Ron Landis and his sterling silver finger picks

Do you have a banjo or reso-guitar player on your shopping list who is hard to buy for? Or maybe a guitarist who uses fingerpicks?

Well here’s an idea… how about a set of fingerpicks or a thumbpick hand cut and engraved in sterling silver? It’s a pretty safe bet they won’t already have those!

That’s exactly what Ron Landis offers, in a variety of styles, with the option to order custom band lengths, monograms, multiple blade shapes, and custom engraving for both finger and thumb picks. And given the amount of hand work required, they don’t cost dramatically more than other high end picks.

Landis has been a silversmith since he was a young man, with more than four decades of custom engraving experience under his belt. He is also a serious banjo player – why else would he think of making picks from sterling silver?

He gave us a quick run through of how his musical interests turned him to working with metal, which is now his career working from his shop in Eureka Springs, AR.

“I’ve been doing engraving for 42 years now, learning watch repair and engraving at a trade school in Illinois which my parents put me through.

I started learning banjo back in high school, which was what initially got me interesting in engraving. I didn’t have a very nice banjo, and I was inspired to learn engraving so I could upgrade how it looked. I won a scholastic arts award for that banjo back in high school, but I never entered it into the scholarship competition. Probably for the best as I doubt I would have followed this path if I had gone to art school.

I had a little shop in Denver way back when, and got involved in Renaissance festivals, which inspired me to make coins and get into die engraving, all done by hand. Eventually I combined that experience with my love for banjo.”

But it was a pair of chance occurrences that led to him making silver fingerpicks.

“I go to Winfield every year, where I first met banjo player Stephen Moore. He’s been going there since he was a teenager. In 2015 he won the banjo championship for the second time, and we got to talking about fingerpicks. At one point I mentioned a friend of mine, Bart Viego, who came to me one day before a jam on New Years Eve and asked if I had some extra picks he could use, as he had lost his.

I told him I didn’t, but I had my tools, so I said I would make him a set out of silver. Every time I saw Bart he would ask if I would make him another set, since he always seemed to lose his.

When I told Stephen about the silver picks, he got very excited and asked me to make him a set as well. Now these are all he uses, and he has had me make a few presentation sets that he has given as gifts. After a couple years of making them one off, the pandemic hit, and I figured, ‘I won’t be able to sell much jewelry during the shutdowns,’ so it seemed like a good time to tool up and do picks for real.”

Ron offers picks with three different blade styles. Most customers order either the standard blade shape, which he terms Classic, or a Landis shape he developed himself. These have a notably wider blade towards the tip, though narrower near the bands. He also offers a very narrow blade pick called the Claw.

Since he is such a skilled engraver, Ron is happy to offer it on the picks, but he says that what really got him excited about making them was the sound they produce.

“Once people put them on, they get it. They are really good picks, they sound great, and they stay on your fingers. I put these raised teeth on the inside to hold them in place, so you don’t have to put them on as tightly.

They are a bit thicker, which takes some folks a while to get used to, but that’s the nature of the soft metal. The tone comes out richer and warmer using a thicker blade of a softer metal.”

Landis Studios has a patent pending on that non-slip design.

Knowing that silver picks would be on the pricey side, Ron decided he would give it a shot making as nice as product as he could.

“I figured, cost be damned, what does it take to make the best possible fingerpick? Over the next four years, I came up with a number of different blade styles. But I have the ability and skills to make them fancy for people that want that.

I also made a 22 kt gold set, and they are incredible. As much improved as the silver tone is over nickel/silver, the gold is over the silver. And I didn’t want to just use 14 kt for the bling factor, so we used the pure gold. Again thick and soft.”

The Landis engraved fingerpicks sell for between $38-$50 each, and more for custom engraving. Adding initials to a set does not cost any more above the stock price, as it is already factored in. Prices for gold vary with the market price for gold, and they are three or found times more than silver.

Recently he has begun offering engraved metal thumbpicks as well.

“I hadn’t planned to get into those, since there were so many good quality picks already out there. But people asked about them, so I started making them. I even have a new type of thumb pick called Accu-Pick, which uses a coil of very narrow silver around your thumb. The coil tightens as you put pressure on it, so it won’t slip off. It’s my go to pick.”

Thumbpicks sell from $42-$125, with upcharges for additional custom engraving.

Ron says that it has been interesting to see two separate markets developing: players who prefer the tone and comfort of his Landis picks, and people who buy custom engraved sets as presentation gifts for significant milestones in a banjo or reso-guitar player’s life or career.

Along with his custom struck coins and medals, Landis Studios offers a wide variety of handmade jewelry, including silver flatpack shapes on a chain with custom engraving, and miniature instrument pendants made from pewter. These unique items sell between $25-$18 online.

He also offers some miniature instrument pendants make in pewter. with a bit a weight to them.

You can see all the handmade metal pieces Ron Landis offers online. He keeps most of the picks and jewelry pieces in stock for immediate shipment, though custom work takes a bit of time. But he is willing to get on gift orders right away for Christmas delivery.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.