The Red Bear Thumb Pick 

LATEST UPDATE 08-AUG-2006
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I've been working with Red Bear Trading company on the development of a new thumb pick using the Tortis material that's been successful in the bluegrass flat picking arena. Customers have been asking them to develop a thumb pick for years but there have always been concerns about the limitations of the Tortis material. It can't be molded and shaped in the same way plastic can but it is a superior material in all other aspects. Several years ago we approached the idea of bonding Tortis picks to frames and some initial testing was done but it never went too far. Dave was so swamped trying to fill backorders for flat picks this project fell to the way side.

With increasing customer demands we've gone back to work on the design. The goal is to start off with one design that satisfies the most players but provides a large enough blade that customers can take out a nail file and custom shape the blade to their own ultimate shape and bevel. This material has the unique quality of not losing it's integrity or tone when reshaped and filed like plastic does.  When you reshape a Red Bear pick it has the same quality tone and durability it did before you started. That cannot be said for plastic picks even though thousands of players do buy picks and reshape them. This material also does not wear quickly like plastic so the shape you dial in could last for years.


What the LB Custom model is shaping up to look like

The photos and comments below represent the final stages of beta testing  close enough to begin sharing with the public. One goal of all this hard work is the possibility that Red Bear will make a signature model for me. I have many favorite picks but I need one that does it all. The frame used on this model is designed and manufactured by Guptill Music and is very comfortable and doesn't squeeze or make your thumb sweat. It also does not cut into your skin while playing. It also cinches tighter onto your thumb during the picking down stroke which make's it almost impossible to fly off. We are refining the bevel and length and it will be ready for the public. I'm glad to be involved in this project and glad Red Bear is listening to customers like myself.

Summary of Benefits:

  • Heavy duty enough to handle any guitar or Dobro work.

  • Excellent tone and clarity on bass and treble notes.

  • Mounting frame doesn't make thumb sweat and doesn't squeeze or cut into your thumb.

  • Frame can be bent to custom fit

  • Blade can be reshaped, shortened or re-beveled to your specs without loosing it's tone or integrity.

  • Metal frame wont fatigue and snap like many plastic picks.

  • As more pressure is applied to the pick it actually grips the thumb tighter. 

Below is the nearly completed design and one of the final beta picks. So far I am very happy with it but it does need a little more refinement in the bevel, length.

The diagram below shows a feature that sells me on this frame design. It locks onto your finger tightly when you pick aggressively making it almost impossible to pop off.  A picture is worth 1000 words.

Below is the top view but BEWARE you can't judge the size as well with these picks until they are on your thumb because the frame sits on your thumb a little differently than most plastic picks.

Here's the bottom and you can see Dave has installed a thin heat-shrink sleeve on the bonded area. This is only a test to see if we like it. There's a good chance this wont be on the final version.

If you look at the picture above and below you can see how the pick can appear longer than it really is. The photo above gives the impression the blade is long but the photo below shows it only comes out from my thumb a normal distance. This length is almost identical to the standard Dunlop Mediums. We also worked together to perfect the shape and size of the tip, front and rear edges, angles and curves to optimize the tone and feel.

I love the latest bevel below because I think it's giving me a fatter tone but in the next phase I am testing an even more improved bevel. See the updates below.

7-JULY-06 STATUS - Red Bear is sending me 2 more protos. Both will have about a 1/16" off the blade length and some bevel refinements. I want the bevel to be a little more shovel shape on the bottom edge. I'm also getting one with the heat-shrink sleeve and one without. The one with the sleeve will have the heat-shrink lengthened just a little. We're getting real close to a final product plus Dave has received the final bonding system to attach the picks to the frames that's a high tech solution. This design should be rock solid in a few weeks and I will update this page and notify everyone when the first picks are available from Red Bear. I may even have a few to give away on the LB site or APM forum.

25-JULY-06 STATUS - We are doing some fine tuning and I had to hand file the prototype to get my perfect size shape and bevel. I spent hours playing, filing and testing until I perfectly tuned it so that 90% of the people used to Dunlop, National and other common thumbpicks would feel perfectly at home on this model. The funny thing about this pick is how the blade and frame look too long or too short depending on the angle you look down on it. In the end I had to dial it in by playing it and not by eye. Trying to match it to other picks that I like was not the right approach since this pick operates differently.  As you can see on the right this is probably going to be the final design. This has been a lot of work and back and forth but Dave and I both agreed it should mean a better product. Players that desire a smaller blade or different shape still have plenty of material to customize their own pick. I used a nail file and buffer and it was not only easy but kinda fun to customize it. I love the tone I am getting and I don't have to pick hard to get a fantastic sound on my resonator or acoustic guitar. I would encourage everyone to try and get used to this blade first before you modify it. The strength, leverage, power and tone you get from this blade has some distinct advantages. I've also kept the clear heatshrink sleeve on the pick and it' working great since he fine tuned it's length. The Red Bear pick is looking good but I can also see a ton of labor goes into these. The good thing for players will be a pick that lasts for a year of solid performances instead of a week. At 2-3 dollars a pop the cheap plastic picks add up and the friction and heat breaks down the plastic and as soon as the plastic picks loose their first gloss it's all downhill from there.  This Red Bear pick might actually save me money in the long run and I can polish and refine the bevels without ruining the tone and durability. I bought an 80.00 dollar bulk bag of thumbpicks about a year ago and I've almost gone through all of them. One Red Bear pick would have lasted me a year.  Time to rethink the long term costs and benefits.

31-JULY-2006 - NEW VIDEO Made this video of the refined final beta pick. Actually there were two of these and I sent one to another player in Vermont to test. I had a good time customizing both picks with manicure nail buffer files/boards. I have the shape and bevel perfected to my own personal specs and now. You have to buff it too a good shine to make it resist wear like a new one.  I've been enjoying the pick on a guitar but it really rocks on a resonator and I imagine banjo players would flip out over this pick. One would last 20 years. WATCH THIS VIDEO DEMO ON A RESO

02-AUG-2006 - Just picked up a nail file kit for a few dollars at the local grocery store and it took me about 10 strokes with the grey one to bring the bevels to a glass shine. Now this custom beveling I made will last a very long time and if I maintain the shine this pick might last even longer. The grey stick that feels like rubber is the one that shines the final gloss. I used a more rough nail file in the kit to shape the bevel. This couldn't be more easy and fun to do. A sharper tip will give you quicker attack and a sharper bevel will give you a brighter tone.

08-Aug-2006 - Recieved the final product and but also one example of the Clown Barf material which looks really cool. And this is the final product that will be available. If you want one of the very few Clown Barf picks you'd better hurry because the normal color will be brown as shown above.

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