Its Easy To Make One Yourself!

Posted by yellowdog on Friday, December 12, 2014

My enthusiasm in my last blog about my new stapled pick idea was, unfortunately, quickly dashed!  Because the great sound that I heard using the pick disappeared and I had no idea why.  (?) So I gave up the effort for a few days and then went back to work experimenting with many different designs.

I'm glad that I went back to work because I now have a greatly improved pick that delivers wonderful volume and a high quality sound from my banjo, an inexpensive Gold Tone short neck "CC Irish Tenor" with resonator removed.  The best news is that you can easily make one of these picks yourself.  All you need is a thin, plastic pick of standard teardrop shape (1-inch wide at max width), a small standard office stapler, a short ruler that measures 1/8-inch and a good pair of scissors.  The staple that I used in my very small stapler is Swingline's S.F. 4 premium staple with "precision engineered chisel point for maximum penetration".  

The new pick is simply a standard thin plastic pick (mine was marketed under the "Fender" name) which I cut down to change the upper rounded shape into a rectangular shape.  There are "before" and "after" photos of this pick in the photos section here.  The "before" photo shows the standard pick with three cut lines showing the scissor cuts.  There are two "after" photos showing front and back views of the stapled pick.  

You'll notice that the staple is not centered but shifted to the left in the front view (the view as seen by the player).  This off- center location not only gave a better sound than the pick with the staple in the center but was more comfortable to hold.

The reason for cutting the upper portion of the pick into a rectangle is because rectangles and squares act as sound surface wave amplifiers.  If you have several of this type of pick you can prove this yourself before you staple the pick and notice that the rectangular shape sounds both louder and better than the standard shape.  This is because sound surface waves on the pick are reflected back onto themselves from the regular sides, plus the fact that when waves of similar frequencies meet coming from different directions they will amplify, (by the physics principle of "constructive interference").  The curved picking end of the pick is left unchanged.  

You'll notice that one end of the staple extends a bit into the curved portion but this doesn't seem to do any harm and may even add a bit of desirable stiffness.  

Like rectangular and square shapes, the steel staple itself is a sound surface wave amplifier.  This is because sounds enter the staple from the surface of the plastic into both staple ends essentially simultaneously and meet on the staple coming from different directions as described above.   So be sure both staple ends are touching the plastic and, if not, press them down with needle nose pliers.  After amplification the amplified waves will flow back to the surface of the plastic and then back to the vibrating string, causing the sound of the banjo to be amplified.  The staple is hard steel and waves on the staple will pick up this bight "steely" timbre to give the banjo a nice bright sound.  

I hope that you make one of these picks and like the louder, brighter sound, which I think is great for playing Irish and Scottish traditional music.  If you make one please post your comments on the BHO forum under tenor and plectrum banjo playing styles.  Sorry I don't have a recording.  Maybe someone will post one.

I'll try mine in a Scottish session for the first time this Monday night.

Frank Geiger ("yellowdog")


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