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Which finger do noted clawhammer players use?

Posted by oldtimer on Saturday, October 27, 2007

likes this


Wade Ward, Dix Freeman, Kyle Creed, Fred Cockerham, Riley Baugus, Dirk Powell, Adam Hurt, Bob Carlin, Isaac Enloe, Nancy Sluys, Gordy Hinners, Whit Meade, Dwight Diller, Richie Stearns, Clarence Ashley, Art Rosenbaum, Dick Weissman, George R. Gibson, David Holt, Adam Hurt, Dan Gellert


Frank Lee, Dan Levenson, Ken Perlman, Grandpa Jones, Ralph Stanley, Leroy Troy, Walt Koken, Phillip Steinmetz,
R.D. Lunceford

BOTH: (Middle on first string, index on other strings)

Tommy Jarrell, Kirk Sutphin, Joe Newberry, John Herrmann, Bosco Takaki, Gail Gillespie (two fingers together),
Donald Zepp

9 comments on “Which finger do noted clawhammer players use?”

ErnieJ Says:
Saturday, October 27, 2007 @6:22:04 PM

Both - Bob Carlin

oldtimer Says:
Saturday, April 12, 2008 @9:55:39 AM

I hung out and played tunes with Bob Carlin several times and he always used the index exclusively. But recently he has been playing some minstrel banjos with different techniques appropriate to the different instrument. But I still consider him to be an index finger player because he played with the index for the 30 + years I have known him....Glenn

Lorix Says:
Monday, June 2, 2008 @4:05:51 PM

Interesting topic. I have been thinking a great deal about that because I have never had a teacher to tell me wich finger I should use. I have tryed to play exclusively with the index-finger but it didn't really work. Useing both fingers feel most naturel to me.

gailg64 Says:
Tuesday, August 5, 2008 @8:42:46 PM

Hi Glenn, Geek alert: I'm pretty sure that Kirk McGee didn't play clawhammer at all. He & Sam both fingerpicked. Kirk had a 2-finger style & Sam had a killer syncopated 3-finger roll (just listen to him on that B part of Snowdrop or the 2nd part of Needlecase!). They were two of the finest banjo players ever & though Uncle Dave played clawhammer in his later years, I don't think arthritis prevented Sam & Kirk from fingerpicking. I never got really fluid with Creed-style clawhammer--was always getting "trash noises" & would snag the 5th with my thumb. If I were to go back to the drawing board with it, I'd definitely go with the index. I believe using the index throws your hand into a better angle for a clean sound---if that's what you want.

Banjo75 Says:
Thursday, January 15, 2009 @9:16:48 PM

that was a cool blog post.  thank you!  woo-hoo... I play the same as Art Rosenbaum!

Big Dan Says:
Wednesday, May 13, 2009 @12:54:54 PM

That's a great blog. Hope it puts the 'which finger' debate to bed. Don't forget David Holt on the index finger list- what a player. Cheers!

gailg64 Says:
Thursday, April 22, 2010 @8:05:53 PM

I must correct myself. Kirk McGee definitely plays clawhammer (more of a "large motor" style) on Comin From the Ball & Roll On Buddy, which he recorded later in life. I would have no idea which finger he used, but would guess it would be both since he had a huge brush. In the 20s he played 2 & 3 finger, and it was very tasteful finger picking indeed (Masters Run Away/Year of Jubilo is a case in point.)

Bill Anderson Says:
Thursday, June 30, 2011 @6:08:32 AM

That's what I'm talking about. This is so far my favorite blog. Adam has written that he prefers the index but adapts to the middle when his index nail is damaged; also will use a finger pick when more volume is required. I think Grandpa Jones and Frank Lee typically used a finger pick on stage. I know that Adam and Frank are members so we will see......Bill

I can play either index or middle depending on the tone that day, but find myself naturally drifting in to both as you describe above.

DroneAlone Says:
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 @10:45:26 AM

Kind of an old post, but anyways...

I guess you should put Richie Stearns down under "Both Fingers". You can see his technique in this video (closeup at 3:30)

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