Hey Everybody. If you’re on the fence or have questions about purchasing…..here’s a good place to start. THESE PICKS WILL NOT BE FOR EVERYBODY! And I can only make so many, so I’d prefer they not be sitting in a drawer somewhere, unused. And they’re fairly expensive, so I want you to know as much as possible before you buy….you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if your questions aren’t answered here.
About two years ago I started selling my hand made finger and thumb picks under the name “ClawJam”. I have been making and tweaking these for myself for almost as long as I’ve been playing the banjo….which is going on 6 years. My banjo journey has been a non stop quest for answers to so many unanswered (or mis-answered) questions that have been bugging me since I discovered this wonderful beast. This FAQ pertains only to the picks themselves….but I do hope to launch a companion blog site devoted to other nagging problems with our beloved 5-string. (at least they’re nagging to me….if you’ve got it all figured out then good on ya!)
In no particular order…..here’s some answers to some of your questions:
“Do they come in different sizes?” Not currently. They are one size fits most. If you have very small or very large fingers they may not work well for you and you should contact me first before ordering. I can pre-bend them to get you in the ball park.
“How can I tell them apart if buying a set?” If you’re buying a set, one pick will have a star or a moon on it, and the other will be blank. I usually bend the marked pick a little bigger for the middle finger, but you can change this of course. You can also get 2 different colors in SS and tell them apart that way, or use different metals for different fingers.
“Does the “blueing” affect the tone of the picks?” Not to my ears.
“What is the “blueing for?” I was just playing around with the torch and trying different soldering techniques and noticed the SS changing colors and eventually turning blue…..similar to the way motorcycle pipes do. I like playing with fire so I just enjoyed watching them turn from silver to gold to red to blue while under the flame. It’s kinda like therapy for me, so I don’t don’t charge any extra for it. It makes them look different, and I like different. *some of the “blueing” will eventually wear off…..especially on the tips where they contact the string
“What is the difference in the tone of the different metals?” There has been a bit of varying opinion on this. I can only go by my ears, which admittedly stood in front of a loud guitar amp and next to a hard rock drummer for many years. To me, there really isn’t all that much difference. They’re all metal. But if you can hear the sound difference in different metals then go for your fave, but please read the question on different metals (below) before ordering.
“Why the different metals?” It really just started as an experiment to see what differences there were. Also because some people have allergic reactions to certain metals….especially nickel silver. I actually started with real silver. Mucho pricey. Below is my summation of the metals….I’m not a metallurgist, so I cannot state these as truths…..just my experience from bending, filing, shaping, stamping, soldering, polishing and using them:
Stainless Steel (SS): The hardest of the metals….by far. Will definitely last the longest. Hardest to bend, but once you get them dialed in, minor tweaking is easy. I highly recommend SS for steel string players, especially if you play alot.
Nickel Silver (german silver): Has no real silver in it….it’s just a name. Not nearly as hard as SS, but seems to be the preferred metal for bluegrass picks….so there must be something to it. Easier to bend than SS, but will wear out quicker.
Brass: Similar to nickel silver in hardness IMO. Looks cooler IMO. Will dull and patina if you don’t keep them polished, but the tips that strike the strings will stay shiny…..and some like the patina.
Copper: Definitely the softest and easiest to bend, but will wear out quickest on a steel string…..the string being of a much harder metal than the pick. For this reason I only recommend them for nylon and “nylgut” strings. They look pretty cool though. Also they are Clifton Hicks’ favorites…..but he may be just a bit biased seeing that his dog is named “Copper”…..and probably not after the police. Moonshiners use copper stills…..copper’s just cool….but use them on steel strings at your own risk. That said, I’m guessing you’ll get at least a year out of them on steel strings, and the tone may be a bit mellower…..again, opinions vary.
“How long will they last?” That depends. I’ve only had reports of two broken picks in 2 years, and both were copper, so now I only recommend copper for nylon and “nylgut” strings. I primarily use SS and have seen little wear and i play a LOT….and fairly hard at times. SS is my recommendation for all steel string users. If the string is a harder metal than the pick, the pick will wear down before the string does. SS holds it’s own and shows little wear even after much use. I’ve seen pics on BHO of guys who have worn the tips of their Nationals or Dunlops way down over many years, but they still love them. If you were to wear down the tips of ClawJam picks…..the second blade would fall off. (it could still be used as a single blade pick, however) I haven’t done that to a SS pick yet, but I’m sure it will eventually happen.
“Why are they so expensive? I can get a set of Dunlops for a few bucks.” Yes, I understand…and you are welcome to do so. I am one guy hand making these picks out of a barn in Pungo, VA. The cost to manufacture and the time involved to do so is significant. But until I come up with some assembly line mass quantity production system (which there really isn’t enough demand to justify at present) or the Chinese start knocking them off at a fraction of the price (not likely either) the price is really the best I can do and have it be worth my time. My apologies. Their expense is one of the reasons I stopped making them….but it seems some people still want them…..so I shall continue.
“Why don’t you make them in plastic?” I’d love to and plan to. Those I will probably have to outsource as I have not yet come up with an efficient way of bending plastics……stay tuned…..
“What’s the deal with the thumb pick?” That is the more misunderstood concept and from user feedback the hardest part to get down. If you wear your thumb pick close to the tip of your thumb, and/or like the blade to be very long….the thumb pick will not work as designed. These were designed to be worn further back towards the knuckle, with the offset blade kept short. This allows you to strike the string with the pick or slightly angle your thumb to strike the string with the fleshy part of the thumb itself. This is shown in the video.
“Do you make a left handed thumb pick?” I do.
“Do you make a left handed finger pick?” uhhh…..I do.
“Can I use them with nylon or “nylgut” strings?” Yes. Please see Copper under “Why the different metals?” question above.
“Are they good for bluegrass pickers?” Probably not. Earl didn’t use them, so why should you? (sarcasm) I believe that you can use them for bluegrass well enough, but if you have no intention of playing any other style than “3 finger”, the only reason I can imagine you’d want these is if you had a big problem hooking your picks on the string and sending them flying. (I actually had a huge problem with that when I tried those!) or, because of the tone……see below
“Do they sound any different than a regular metal pick when playing 3 finger style?” To my ears, yes. It’s subtle, but it’s there. A regular pick ends abruptly and gives a very bright, staccato “boing” when the string releases. Because of the way the ClawJam pick is bent at the end it gives a slightly mellower tone. Because there’s less “attack”, to my ears there’s more “sustain”, and therefore a fuller, more “compressed” sound. To me, it’s still plenty bright, cuz banjos have plenty of bright in them inherently. So, you may appreciate this, or you may not. If you’re going for full on Ralph Stanley tone all the time…..these are NOT the picks for you. I do file the tips slightly to give a bit more sharpness to the tone, but i don’t advise you to do this…..the tip could weaken and break.
“You said you play “ALOT”. Why aren’t you any good ?” Ouch. Okay. I’ll take it. I guess cuz banjo’s are hard to play well. IMO.
“Do you have any videos of people who are good using your picks?” uh, no. Not yet. Feel free to send me some though.
“What if I don’t like them…..can I return them”? Yes. You have 14 days to try them. If you don’t like them just contact me and mail them back. (You will have to pay return shipping, and I don’t refund the cost of initial shipping) I recommend First Class USPS as they have tracking numbers. Once I get them back, if they are undamaged, I will return your money.
“Is there a warranty”? Not really, for the same reason strings and drum sticks don’t have warranties. But if you feel like your pick is defective for any reason just contact me and I’ll make it right.