Other guitar-y things

Holy Thumbpick, Batman…it works!

1

I've been picking with my thumb for a couple decades, at least. Got no trouble with alternating, or hitting an intended bass string.

But no thumbpick has ever been remotely comfortable enough for me to persevere through "getting used to it." And I've tried nearly all of them, I'm sure, including a selection from Fred Kelly's table at CAAS.

The problems have been legion: they immediately make me feel as clumsy as if I'd never picked up a guitar, or was being forced to play it left-handed; I can't find the right string; they're too loose and slip in orientation or so tight my thumb aches, loses circulation, and then goes numb and falls off.

So I've gotten perfectly happy with the somewhat more muted, subdued, soft bass notes I get from using the end of my thumb and whatever thumbnail goes along with it (till it wears off or catches and aggravates that split my thumbnail hasn't been able to grow its way out of since Roundup '15 or so when I whacked my thumb against something when loading gear).

Yeah, I don't get that freight train clackety clack, that relentless and merciless hammer of doom that Merle, Chet, and Severe Thumbpickin' Rockabilly Cats get. But that's been OK, because I don't play like that, and, believe it or not, it is possible to tire of in-yer-face root-5th-oct-5th-root variations for which we'd fire bass players for lack of imagination. (I know I'm free to insert short connective walking or contrapuntal lines with the thumb, and do. But you know what I mean. Probably.)

Anyway, while I'm content with my totally-nekkit fangerpackin', I just hate for a guitar-related musical skill to completely defeat me, so I try new thumbpick variations when they float across the transom.

Maybe someone during NAMMtime called attention to these new-fangling spring-loaded Black Mountain thumbpicks, hailing from Vancouver. If not, I ran across them somewhere else, went straight to the website and ordered a couple.

They've been here for awhile, but what with more likely entertaining musical fish to fry, I've been ignoring the package. In straightening up around the studioffice today, I peeled it open and tried a pick.

And I'm here to tell you, son, this design works for me! It's practically magical. In SECONDS, I got more comfortable and functional with this pick than I've ever gotten with another. It's requiring almost no re-training of instinct or technique...the notes are just there. Boom. Big-boy thump.

I can tell that as the tip of the pick wears a bit, loses some of its typical-Fender-351 pointiness, it will be smoother. And when gripping it for standard flat-picking action, I'm not quite as fluid as with one of my nicely worn flatpicks. But it's not far off, and I can tell I'll adapt if I keep at it.

I've played for an hour or so, jaw slack and drooling in amazement. I'm still a little clumsy, but I haven't torn it off in frustration for stifling the MUSIC, and my thumb hasn't fallen off yet.

Sometimes in this guitar-playin' bidnit, the smallest things can make the biggest difference. This is one of them.

If you're not completely happy with your thumbpickin' relationship - or you've not been able to get out of the starting gate because it feels like you're trying to dance ballet with stilts - you need to go the mountain and order a couple of these. I couldn't be impresseder.

https://blackmountainpicks.com

Might change your life.

You know, a little. And even if not, part of the pick is RED, and you gotta love that.

2

I was never any good w/ them and envied those who are/were. Maybe there is new hope. Thanks for recounting this progression in your playing.

3

It might work okay Tim, but I'm not about to order any as my Kelly speed picks aren't 'broke', so nothing about them I need to fix. Glad they work for you!

Anyway, I'd have to sand down that pick as it's way too thick for my liking.

4

Tim, like you, I never got comfortable using a thumb pick. they were always awkward for me to use. I always had a flat pick in my hand. so, instead of stopping and putting on a thumb pick, I started hybred(sp) picking using my second and third fingers along with the flat pick. however, if I come across one of these new fangled thumb picks, I may have to try one. thanks for the "heads up".

5

I find that every thumb pick I've tried is either:

Too small in diameter, or

too thick, or

too long, or

generally, too downright WEIRD to work for me. Usually, it's a combination of all of the above.

I am blessed (cursed?) with short, stubby and fairly rotund digits, and most all picks of the kind you wear as opposed to hold are simply not comfortable. I can at times get away with metal banjo picks on the two fingers I draft into use when needed, but the thumb? Uh-uh. Circulation gets cut off, the quick at the base of the thumbnail gets abraded and sore, the thumb changes into a version of the French Tricolor after only a few moments. Worse still- I can never get my brain around the idea of holding my thumb so blasted far away from the strings that the thumb pick won't get tangled up with the strings and bring everything to a sudden halt.

That said, I do still (sorta) almost (maybe) wish that I could possibly make the playing style work a little better for me, so I may just seek out a couple of these and so long as the affected digit is ok with the experiment, try 'em out.

6

Nice. I've never found a thumb pick that fit well at all. And picks are cheaper than strings, may as well try them all. Order placed.

Not thumb specific, but I've been playing with the XL sized picks from Gravity lately. First time I've found a pick that felt like an extension of my hand and not a fiddly thing that makes me accidentally hit the strings with my cuticles.

7

Hey Proteus, I really enjoy reading your posts! You might want to check out a guy by the name of Art Sims. He makes "hybrid" thumbpick / straight pick and you can see and hear him on the YouTube using them. I'm particularly fond of his rendetion of "In The Sweet By and By". He has several videos on there. Pay close attention to his thumb and you'll see what I mean. For me I'm stickin' with the Fred Kelly Speed Pick light (yellow). I sand'er down real thin on the end to get some "snap" and it's great for both "thumpin' " and single notes too! Thanks, Steve

8

Hey Proteus, I really enjoy reading your posts! You might want to check out a guy by the name of Art Sims. He makes "hybrid" thumbpick / straight pick and you can see and hear him on the YouTube using them. I'm particularly fond of his rendetion of "In The Sweet By and By". He has several videos on there. Pay close attention to his thumb and you'll see what I mean. For me I'm stickin' with the Fred Kelly Speed Pick light (yellow). I sand'er down real thin on the end to get some "snap" and it's great for both "thumpin' " and single notes too! Thanks, Steve

– Steve Sanders

I hear you Steve and I use the yellow one as is. I like the snap of this particular pick. When I switch to a regular thick thumbpick the bass notes are much more muted than with the speed pick.

9

Proteus, thank you very much for this post.

Thumbpicks is a pet ache of mine.

Since I play classical guitar the entire Chet thumbpick thing is just too foreign, remained foreign and unintuitive basically now for decades. I moved to Kellys and things improved a heck of a lot ( I could tilt the thumb plectrum a bit forward) . I SURE will try these and was not aware of them. If advice comes from the Gretsch Pages it is worth a try.

I currently play with a synthetic nail on my thumb and classical style and it is the most natural for me. I am still not convinced it gives me all the "Chet", and it might be that it is unavoidable to use the unorthodox thumbpicks he (partly) made famous with his music.

I am sure going to give them a try.

Did you maybe get a chance to compare them with the Kelly Bumblebee ?
Bumblebee

I would like to know of any comparisons.

Thanks.

10

I did. The Bumblebee no fly for me. I'm baffled why this spring-loaded design should be any different, but it's both more comfortable and not nearly as foreign to my "technique."

11

I Just Ordered Two. Let's hope they help me the same as they helped you. The description of your experience with T-Picks is very similar to mine, and therefore it is a good chance I have the same problem as you with them.

That you had trouble with the bumblebees is very interesting. They are very similar, but something was always amiss for me with them. Maybe this solves whatever I found missing. I'm sure going to give them the best shot.

If this works, I will be over the moon.

12

They seem to be $8 each up here, at least at the place I tried one. I like the concept and the design and that it didn't have a numbing death grip on my thumb. I liked that they used a .1mm type pick instead of the usual super thick unit. It seemed to work well as a thumbpick but not quite well enough as a flatpick (I couldn't quite get it at the angle I wanted) for me to drop $8 on a pick I guess. The guitar teacher at the store I was checking them out at shared my opinion.

13

Oh yes that deathgrip on the cuticle - right. Tell me about it. Annoying. It keeps on hurting never mind how I adjust it. That is good news what you report though. As to the angle and such, it is basically standard that you have to adapt about everything to work for you. Out of the box everything is so-so and always designed for some other alien than you. If it works 80% I will find a way to make it 95%. Less than 80% out of the box, is usually not worth adapting.

1mm is perfect. For normal flatpick I played with GHS 1mm large traingles my entire life, so even that little bit you mention ticks off my boxes.

It really looks very natural from watching youtube players Link

14

I've been trying to become adept with the Bumblebee thumbpick for a while in an attempt to switch seamlessly between thumbpicking and flatpicking. Occasionally it works, often it doesn't. Not good enough.

If there's any way of getting a couple of these new gizmos over to the UK then I'm all for giving them a go. But as far as thumbpicking goes, this'll be the last chance saloon -- yet another inability of mine that so many others find easy, like swimming and dancing the tango.

15

Believe it or not, but according to Paul Yandell, Chet himself never found a straight out of the box thumb pick with which he was comfortable. He bought various kinds and would work on them until they were more to his liking, then they were at home in his left front pocket when not on his right thumb. I think Paul himself did the same thing. Personally, I am quite comfortable with Fred Kelly's yellow slick pick for my electrics, and the white speed pick for the acoustics, although I more prefer the one he makes for Doyle Dykes with the longer shank.

It took me a long time to get comfortable with the thumb pick, but I'm happy with it now.

16

Johnny Hiland made some changes recently. I will go find that video and see for reference. I cannot remember if he moved away or towards thumbpick but some drastic change happened in 2019.

Aah, that actually make me feel good if Chet battled with it. I know Chet preferred Classical style right hand like me, but reverted to thumbpick for good reason for the sound required. Good info thanks, now I dont feel like the dunce.

17

Here is the video if someone is interested, He moved from hybrid to thumbpick. So I am still reasonably alone playing with a false nail on my thumb like a flamenco player doing Chet.

Link

Regardless I still am excited about the Black Mountain, as it would be nice to use for flatpicking so that I dont have to hybrid pick and completely make my i-finger unusable. I really dont like that and a really nice flatpick based thumbpick would be absolutely great for rock. So far the Kelly did not really work and the freedom picks were a real disaster.

18

I also purchased a couple of the Black Mountain picks (IIRC, based on a recommendation by Mr. Giffen, as posted on this forum).

I also find them more comfortable than a standard Dunlop thumbpick, and the thinner pick material provides a tone that is more pleasing to my ear. I find the standard Dunlop to be too long, too thick, & too damn tight/uncomfortable on my thumb. It feels as though it snags on the strings, versus the Black Mountain pick that seems to glide more smoothly across the strings.

Long story short, I'd also like to vote two . . . uh, . . . "thumbs up" for these Black Mountain thumbpicks.

By the way, the maker recommends staying with a thumbpick for about 50 hours (!!) of practice to give yourself enough time to become comfortable with using one.

19

Here is the video if someone is interested, He moved from hybrid to thumbpick. So I am still reasonably alone playing with a false nail on my thumb like a flamenco player doing Chet.

Link

Regardless I still am excited about the Black Mountain, as it would be nice to use for flatpicking so that I dont have to hybrid pick and completely make my i-finger unusable. I really dont like that and a really nice flatpick based thumbpick would be absolutely great for rock. So far the Kelly did not really work and the freedom picks were a real disaster.

– retnev

I made this years ago, left hand thumb pick, modified for right hand, it works, easy to make, cheap.

20

Nice review Proteus...piqued my curiosity...ordered.

21

Thank you for the heads up on the thumb pick, Tim. Like you, and so many others, I've never been able to find a thumb pick that works for me either. I'll order a couple of these, and my brother and I will check them out. He also struggles with traditional type thumb picks, and between the two of us we have a jar full of modified failures. My brother is a Chet and Tommy Emanuel disciple, who will be thrilled if one of these babies is the golden ticket (of course I will be too).

22

Well spoken (or written) Proteus, I just ordered two of those Black Mountain picks. I always thought that there is something wrong with my thumbs as thumb picks felt more like medieval thumbscrews. Let's see if finally there is some relief.

23

I can see where this spring actuated feature may help those of you with issues of tightness. I myself have never had an issue with the gripping feature - and in some cases the lack of enough grip - only the pick's features. Of the standard thumbpicks, for me they're all too long. Like Chet, I've sanded a few shorter and for me, thinned them gradually towards the tip. The tone I get varies from a darker sound with an unaltered pick to brighter with a sanded version and brightest with the narrow & thin yellow Kelly speed pick. This may or may not be a concern for others but it's worth noting.

While this new pick sounds like it may address some issues for folks, using one for 50 hours to see if you can adapt to it seems extreme to me. Years ago at the CAAS Convention I met Bob Saxon who was using a speed pick. I was using a regular pick I sanded down and we switched out of curiosity. We both liked each other's pick immediately so we kept each other's pick. Comfort and use should be immediate. Something's drastically wrong IMO if this isn't the case for everyone. The tone issue can be addressed with the speed picks according to color: white to orange to yellow. Ease of play, bendability is also addressed with the different color but with the regular picks, you'll have to address the flexibility by sanding them down; not a big job and fun to see how the tone changes as you go.

24

Comfort and use should be immediate. Something's drastically wrong IMO if this isn't the case for everyone.

I don't think Cole at Black Mountain is saying it takes 50 hours to get used to his thumbpick - if you're already used to a thumbpick. I think he means it takes about that many hours of playing to get acclimated to using a thumbpick, period.

That sounds reasonable.

25

That's probably true. Aside from this thumbpick, they're cheap enough to buy several styles and experiment, and keep experimenting.


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