Frequently Asked Question


Why do you call banjo “picks” thimbles?

Banjo thimbles were called “thimbles” in the 19th century.  They are mentioned in the introduction to the Briggs’ Banjo Instructor, 1855... “and he played so strong that he had to get a piece of metal for the end of his finger, as a sort of shield, to prevent his tearing off his nail.”

Research shows that they began to be called “picks” after the turn of the century.  Thimble playing, as well as 5-string banjos, fell out of favor.  Hawaiian guitars became “all the rage.”  What is now called a “ banjo finger pick” was originally developed for the Hawaiian Guitar.  During the “folk scare” and the reemergence of the down-stroke banjo styles, thimbles were no longer available.  So the banjoists began making do with Hawaiian Guitar Picks.  “Thimble” is the proper name for the style I make.  If they must be called by the verb, that should be “strike.”  One strikes the strings when using one, they do not “pick.”

Do you make the thimbles by hand?

Mostly.  I have a die that stamps out the perfect cut.  I then sand off all of the flashing left by the die punch and add my initial stamp.  I then shape them by hand.  The domed tip is shaped on a special finger shaped anvil so that there is a proper curve around the fingernail. This dome can vary from thimble to thimble, but they are all inspected by me as I make them.  Once complete polish them to a mirror finish on a polishing wheel.

Do you make different sizes?

No, it is “one size fits most” just like it was 130 years ago.  The band that wraps around the finger can be bent to accommodate most adult sizes.  If you have very small hands these may not fit you.  If you have been wearing a standard sized “bluegrass pick” then you will have no problems with these.  I will sometimes keep some “cut down” thimbles on hand as I get time.  These are the standard sizes that I cut smaller with a jeweler’s saw.  They will fit smaller hands.

Will they work with any type of banjo strings?

Yes. They are perfect for gut, nylon, or wire.  Wire strings may cause them wear, just like they wear out frets.  I don’t know how long that they will last when used with wire as I play nylon/gut strings almost exclusively. 

I read in Observations on Stroke or Thimble Playing on the Banjo that I should flatten the end by striking with a riveting hammer.  Should I “hammer” my new thimble?

No, don’t hammer your thimble.  If desired I can make you a thimble without spooning the end.  Just request it be made that way.  As it is not standard, there may be some delay in getting it to you.

I noticed some old ads that listed thimbles made from German silver.  Why do you make them from brass?

I would love to make thimbles from GS but I could not find a supplier that would sell me small quantities.  I even got hung up on couple of times after I told them what I was making.  Let’s face it, there are not a huge number of down-stroke playing banjoists.  I am not going to be buying coils of metal any time soon.

Why does my thimble turn my finger green?

It is called verdigris.  Ordinary bar soap as found at your local general merchandiser will wash it off.

Is there lead in the metal you use?

My supplier assured me that it was lead free.  That said, as far as I know all machinable bass has some lead in it.  Don’t suck on your thimble or put it in your mouth.  These are not intended for small children and pose a choking hazard.

Yesterday I was using my thimble and noticed that the floor boards were shaking loose.  Will you pay for the repair?

No, I cannot be held responsible for damage caused by sound waves from your banjo.  I have also gotten reports of glass rattling in windows.

I saw a drawing in the version of Briggs’ Banjo Instructor simplified by Joseph Weidlich that shows a thimble worn on the index finger.  The thimble in the drawing is very narrow. Why are yours different?

I have that book too.  The drawing is modern and incorrect.  The artist took the woodcut of a thimble and drew the finger around it.  The Stewart engraving is not a very good approximation.  A much better cut is found in the Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog of 1895.

Do you make other types of banjo thimbles?

I have a small collection of original banjo thimbles.  Every time I get a new (old) style I try to replicate it.  While it is a fun hobby and interesting eI have made some of the Frank Converse style thimbles from the template in his “green book.”  I did not find them satisfactory.  I still have some that I made, so if you want one contact me.

© Joel Hooks 2020