Well, I decided today to do a little experiment. I was cutting my nails and simply cut my usual picking nails back to the quick. I generally leave about 1/16” to 3/32” nail exposed on both index and middle finger (a bit more on the thumb, maybe 1/8”) and rarely cut those, rather filing them back occasionally.

I dunno why, maybe it is the Ball videos, maybe Rob’s exploration of the ZB or Ian’s tutorial on getting those finger-grooves set in. Maybe I’m still getting over last Sunday’s head-cold or perhaps it is sunspot activity. In any case, it’ll be flesh only for the next week or so.

Wish me luck, I’m going to need it. Thankfully, if I cannot make it work, I have Joel’s thimbles to save the day (or I could simply put on my old BG picks…or drag out a Tenor).

BTW, I have acquired a Gold Tone OT-6 banjo (it is a monster…14” pot with a special 6-string neck rigged as 5+chanterelle). I cannot seem to find any use for the extra bass string whilst fingerpicking (tuned gGDGBD at the moment) but it is a hoot playing clawhammer. However, I intend to convert it to a 5-string Cello-Banjo ASAP.

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Comment by Trapdoor2 on September 16, 2010 at 22:35
Yeah, I'm willing to give the bare finger act a decent try. So far, it isn't all that bad (or good). I may post a comparative video (of something I've already videoed) as a "first try" and then another in a few weeks. We'll see.

The Cello conversion may be quite simple, I may trade it for one of the current Gold Tone CBs (same pot, different neck). I got it for pennies on the dollar and it is in nearly unplayed shape. I had thought about just changing out the nut, bridge and tailpiece but the neck is really too wide to make that a success. Of course, I could send it off for a custom neck but I think "cheap" is a better choice at the moment. ;-)
Comment by thereallyniceman on September 17, 2010 at 8:09
Well, who would have believed it !!!
Bare fingers with calluses and girly picking are mutually exclusive though Marc :-)

You should get a set of heavy gauge Sands strings as with these you will have to pick a bit harder. As daft as it sounds, I was told, when first learning, to pick any object with a sharp corner at any time I was not playing! This would help build up the calluses. This was all a little extreme as the thick strings do the job quite fast!

I just like the "Classic" sound produced by the old time players, and Van Eps & William J Ball were in my mind the best people to attempt to emulate .

Good Luck...keep those nails really short and carry nail clippers at all times :-)

ps..Keep the pinky on the vellum though. I think it was just one of W.J.Ball's pet hates, his second was mother of pearl on banjos!
Comment by Trapdoor2 on September 17, 2010 at 13:35
Interestingly enough, Ian, Van Eps played with extremely light gauge strings. The set he mounted on Howard Weilmeunster's banjo (in 1959) is about as light a nylon set as can be found.

I used to play using the Sands heavies...probably still have a set around here. I do agree that they ought to build calluses! I have been using your 'rubbing the strings' technique...which will do the job eventually. I thought about making a picking board last night (basically a short piece of board laced with strings in emulation of the RH's needs). I made one about 30 yrs ago for "quiet" BG roll practice...long given away to some student.
Comment by thereallyniceman on September 17, 2010 at 14:46
It is quite ironic really. You are experimenting with picking a bit harder and I am now practising Pompadour and I am having to pick more softly and further from the bridge !!

It is all fun.
Comment by thereallyniceman on September 17, 2010 at 14:59
Hi Rob,
Do I detect a note of sarcasm? !!!!!!!

Comment by Trapdoor2 on September 17, 2010 at 15:49
Careful lads, don't want to use up our quota of !s too early in the day. ;-)

I don't really think of it as "picking harder", my intent is to simply experiment a bit and see what comes of it. I don't expect I'll be flinging bridges off into the audience. So far, I have found that my previous "comfort zone" (which is right around the neck/pot juncture) has to move about 2" closer to the bridge...and that affects my overall position somewhat.

I was playing "Stanwood's Favorite" (from the Minstrel side, but fingerpicked) late last night and was far more capable of producing the required ppp (so my wife doesn't wake up and clap me with a frying pan) than I've ever been able to achieve. I may go back and revisit something that requires sensitive and controlled dynamics...like Morley's "Patrol Eccentrique". It is fun to play but doesn't "wake up" until you get the dynamics just right.
Comment by Trapdoor2 on October 4, 2010 at 16:05

So, I'm finding that this is not an easy transition at all but I'm still mucking about with it. I find that playing bare-fingered requires much more force to produce equivalent sound levels. I'm sure a good set of calluses will offset that a bit. Ian's "groove producing" rub-of-the-strings is a big help but at this point (just over a fortnight) the grooves go away before I can get to the end of the tune!

I'm still having lots of difficulty getting any sound at all out of some "canned" RH licks, esp. triplets on a single string...that final note gotten by the thumb: gone ghost (or a light "thud"). Of course, that is simply a re-training issue.

I did replace my strings with a set of Labella Guts. I haven't messed with guts for years and years. They are a distinct improvement over the nylon set I had on (Van Eps emulation set). I do like the "tooth" gut has under the finger. They are quite a bit stiffer than the nylons and just feel better. I can't say that they sound any better (or worse)...but I've always been much more consious of a given string-set's feel than any change in tone.

So, still on the fence regarding this technique. I am struggling with the forces required (God, remind me never to shake hands with Ian, his grip must be like iron) and my muscles wear out quickly. I cannot, for the life of me, produce any sound at all at lower force levels. Thud, thuddity, thud-thud.

Still working at it though! I haven't produced a demo-video yet as I haven't been able to practice up and then have any strength left to make an attempt. ;-)
Comment by thereallyniceman on October 4, 2010 at 16:55
Hey Marc,
Don't go blaming me :-)

Perhaps you could build up your muscle strength by crushing a few grapes, if you can manage that :-)

Good luck, but don't go getting calluses and then wish that you hadn't!!

It is surprising the difference they make though. I am playing the Van Eps arrangement of Maple Leaf Rag where he used the middle finger Right hand for picking and boy I realise that I have calluses on first and second and thud thud on the middle ! :-)

Comment by marc dalmasso on October 4, 2010 at 20:03
there 's only one way to pluck the strings , it ' s ..; the good one
Comment by Trapdoor2 on October 4, 2010 at 20:28
Thanks Rob, that was a very informative video. I shall give it a try!

RE: triplets...I can't help but try the techniques I'm familiar with...even if they don't work (yet!) w/o nails. Of course, this is how I've done it all along. I've often jumped ahead to learn the advanced techniques well before I should.

The La Bella strings were "old stock" I had lying about. Cheap and functional. I would like to try a good set but finding them here in the states is often difficult. So...what brand or make do you recommend/prefer?

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