Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Further to my post some years ago on this subject, I recently discovered 2 tips to facilitate smooth and consistent playing when using a thimble. Not infrequently when playing my thimble would momentary for a mili second stick on the string, usually in the middle of a triplet thus impeding slightly flow and rhythm. I was removing some scratches on the barrel of one of my thimbles and finished the process with 1000 grade wet and dry. The result was amazing in terms of the thimble gliding smoothly from string to string and also cut down some of the usual additional noise one gets with thimble playing. I used the same method on thimbles with no visible signs of scratches with the same result. Don’t use wet and dry however on the blade of the thimble, use medium sandpaper for this.

Second tip is to ensure the tip of the index finger is no more than about 3 mils from the striking end of the thimble. Hope this is useful to someone

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

I’ve been interested in trying this for a while - any of you tried switching from a standard pick to a banjo thimble? What were your experiences like? Which sort of banjo thimble did you buy/try?

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Hi Jusa
Whilst I could use a flat pick on the guitar when I first started playing the banjo I found it painful to use a flat pick as I had taken the top of my index finger off years previously and got my first thimble from Sully Sullivan, who plays with both thimble and flat pick. I now make my own from I/2 inch hard plastic conduit piping
With a small hacksaw I cut of a section slightly longer than the first segment of my index finger. Sand down the end of this tube with medium sandpaper and remove any jagged bits from inside and outside the cylinder. I think Sully still sells thimbles-His firm is Halshaw music. Sully in one of his tutor books suggests cutting the end of the thimble at an angle of 75 degrees but I find cutting it straight better as if it moves on your finger it can be awkward. One gets a different sound by playing with a thimble and strings tend to wear out quicker. Also the base g string can sound a bit dull if you don’t strike it dead on. Cheers John

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

What are the advantages of using thimble as opposed to a plectrum? I know Johnny Keenan used to play with a thimble, he and Sully obviously came up with this technique. They produced Dublin Banjos tutor book together. Always been curious about this innovative but never tried it. Maybe necessity being the mother of invention in this case. I don’t know.

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Hi Sean, thanks for your interest. As I said in my post I took up thimble playing as a necessity and would have used a flat pick if I could have done so without discomfort. I think the majority view is that the flat pick is preferable to the thimble in terms of a crisper sound, being easier on the strings and the need for more accurate playing with the thimble, particularly on the base g string, in order to get a clear sound .Advantages I can think of include a warmer, less tinier tone, if that’s what you prefer. Also the thimble cant fly off your finger, when you’re a beginner. It is also reported that triplets are easier to execute, although I’m not sure about that as I had to work hard on them as does everybody. Although I wouldn’t claim to be a super player I haven’t received derision for playing with a thimble.Indeed someone who heard me playing at a festival session said that he’d never liked the sound of the banjo until he heard it played with a thimble!. The base suffers a bit with this technique on a 17 fret short scale. I play a ‘Clareen’ ,short scale and a 1912 ‘Weyman’, normal scale. John

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Hi Thomaston
I looked at your link but no the picture is more like a metal fingerpick. For bluegrass and 5 string banjo playing I presume you would use the thimble shown in your link with a thumb pick. Suppose for claw hammer you could use my type thimble on index finger with thumb pick on thumb. My thimble is just a short plastic cylinder placed on index finger and the strings struck with part of the circumference of the end of the cylinder

For plectrum playing on a five string it should be fine tho. Sorry I couldn’t send a pic for you as I’m not much good at 78 on computers cheers John

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Hi again Thomason, on reflection my suggestion re claw hammer may not be a good one as you have to hold the thimble in place with your thumb over the cylinder of the thimble or it may come off and you need your thumb free in claw hammer

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Thanks Reverend
the first thimble is like Sully’s and the one I play with. Thanks to Sully, I play with one due to necessity due to my injured finger but I agree with you if you’re playing grand with a pick, don’t change, its taken me years to sort of master the thimble(might have been the same with a pick!!) good luck John

Re: Playing Irish banjo with a thimble

Thanks Thomason
yes this might work must try one