Spoon’s thumbpick or extension? – Reader Q&A

A reader asks about Spoon’s thumbpick or extension when playing fingerstyle guitar.

I just became introduced to your excellent playing through Maury’s Music.  What a great idea!  Anyway, I’m a lifelong finger picker and I was noticing your thumb in the videos.  Do you have some sort of pick on, or is that like an artificial nail you had put on?  I’ve heard of guys doing that, but never seen it done.  If it’s some sort of slide on thumb pick, I’m also interested.

Thank You,

Kevin in Kansas City

Spoon writes:

Hello Kevin,

Thanks for the kind words. Maury and I go back a good ways, but I am proud and pleased to be helping him out by shooting those product demonstration videos for their YouTube channel.

As for my thumb, I wear silk wraps on the nail. I also have them on my fingers. But I am playing with the pad of my thumb or fingers with just a bit of nail, unless I have gotten lazy and failed to file them properly, as they grow out. The nail acts as a stiff backing, while it is still more finger than “pick.” That is, except for downpicking. I often use my index finger like a flatpick, so having the silkwrap helps there on the down strokes.

About ten years ago I met up with Howie Emerson at a guitar show and he had recently started wearing acrylic nails at the suggestion of his wife. As with many guitarists of a certain age, my nails were getting thinner and breaking more and more easily. Also, I just tired of constant nail care, with all that buffing and shaping, just to break a nail at the last rehearsal before a show.

I tried the acrylic, but I found using the slightly more expensive silk sounds better and to my ear they are more like a real fingernail than a guitar pick.

I use them on my thumb and first three fingers. The little Korean ladies put them on at the nail salon as a thin weave of silk fibers, which then get layers of liquid or powered glue put overtop. They make them as short as their conscious allows and then I have to take them home and shorten them up and shape them with an emery board to the way I like them. And that requires playing the guitar to see where they need rounded off or filed down. The also require filing over time, as they grow out along with the real fingernail.

In New York City four silk wraps means about $25 with tip. They can last up to three months or so. But then, I am supposed to bring them in to get touched up every two weeks, but I usually only do when they start looking really bad.

The silk only goes back a ways and then they fill in the gap between that and cuticle with the powdered glue. That powder stuff wears down and needs replaced, but I like that because it means at least some of the nail is getting oxygen.

The major downside to all this is the real nails get REALLY thin as a result. And they say it takes about 6 weeks for them get back to normal, but I have never stopped using them since I started. There is a slight risk of fungal infections, another reason they are supposed to get filled in and sealed every two weeks, but I have never had anything like that happen.

I know many players do this, and many do it themselves. The nail glue is the same chemical as Super Glue, only watered down. So Bruce Cockburn makes his own, I think out of pingpong balls, super glue and sawdust. Chet Atkins was doing the same sort of thing when I took a workshop with him back in the day. But he too eventually started having the silk put on.

I hope that helps. They look a little weird, especially when they get old. But I don’t care. Not having to worry about it until one chips or breaks off (usually when going to grab something and missing and catching the nail and usually only when they have been on a good while) work it for me.

They ARE thicker than a 1.0 pick, so that took some getting used to at first, at least when it came to using my index finger as a flatpick. But now I am adjusted to it and only use a real pick if I am expected to be doing lots of rock lead stuff or mandolin type trills – or if I am demonstrating a guitar on a video to show what it sounds like with an actual flat pick.

I hope that helps.

Spoon, out

And that is one man’s word on

Spoon’s thumbpick or extension

Find more Reader’s Questions in Spoon’s Mailbag

Spoon's thumbpick or extension

D-45 Authentic Differences – Reader Q&A

A reader writes with questions regarding the D-45 Authentic differences found in models 1942 and 1936.

I’m thinking of buying one of the top end Martins. I would appreciate a little more of your take (which you touched on a little in your review of the D-45 S Authentic 1936) on the difference between the D-45 Authentic 36 and the 42, apart from just the size of the Neck. I’m from and live in Asia and therefore I do not have the opportunity to touch, see and play an actual one before making up my mind.

Your take will go a long way. Thank you.

Yoon in Malaysia

Spoon writes:

Hello and thank you for your query about the differences between D-45 Authentics.

You mentioned in a comment on one of our reviews that you were studying guitar again after some decades. I think it is wonderful that you are returning to the guitar after some years away. While I can understand why someone would want to do such a thing with the best guitar possible, it may not always be a wise move.

Unless you are certain you will be dedicating the time and effort required to truly get back to playing guitar, you may find it worth getting a less expensive guitar at first. At least less expensive than a D-45 Authentic.

But if you are certain you wish to go the high on the hog way, these two Martin models are on the very short list of the best new guitars available in the entire world.

The difference between necks is not just about comfort or spacing preferences, a more massive neck can also effect the sound of the guitar. Steve Swan of Steve Swan guitars likes to say, “Big neck, big sound.” Stan Jay of Mandolin Brothers is typically more expressive in his opinion that a large V neck in combination with a old fashioned, non-adjustable truss rod “makes the sound vibrant, airy, transparent, punchy and powerful.”

And this D-45 S 1936 has about as large a neck as I have ever seen on a modern day Martin.

But there are plenty of great guitars made that do not have large V necks. And the D-45 Authentic 1942 is certainly one of them.

In addition to the bigger neck, there is the wider top (and back) on the A S 36, which increases the size of the sound chamber compared to the A 42. That also contributes significantly to the robust and throaty voice. It sounds huge, because it is huge.

Other differences between these two exquisite models include the extra-thin finish on the A S 36, as well as having the top, back and sides planed even thinner than the already thin wood on the S 42.

It is likely the bracing should be similar in terms of the size of the struts and the way they were scalloped. But the 36 has forward shifted braces, further increasing the roar and rumble in the bottom end, while the rear shifted braces on the 42 helps to bring a more focused clarity to the bass string fundamentals. There is still plenty of power and presence, but the resonant undertone doesn’t swamp the bottom end so much as glow out from under it.

Both will have a bridge plate tucked under the X brace, the 36 has a bridge plate reputedly made as close to identical as the one in the real 1936 guitar in terms of thickness, even minor deviations in the shaping. Since this was not mentioned before the 2013 Authentic releases, I assume the 42 has the same sort of bridge plate found on the D-18A 1937 and D-28A 1937.

The 36 will also have a bridge, fingerboard and headstock that are made a bit thinner. Again, I assume they are thinner than those on the 42, because the 42 came out during the previous year, before they had instigated the new “make them as close as possible to the old timer they are based on” policies.

That all being said, if I had the dilemma of which one to choose, I would go with the D-45 Authentic 1942. They both sound great and there is much to love about the huge power and voice of the 36, and the clear and ringing beauty of the 42. But that honking-big neck and string spacing on the 36 would simply require too much effort to play more than basic chords in the first position – for my hands, anyway.

But Lordy! I would love to have BOTH of them if I could.

And that is one man’s word on…

D-45 Authentic Differences

Find more Reader’s Questions in Spoon’s Mailbag

Martin D-45S Authentic 1936 Martin's Authentic Series

Bone Saddles n Gloss Tops – from the Mail Bag

A Bone Saddle and a Gloss Top add a lot to the Martin D1GT.

Gary K. writes:

I recently bought a D-1GT and I really love it. Currently upgrading to bone from the factory plastic hardware. I have a question regarding Martin naming convention. I know that the “D” stands for dreadnought and “OM” orchestral model. What do the last part of the model name (the “GT”) stand for?

Spoon replies:

Hi Gary, thanks for your question and congratulations on the guitar.

“GT”

The GT stands for Gloss Top. The D-1 and some other models came with a satin finish on the top. The GT version includes the upgrade of a high-gloss finish on the top, which is resistant to dings and pick wear, and gives the guitar a look similar to more expensive models. Your D-1GT is among the best values Martin has ever offered.

Upgrading from plastic hardware

A bone saddle can provide greater definition, sustain and purer fundamental notes off the strings of an acoustic guitar, well worth the effort and expense.

When one upgrades to a new bone saddle they may find that things sound a bit shrill. But that only lasts a short while. After the guitar is played for several days that will burn off, leaving a clear, transparent ring.

The nut material at the top of the fingerboard matters as well, but not nearly as much as the saddle.

Other material used for saddles and nuts include tusks or jaw bones from various animals, as well as fossilized ivory – which is actually only partially mineralized.

Fossilized walrus ivory and fossilized mammoth ivory are most common. Of the two, I prefer the mammoth. Both add some warmth and roundness to the tone of a guitar, which can be a welcome addition to a guitar with a brand new Adirondack spruce top, since Adirondack is usually pretty tight and brittle sounding for the first year or two. But in exchange, the guitar will lose some high end sparkle. So it can be a tradeoff. FMI seems to take away less of that Adi chime than the Walrus variety.

Overall, I find plain old bone, usually from a cow shin, is virtually identical in tone to the elephant ivory commonly used on guitars in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

Many also change to bridge pins made of bone, or other natural materials. While bridge pins are not nearly as important as the saddle in terms of sound production and tone, they do make a difference. But Martins have shipped with pins made of one sort of plastic or another since the 1920s and many people are happy with their guitars, without the need to switch out the pins.

– TSP

bone saddle
Bone Saddle

We’d like to know YOUR opinion on bone saddles!

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If you have your own question to ask Spoon, please drop us a line at

guitar@onemanz.com

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