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All About Banjo Picks!

by Ben Clark March 22, 2023 4 Comments

All About Banjo Picks!

One of the most important things that every student encounters after embarking on their banjo-playing journey is how to wear picks! Picks affect almost all aspects of our playing from volume to hand placement, and it’s important to understand not only how to wear your picks, but also why you should wear them and how to find the best picks for you.

Do I Really Need Banjo Picks?

This question pops up frequently – do we really need to use picks? I often get messages from folks who don’t play with picks, and feel that they don’t play as well and end up with sore fingers when they use them.

To this, I have to reply, “I agree.” Picks will hurt your playing (and your fingers) when you first start using them. However, this is a necessary hurdle in order to get the best value out of a banjo’s sound. Without the amplification and articulation of picks, you won’t be able to pull the true tone and volume out of your banjo and will be easily drowned out in a jam setting.

So if it’s crucial to our sound to get accustomed to wearing picks, what kinds of picks do we use as banjo players?

The Thumbpick

The first pick we’ll talk about is a thumbpick. There are a huge number of thumbpicks on the market, but the most important aspect to look for in a thumbpick is how well it fits you.

Thumbpicks typically come in a range of sizes from small to large (all of which are available at the General Store). Ideally, a pick should be snug enough to stay securely in place while playing, but not so tight as to cut off the thumb’s circulation or create a large amount of discomfort.

I use the BlueChip J.D. Crowe Thumb Pick, and I wear a large. There are, of course, plenty of more affordable options at the General Store which will serve a wide range of players very well!

Side view of thumbpick
Top down view of thumbpick

My thumbpick placement. I use the BlueChip J.D. Crowe.

Russ Carson's thumbpick placement. Russ uses his custom BlueChip.

Alan Munde's (left) and Bill Evans'thumbpick placement, both with Golden Gates.

Featured Thumbpicks

Be sure to take advantage of Jake’s BlueChip size comparison video if you are considering a BlueChip!

The Fingerpicks

The second type of picks we need are fingerpicks. I get many questions about what thickness, brand, and material of fingerpicks are best. However, this is not always a clear and concise answer, and I believe that it is important to try a variety of brands and sizes to find the right set. Fortunately, fingerpicks are generally inexpensive and readily available in a wide range of sizes, so it can be convenient and easy to try out a good selection of picks.

My fingerpick placement. I use Sammy Shelor signature fingerpicks.

Russ Carson's fingerpick placement. Russ uses Acri fingerpicks.

Bill Evans' fingerpick placement. Bill uses National fingerpicks.

Featured Fingerpicks

(If you’re interested in the effects of different fingerpick materials, thicknesses, and more, check out Adam’s comprehensive free lesson!)

In conclusion, wearing picks is an essential aspect of banjo playing that should not be overlooked. While they may cause discomfort at first, the benefits of increased volume and tone are well worth the initial struggle – remember to find picks that fit comfortably and consider trying a few different brands and materials to determine your best fit.

Now that you know all about the difference that picks make and how to find your set, learn the essential tips to shape, fit, and wear your picks in this lesson!

Ben Clark
Ben Clark

4 Responses

Bob Swanson
Bob Swanson

July 07, 2023

I’ve had two problems over the years. The first was the curved part of the thumbpick hooking the fifth string. Doug Dillard showed me how to reshape it in a tighter hoop. The other is even with a short blade I still hit the head and make a noticeable thump when I record. I also, like my fingerpicks with less bend.


July 06, 2023

I have been playing 40 years and have tried every combination of picks on the planet. The blue chip thumbpick is a little short for me and the national thumbpick is a little longer than I like and does get “hung up” on me. I have found that the golden gate picks have the perfect length for me. I fell in love with the Sammy Shelor fingerpicks the first time I tried them after using dunlops and nationals for years. I have settled on a Golden Gate thumbpick and Sammy Shelor fingerpicks. Any thing else and I feel naked. All these picks are available here from Ben’s General Store.

walter frank
walter frank

July 06, 2023

thank you for this information

Steve Petersen
Steve Petersen

July 05, 2023

It seems that the blades on thumbpicks come in different lengths. I found that the longer the blade, the more it gets “hung up”as I play. so I filed one down a little so I don’t have to pick my thumb off the string as far. Helps a little with my speed. Have you ever heard of this weird dilemma? If so, do you have picks with shorter blades that you could recommend? thanks,, steve

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