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Staple Your Pick To Make Playing Irish Traditional Music Easier With a Bright, Clear Sound

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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GeigerAcousticDevices.com
Playing Since: 1950
Experience Level: Expert/Professional

yellowdog has made 5 recent additions to Banjo Hangout 

Interests:
[Helping]

Occupation: Retired Army, Invent & Sell Sound Enhancing Devices

Gender: Male
Age: 83

My Instruments:
Gibson Mastertone tenor (tuned CGDA), Violin. Tenor Guitar (GDAE)

Favorite Bands/Musicians:
John Cali, Eddy Davis, Tim Allan and Howard Alden, John Becker

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Created 7/20/2007
Last Visit 11/7/2020

THEN: Born and grew up in Brunswick, Georgia on the coast. After high school I went one year to Georgia Tech in Atlanta and then to West Point where I graduated in 1960. After a 20 year Army Career in Infantry and Ordnance Corps I retired from the Army and sold computer and engineering software and services for a number of companies and did some part-time college-level math teaching and tutoring. Along the way and later I performed professionally as a tenor banjo soloist/vocalist for over 26 years in the Atlanta, Georgia area - mostly putting on one-hour solo shows for seniors by playing and singing old popular "hits" often called "America's Songbook". I also include a few early jazz, blues, country, and unusual tin pan alley tunes and included short, interesting anecdotes between tunes about the old performers, composers and times. For seven years until 2015 I also played Irish style tenor banjo on a GDAE tenor before losing interest and going back to playing old American hits using chord melody on my CGDA tuned Gibson tenor, tenor guitar and violin. NOW: Arthritis and a broken left hip in 2015 (which resulted in a loss of feeling in my left hand fingertips) effectively stopped my banjo playing, but the feeling is returning to my fingertips and I now enjoy playing for my own entertainment and making and selling sound improvement attachments to banjos, guitars and violins from my website. I enjoy reading non-fiction, especially related to new discoveries in science, new inventions and methods which were used to advance knowledge. Several years ago I wrote a 30-page book (PDF file) titled "Build Any Chord, Anywhere" for tenor banjos and other fifths-tuned instruments which uses a unique color graphics approach to understand and build chords. The first part of the book explains the basics of chord theory so is applicable to any chord instrument but the focus is toward instruments tuned CGDA or GDAE. Prior knowledge of music isn't necessary to use the methods in the book. You can download the book free at the downloads page of my website. I've learned a lot from BHO members and hope I can help others by sharing what I've learned about sound mechanics.

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