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Sep 13, 2019 - 1:33:10 PM
4 posts since 9/13/2019

I'm relatively new to clawhammer and am having a tough time getting a good sound from my thin and brittle fingernails. I play with my index finger but get a thin, plucky sound both from my short natural nail and from a glue on acrylic nail. I don't get the sharp sound that I'd like. I've tried a few brush-on coatings and some picks, to no avail. Dunlop and other metal picks don't feel very natural in sound or in their fit. I'm sure this topic has been covered many other times, but perhaps someone could steer this new guy to a solution. My nails are weak and I'd like to find an "unnatural" solution for getting a great sound.

Sep 13, 2019 - 1:45:46 PM

505 posts since 5/19/2018

Kyle Creed, arguably one of the best claw hammer players that ever lived used a metal pick that he constructed himself. I have a good friend that owns a few of Kyles banjos and has a few of his picks also. They are crude affairs, but they get the job done.

I’ve seen people use all kinds of different things over the years. Fake nails, taped on flatpicks., ect.

Joel Hooks, who is a member here makes specific picks for stroke style. They are brass and seem well recommended.

I’ve seen a few old timer clawhammer players years ago use a Dunlop pick turned upside down. They all had a real nice sound when played.

Try a few different methods and figure the one that works best for you.

Sep 13, 2019 - 2:40:13 PM
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raybob

USA

13393 posts since 12/11/2003

I like to use my nails, but if my nail/s wear thin or I have to play at a dance or something I use a pick. I think it’s a Kelly Freedom Pick, it’s the one that wraps nearly around my index finger made out of either delrin or polycarbonate. I get them from Elderly,s. Getting the right size can be tricky. I also sand off the ‘wings’ and smooth all the inside edges. It doesn’t sound quite like my fingernail, but it’s close.

People also use their bare fingers or very short nails and love it. It just depends on what sounds and feels good to you. Have fun!

Edited by - raybob on 09/13/2019 14:47:28

Sep 13, 2019 - 2:54:32 PM

367 posts since 8/14/2018

quote:
Originally posted by GeorgeG

I'm sure this topic has been covered many other times, but perhaps someone could steer this new guy to a solution. 


Yes, it has. You have a few choices--press on fake nails, ping-pong balls, the Fred Kelly pick, a Cling-Pro pick, or a Clawjam. Personally, I like the Clingpro. I've tried the Kelly pick and find it uncomftable--even the large size fits badly, and I don't have esp. large hands. Which is to say, you may have to try a couple of different things to find what works for you. 

Sep 13, 2019 - 2:54:55 PM
Players Union Member

Helix1

USA

447 posts since 4/17/2019

I suggest, literally take some vitamins, and either use fingerpicks, I do, or buy some acrylic nails at the Walgreen's

Sep 13, 2019 - 3:36:48 PM

94 posts since 11/27/2017

I agree with Helix1 - it can help to take biotin, which very specifically helps with hair/nail growth and texture. When I was very serious about fingerstyle guitar, and before I was converted to the historical necessity of metal fingerpicks for the style I play, I took biotin and I do think it made the nails thicker and harder. Another thing, as with hair: cutting the nails way back, I feel, helps them grow in harder. YMMV, of course.

Edited by - rfink1913 on 09/13/2019 15:37:41

Sep 13, 2019 - 4:09:56 PM
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703 posts since 11/25/2006

About every three weeks I go to a nail shop and have a pretty Vietnamese sweetie do my picking' finger.

Sep 13, 2019 - 5:31:41 PM
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Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22318 posts since 6/25/2005

Some of that sound is the banjo and setup. I don’t know what “plucky” sound is. Any banjo sound comes from plucking the strings, so is “plucky.”

Sep 13, 2019 - 6:20:48 PM

74 posts since 3/28/2010

Clawhammer banjo picks are fairly inexpensive. So, purchase a few (if you can afford experimentation). Personally, however, I believe one's tone is- primarily- a result of technique (provided you have a functional banjo).

Stated in the reverse... practice will always trump equipment. But, if you can afford to experiment with various equipment (and find enjoyment in the experimentation), why not?

Sep 13, 2019 - 7:00:18 PM

36 posts since 12/9/2018

I've tried just about every version of clawhammer specific pick and didn't really care for any of them for various reasons. My instructor is a big proponent of using a pick and usually plays with a modified Joel Hooks Banjo Thimble in brass. I found the Hooks pick to be a bit too heavy of a gauge for the way I play and prefer a modified brass Dunlop fingerpick in the .015-.020 range. Tried the nickel versions as well and the brass just has a sweeter tone to my ears. They're pretty cheap and can be found at Elderly or any decent acoustic music shop.
All that being said, it will take some time to get used playing with a pick, especially if you're still getting the hang of the whole clawhammer stroke.

Sep 13, 2019 - 7:27:57 PM

74 posts since 1/2/2019
Online Now

I'm female, my nails aren't that thick, but they work great for clawhammer - I sometimes wonder, how hard are you guys hitting your strings? All my favorites, and I have alot, don't use them. I've never seen them when I watch Youtube videos either.

I'm not challenging or being rude, but maybe you're hitting the strings too hard? - sometimes you wonderful men just don't know your own strength - or maybe I just have too light a touch.

Sep 14, 2019 - 12:23:48 AM

AndyW

UK

450 posts since 7/4/2017

Firstly I'd say learn to play with your middle instead of your index and see if you like the sound from there.

If not, it's still a massive bonus as the 'pick' sound from your index and middle can be massively different.

I now play mainly with my index, but if I use my homemade pick it sounds horrible on my index, but great on my middle.

My pick is a (thick) turned over bluegrass pick, however I have used a dremel to ground it right down to emulate the shape of a grown out nail. So it might be worth revisiting the bluegrass pick idea but grab hold of a dremel/grinder/file.


 

Sep 14, 2019 - 2:20:20 AM
Players Union Member

OM45GE

USA

89211 posts since 11/7/2007

I use aLaska Piks (their spelling) for all my playing including claw hammer, Scruggs, finger style guitar, etc. I find the sound pretty close to nails.

aLaska Pik
 

Sep 14, 2019 - 3:44:15 AM

GeorgeG

USA

4 posts since 9/13/2019

Wow, thanks to everyone for all of the immediate replies and positive vibes. Much appreciated. I forgot to mention that I'm left-handed and get a lot of grief for that, even before I ask questions. But that's another story.

Sep 14, 2019 - 5:02:01 PM

844 posts since 8/7/2017

I've tried finger picks, but don't like them as much as just my own fingernail. To strengthen and thicken the nail I take Evening Primrose Oil capsules, 1/day. The active ingredient is GLA, gamma linolenic acid. This solution was recommended to me in one of Dr. Andrew Weil's health books (Harvard trained MD, written several books on non-big-pharma drugs, eg herbal drugs).

I've been playing clawhammer about 3 3/4 years. When I started, I had to have a longish nail (middle finger) to be able to strike the strings. As time has gone by, I've gotten to the point, somehow, of being able to play with a short finger nail. So, apparently, as my strike got more accurate, a shorter nail became no handicap. I still take the capsules as they yield a noticeable increase in nail thickness.

Hope this helps.

Sep 14, 2019 - 10:16:17 PM

4727 posts since 5/14/2007

When I'm playing with my music buddy, I use a straightened-out Jim Dunlop brass fingerpick. When playing alone at home, I use just my nail. Getting used to a pick will take you a week or so of commitment. And as Bill mentioned above, banjo type and set-up are also important to your tone.

Sep 15, 2019 - 5:14:39 AM

m06

England

7865 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by GeorgeG

I'm relatively new to clawhammer and am having a tough time getting a good sound from my thin and brittle fingernails. I play with my index finger but get a thin, plucky sound both from my short natural nail and from a glue on acrylic nail. I don't get the sharp sound that I'd like. I've tried a few brush-on coatings and some picks, to no avail. Dunlop and other metal picks don't feel very natural in sound or in their fit. I'm sure this topic has been covered many other times, but perhaps someone could steer this new guy to a solution. My nails are weak and I'd like to find an "unnatural" solution for getting a great sound.


You say you’re new to clawhammer so it’s only fair to mention that ‘great sound’ is developed, it’s not something that’s there out of the box. As you gradually acquire better technique i.e. accuracy, angle of attack and dynamics your contact into and through the string(s) will improve along with your volume. Using a metal pick doesn’t change or avoid that natural development process.

Commonly when starting out, lack of a clean sound is attributable to the picking nail not contacting and moving through the string with sufficient momentum. Instead, by remaining in proximity, the nail has a counter-productive tendency to contact and then mute or interfere with the vibration of the string giving a dull or ‘muddy’ sound. Increased confidence from practice adds momentum by getting the nail through and beyond the string and cures that early issue.

Also I’m just curious what gauge strings you are currently playing? Or whether there is any other deliberate or inadvertent muting of your banjo? An unnoticed shirt or jumper cuff or other contact with the bridge can affect too. Not that unusual.

Edited by - m06 on 09/15/2019 05:29:20

Sep 15, 2019 - 5:44:53 AM

GeorgeG

USA

4 posts since 9/13/2019

Thank you for your insight. I'm currently using D'addario EJ61 10-23 medium gauge strings. The "plucky" sound I referred to is actually more like a clicking that may be caused by my fingertip touching the string after the nail does. I don't get the same sound when using a Fred Kelly lexan pick or Dun lop nickel pick, but the picks don't feel natural. Many responses stating that I've got to be more patient and work on technique seem to be right on the money. I've got very good equipment so the weak link seems to be me.

Sep 15, 2019 - 6:50:20 PM

74 posts since 1/2/2019
Online Now

George, why is your fingertip touching the string after the nail does? Only the nail should be hitting the string if you're downpicking. Maybe concentrate slowly on techinque? I know when I started out I watched many youtube videos for beginners. There's lots out there.

Sep 15, 2019 - 11:00:28 PM

KatB

USA

70 posts since 9/3/2018

quote:
Originally posted by nightingale

George, why is your fingertip touching the string after the nail does? Only the nail should be hitting the string if you're downpicking. 


I’ll venture that he’s got nails like mine  in which the fingertip extends quite a bit beyond the end of a short nail. :) That fingertip muting would be an issue for me too if I didn’t have an acrylic nail on there. 

Sep 16, 2019 - 2:30:37 AM

m06

England

7865 posts since 10/5/2006

quote:
Originally posted by GeorgeG

Thank you for your insight. I'm currently using D'addario EJ61 10-23 medium gauge strings. The "plucky" sound I referred to is actually more like a clicking that may be caused by my fingertip touching the string after the nail does. I don't get the same sound when using a Fred Kelly lexan pick or Dun lop nickel pick, but the picks don't feel natural. Many responses stating that I've got to be more patient and work on technique seem to be right on the money. I've got very good equipment so the weak link seems to be me.


String set categories are notoriously variable. A 23W 4th is what I use and is kind’ve on the heavy side of ‘medium’. It may be worth experimenting with some lighter strings (20W 4th) at your next string change. A lighter gauge takes less to vibrate it and pull-offs are easier to get cleanly for a beginner.

But the unwanted sound does suggest that you need to increase momentum to get your picking nail through and beyond the string. That increase need only be slight. That momentum and the clean contact it creates compensates even for short nails. 

Edited by - m06 on 09/16/2019 02:36:19

Sep 16, 2019 - 2:10:36 PM

135 posts since 10/9/2017

There's a lot of good advice already given here. I had the same problem as you when I started 2.5 years ago. I tried various finger picks and found I preferred the Joel Hooks Thimble in brass, but I really prefer not to use a pick if possible. I started taking Biotin ($5.99 at Trader Joe's) and over time that seems to have helped. I also got a great tip from Ken Perlmann: Scotch™ tape. It has to be the real thing and it has to be the opaque kind sold at Staples et al., not the clear stuff. Just wrap it over your picking nail and trim away the excess or tuck it under the nail if long enough. Good sound and it protects the nail underneath.

As I've gotten better and my nails have apparently toughened up, I've found I don't even need that, but I do use a high quality four-sided nail file that I got at the grocery store to keep my picking nail neat.

As others have suggested, your tone will improve with practice. I was told many years ago that the direct translation of the term "kung fu" (gongfu) is "hard work over time". Good luck.

Sep 16, 2019 - 5:09:13 PM
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Players Union Member

RV6

USA

1234 posts since 2/3/2012

The discussion of picks vs fingernails is an oft discussed topic for clawhammer players on the Hangout.   Using picks to get the sound you want out of a banjo when playing clawhammer doesn't mean you're less of a musician if you have to use picks.

The Scruggs players obsess about what finger picks to use and spend a lot of money on picks.  They use picks to get the tone they need to play 3 finger.  Why shouldn't clawhammer players do the same?

A common theme among clawhammer players seems to be that, if you need picks, you are somewhat not a "real" clawhammer player.  

When I started with the banjo 7 years ago, I tried to use my natural nail.  It didn't work for me.  Growing the nail so as to be able to play didn't work for me.  I was always damaging the nail due to using my hands for something "every day life".   So, through the years, I experimented with various picks.  If you can't get the volume or tone with a bare finger, the option of wearing a pick seemed like the thing to try.  Several of the good clawhammer players I play with can use their nails. Others go to a "nail specialist" and have a fake nail put on.  One player I play with has a fake nail and she's an outstanding player.  I don't know how she does it as she is also a horse trainer.  How she keeps her fake nail intact is a mystery to me.

I lost all interest in a fake nail after seeing a news item on a Denver TV channel several years ago featuring a beautiful  young lady who got a case of herpes on all of her fingernails after going to a "nail salon".  It was a nightmare to see the pictures and hear of her ongoing problems.   My wife got nail fungus on all of her toenails after getting a pedicure at a Denver venue as a "girls" day out in preparation for my daughter's wedding.  I'm not willing to trust my nail health to just anyone. 

I decided to try various picks after reading many posts on the Hangout.  I tried the Freedom Pick, Hooks brass pick and several others and settled on Dunlop picks.  The Dunlops are low cost and I ordered several in brass and nickle, .0225 to .O25.  There is a difference in tone, even among Dunlops of the same thickness and material.  I have several favorites and others that I don't use.   They're cheap so having a few that I don't use laying around is no big deal.

I've used the Dunlops on steel and Aquilla strings and get great tone with less effort with both than when playing bare fingered.   I play 90% of the time  with Nylguts now, and the Dunlop picks give me what I need with much less effort.  This is really important for me as I have old fingers with a bit of arthritis. Playing with picks requires less effort for me to get the sound I want.

When I leave the house to play at a jam, I have a spare pick on a ball and chain necklace in case I loose a pick.  If I don't have a pick, my playing suffers quite a bit.

Sep 16, 2019 - 6:35 PM

74 posts since 1/2/2019
Online Now

quote:
Originally posted by KatB
quote:
Originally posted by nightingale

George, why is your fingertip touching the string after the nail does? Only the nail should be hitting the string if you're downpicking. 


I’ll venture that he’s got nails like mine  in which the fingertip extends quite a bit beyond the end of a short nail. :) That fingertip muting would be an issue for me too if I didn’t have an acrylic nail on there. 


Ahh...  ok, that makes sense.

Sep 18, 2019 - 6:45:12 AM

135 posts since 10/9/2017

quote:
Originally posted by RV6

The discussion of picks vs fingernails is an oft discussed topic for clawhammer players on the Hangout.   Using picks to get the sound you want out of a banjo when playing clawhammer doesn't mean you're less of a musician if you have to use picks.

Absolutely. It's folk music: there's no right or wrong as long as it sounds good. For me it's a personal preference for nails over picks. I find playing with a pick analogous to another activity that utilizes an appendage that may or may not be covered; I feel clumsy with something on my finger. My teacher routinely plays with a pick, and he's no slouch.

Sep 19, 2019 - 1:03:35 PM

125 posts since 9/27/2007

I use Fred Kelly Freedom picks (white - delrin type). I agree with raybob's comment in that I use a pick more often when playing at a jam or with a group. Seem to get a little more volume with less down force when using a pick. Any pick takes some time to reach a comfort level. So be patient when trying out a pick. I've tried metal and plastic picks before but have found the Freedom picks give me the closest tone to a "nail". I don't trim these picks but they can be sanded off if you feel they need modifying.

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