Harp Guitar: Pluck in Comfort

I know that most of you play with either flesh or nails (and for the thumb, a long, deadly thumbnail) – I’ve gone through it all (and still use different options for different tunes and instruments).  As I demonstrated at the last Gathering, I have been quite enjoying the “Strum ‘N Comfort” thumbpick device.  I use this one, with some modifications:

Yes, it looks like you broke your thumb and have it wrapped in some strange bandage, but at my age, it’s become all about comfort.  More importantly, it solved several problems and added a few bonuses.  Check it out:

Like this player, my palm is usually well away from the strings (though I damp with it as needed), and I normally use rest strokes on the subs – for one thing, I like ’em loud; for another, this allows “automatic muting” on notes that are consecutively descending).   Problem is, all thumbpicks have drawbacks of noise – so for the muting effect to be beneficial, that surface needs to not be plastic or metal.  I long used the Delrin-tipped Pro-Pik, wrapped strategically with surgical tape.  Occasionally, I would use the Alaska thumbpick a la Pete Bradshaw.

Of course, as any thumbpick player knows, keeping them tight enough for stability and technique without cutting off circulation (especially after a long session) is a literal pain.

The Strum “N Comfort has been around for years, but I only found it via Google a year and a half ago.  I tried all their options, and the one above worked surprisingly well.  I had to ignore the appearance – and still do – but what a godsend!

The soft, stretchy neoprene (meticulously sourced by the inventor, Greg M. Atkin) covers most of the thumb on all sides, and all but the tip of the pick.  Ergo, it damps all previously-played adjacent strings automatically and absolutely noiselessly.  Even cooler, it worked it reverse.  Picking upwards with the thumb is not hard at all – just counter-intuitive (unless you’re Tony McManus or Don Alder), and this thing makes you want to do it.  It’s comfortable, secure, and becomes a “new thumbnail” where nature should’ve provided it in the first place!  I’ve started to incorporate the both-directions damping rest-strokes into some new tunes (only in-between fingerpicking on the neck so far).  Very cool, that a simple little invention can provide new physical possibilities to allow new musical ones.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to write a testimonial (though happy to) – just wanted to give some background for this blog.

Which was to tell you that, needing new picks (the neoprene hole around the pick frays from playing after a time, as you would expect), I wrote the company to ask about A) buying more in quantity, B) buying more “a la carte.”  I.E.: I really needed to customize these more.

The owner/inventor, Greg M. Atkin, immediately wrote back and it transpired that: he was well aware of harp guitars, being a friend (and huge fan) of Stephen Bennett, he was also just at Healdsburg (probably a few stools over at the pub where we saw SB on Sunday night), he was happy to work with me, and he lived in nearby Orange County.  Small world!

Making frequent trips to the S.F. Valley every couple of weeks as it is, he stopped a couple days later (yesterday) and we spent 2 hours, cutting and filing and gluing and messing around with all his materials.

Greg (a great guy, by the way) filing one of his “Sharktooth” picks to replace mine. Turns out they are both ~1mm Delrin, which for some reason, used on the subs, has always matched best the tone of my acrylics on the neck strings.

Holding up my old kluged one and our new glued one on the left, angled “just so” to accommodate what (for me) ends up being closer to a 45 degree thumb angle of attack on the subs due to their distance and hand stretch.  The new one has wider rubberized thin velcro (another bit of meticulous proprietary out-sourcing) to allow for custom shaping.

Tracing the final assembly and separate elements after much cutting and shaping of the pieces.

Greg left me with the “prototype” and a couple kits for use on my different instruments, and will send a few more for backup.

No, with my strange requirements, I don’t think he’s going to invest in a die to stamp out “Gregg Miner signature model” harp guitar thumbpicks just yet…but maybe someday!

Success!

  1. Ken Bonfield Says:

    I used this pick when I had nail problems about 3 years ago-it’s the best pick out there IMHO-especially those of us who mute with our thumb, and I think it’s the closest to the sound of a nail.

    As you know I lopped off my thumbnail this spring because I couldn’t stand the clack of the nail on the subs-part of it was the angle of attack, and part of it was the diameter of the string-they’re a different beast than strings with a string diameter under .060-at least they are to my ear.

    What I love about losing the nail on my thumb is that all damping with it becomes more efficient and risk free, the tone is fabulous, and for me it’s lowered the angle of attack and I have a much flatter wrist position that makes it much easier to damp the subs with my wrist. I’ve enjoyed the same changes on my standard six-strings too. I also think it’s probably a better ergonomic position for those of us who play several hours a day. Always a consideration for us old farts.

    BTW, I think I may have a few of these stashed away somewhere in a pick box. If I find them I’ll bring them along to the Gathering.

    See you in a few weeks.

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