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Building a Better Pick
Click on the pictures for full size versions

Compare a Clayton to a Golden Gate

Golden Gates are too round, stock Claytons are too pointy. It took a lot of tinkering with different materials and methods to finally land on the pick I'm happiest with.

Draw a line to sand towards I use a fine Sharpie to draw a line.
or Trace an old pick I usually use one of my old ones as a template. They rarely come out perfectly symmetrical. So...I use the best point for drawing all three corners of the next one.
The guidelines for sanding When I've drawn the lines it looks something like this. If you don't get it perfect don't sweat it. You will use your "eye for artistic symmetry" to sand to a nice point.
Sand with a curve in the paper Basically, I start by taking the point off the Clayton with course (80 or 100 grit) sandpaper. Notice how I hold the sandpaper in the trough formed by my fingers. This sets the radius of the point. I sand it until I'm about half way through the lines. Then I make sure everything is fairly symmetrical before I go on to the next step.
Bevel the Edges Next I put about a 60 degree bevel on all of the edges. I'm using the same "trough" in my fingers. I'm putting a little more of the weight on the "corner" of the edge. Its almost like I'm sharpening the pick, rather than rounding it. Most of the movement is sliding the pick the direction of my fingers.
Bevel the point

I usually try to take more material off at the points so that they have a little more taper to them than the edges.

I can do this with a belt sander and a light touch. I kind of roll the pick side to side. You should start manually. I can get more done faster this way, but it is easy to mess them up.

Rough Edges

When I'm done there is a fairly even 45-60 degree bevel around all edges of the pick. I use some 220 to get everything symmetrical, get rid of the course scratches, and take off the Clayton logo (an unnecessary step, of course).

A lot of people tell me that they have tried to make picks but they never get things smooth. There is a basic principle to sanding.

Sand with Finer Grits After I get the rough bevel I go through a few grades of sandpaper (220, 400, 600). I do this by holding the paper in a trough formed with my fingers and "sharpening" the edges like a knife.

The picture to the left is about how the edge of a Clayton starts. The bottom is about how my picks end up. I might make it a little less sharp than this, but probably never more. I make sure to not get the very point sharp. I take off the fine edge during the last two grades of paper. Too fine and it sounds bad and wears quickly. I often need to reshape old picks. Just use some 400 or 600 grit and make everything symmetrical again.

Buff I usually polish them on a buffing wheel. If you don't have a buffing wheel handy Frank Ford* suggests rubbing the pick for several minutes on your pants leg (yours, or a very close friends). He says a pair of jeans works best.
 
*Frank is one of Gryphon's fine owners, a repair guru, runs the Frets.com repair instruction site, and took these pictures for me. Thanks Frank
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Jack teaches bluegrass guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and swing and old time fiddle. His site has a lot of great material. Gryphon sell great instruments and has a great repair shop. A great site for lyrics to traditional bluegrass songs.
This is built and maintained by Ken Torke, and is copyrighted for no particular reason.
Last updated April 5, 2008