Richie Dotson, noted luthier and banjo craftsman with Acoustic Box, near Richmond, VA, has introduced a set of handcrafted, vintage-style fingerpicks designed to be perfect reproductions of the highly prized National fingerpicks made prior to World War II. Small batch manufacturing of high end picks has become something of a crowded market of late, with a number of crafters offering items for sale.
Richie’s new picks, which he calls Dotson 8s, are made to the specifications of what banjo connoisseurs have dubbed oval eights, picks made by National where the stamped numeral 8 in the patent number consists of a pair of stacked ovals instead of circles. Today’s collectors find this era of National picks to be the apex of the company’s production, and actual examples from the 1930s have been sold for several hundred dollars/pair online.
The consensus among contemporary banjo players is that what has been made under the National brand in the past 30 years are no match for the older ones, hence the high value people place on them.
The Dotson 8s are made of the same material used back then, commonly called nickel silver, though the alloy doesn’t have any actual silver in the mix. In fact it is an alloy of copper, nickel, and zinc. But when highly polished, as these picks are, it shines very much like the real thing.
A big feature that Dotson sought to capture in his picks is the shape of the blades, with a radius that was consistent all along the surface. That, and making them to the same thickness of the original oval 8s before polishing, seems to have been the ticket.
He says it was a tough process, but that he has gotten it down.
“I really like my old oval eights, and my old Pat Pending Nationals, and finding picks that replicate them is difficult – and I really like the old ones. None of the current reproductions have a contiguous spoon shape all the way to the edge like the pre war Nats. I totally understand it because it wasn’t easy to figure out how to do. These are made from the same German silver, a.k.a. nickel silver, as the originals, and are the same thickness with the same spoon radius. I kept altering the picks I purchased when I needed a new set so I thought… I think I can do this myself.”
Dotson sent a set here for us to try, and we found them to be comfortable out of the package, and ready to use without any of the scratchy sound often associated with new picks. Many players find that this radiused shape of the blades helps them keep annoying pick noise to a minimum, and this seemed to be evident with the Dotson 8s as well.
The Dotson 8s sell for $35/pair, and are available for immediate shipping from Richie’s Banjo Mart web site.
Be sure to also check out the other items for sale at Banjo Mart, including Dotson bridges, truss rod covers, and inlay blocks.