Minstrel Banjo

For enthusiasts of early banjo

Hi all,

Another really newbie question.

Reading through the forums it looks as if some use thimbles and some don't, with lot's of good logic and experience to back up each choice.  Of course, everyone here is pretty experienced, and I'm as green as they come, banjo wise (I'm still figuring out a half strike, heh).

Do you recommend a thimble for an absolute beginner while learning?  (I usually keep my nails pretty short, and while they're not necessarily brittle, they're not what I'd call tough.)



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Let me 2nd that,  

Anthony,,, instead of just saying not to,,, you may want to know the reasoning why.   If I were learning Bluegrass, I would definitely want to learn with the 3 picks,,, that's how its played.   If you learn stroke style with a bare finger,I believe you could later adapt if you wanted to try a thimble,,, but I think if you start with a thimble it may be hard to go to bare fingers.   I  would like to try a plastic one ,, just to see if I could obtain more volume when needed. 

For what its worth I don't use one but have also never tried one so I'm not in a position to recommend or not. The quality of my nail on my right hand varies with the seasons but I don't mind it being very short, it seems to tear up the guts when its getting at all long. I think if I played with nylgut strings I might want to try one just to see if I can play louder at noisy outdoor venues. Dave

Thimbles are used, but never taught.

If you develop good technique, you do not need one.

I can see why they were used....in the old days of wet heads, noisy halls, and others to cut above.

Learn good technique with out it. Then, if you need one, it can enhance your volume and sharpen the attack.

Nothin' a good solid Hammer Stroke can't do.

I love how people who don't use thimbles are telling you that you don't need one.  I agree that you should start without one.  I use a thimble because I get a more consistent sound.  Is this bad technique, or is it simply lousy finger nails?  I often play here at home without one, but when I want to be heard I use one.  This is something you need to play with.  It would be easier in the long run not to use one. 

Yea...take everybody's 2 cents worth and form your opinion.

I do suggest, however, learning without it.

I do not think it has that much to do with the state of the nails. It is the manner in which you strike the string.

 I feel I can get more dynamics with bare finger, soft hard flick it etc, how tight my hand is ??

I've used thimbles before, but I get more sound without them.  Some play better with them.  You'll figure it out.  No right or wrong solution.--Rob

I use thimbles at times and then other times I do not... 

Tim is right... if your attack is correct, you may not need one... For me, May attack is will less them.... It's down right off.

I have attend one of Tim's shows/jams/gigs.... with accompaniment of Al Smitley... on fiddle, and a few other Minstrels young and old... on bones and jaw bone.   Tim was loud as can be w/o thimbles...  

So over all... I just hope you look at minstrel banjo playing as... your very own style and journey into the past and bring it into the future for all to enjoy...  You will never be Tim Twiss, Mr. Frank Converse,  Mr. Briggs, or Mr. Buckley...  All we can do is play our best and make the music that pleases you and others around you...     

Sorry, I'll get off my rickety soap box... LOL!  

Thanks for the help, everyone!  Bare nails it is!  I just want to make sure I get started out right!


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