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Help! Dry callus on RH middle finger creating annoying click

Discussion in 'Jazz Technique [DB]' started by RBrownBass, Jan 26, 2017.


  1. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    I've recently noticed an audible (to me, and probably to a mic as well) "click" coming from my middle finger in pizz playing that is absent from my index and from doubled-finger pizz. The only thing that's changed over the last few weeks has been me raising the string height at the bridge and the board getting a better dressing (Williams in Nashville). So I'm attributing it to this big dry callus I've got on the middle. Same on the index but that one isn't clicking. What should I do? This is happening with normal fingers angled downward pizz reststrokes, but I put it in Technique anyway because I'm looking for a way to rid myself of it that doesn't compromise technique. I don't think it was happening earlier --I certainly don't remember hearing it before-- and no reasonable temporary (on the fly) RH adjustment is helping. My teacher won't be back in town for a couple of weeks.

    Full disclosure: I have long, skinny fingers, middle is almost 3/4" longer than index, and my nails are connected to skin up to within about 1/8" of the very tip of each finger (only so much nail to cut off, IOW) so it's difficult enough as it is to make my two-fingered sound approximate my doubled finger sound. This isn't helping. I could slice off the callus, but I'd really, really rather not. Is there a way to soften them without loosening them?

    Originally, I thought the nail itself was the problem, so I cut it as short as I could without it being sensitive or risking an ingrowth. That didn't change anything. This is beginning to bug me so much that I'm willing to try darker strings to get rid of it (currently Zyex medium). It doesn't seem to be an issue in a setting with other musicians, but I know it's there.
     
  2. wilsonn

    wilsonn

    Sep 26, 2005
    New York
    You might try using a pumice stone from the drug store. They sell them to soften calluses on the feet. You might try removing the top layer of the callus and see if that helps with the click. No personal experience, just an idea.
     
    RBrownBass and PauFerro like this.
  3. PauFerro

    PauFerro

    Jun 8, 2008
    United States
    I thought of perhaps some hand cream you use to soften up the callous as well. Taken with the pumice stone, or even a nail board (the kind that has sandpaper mounted on it for filing your nails, but use it on your callous to get to some software skin), that might help.

    But I would also ask whether other musicians can hear it. I have been so incredibly fussy over the years I drove myself nuts. When I would go to music stores and there would be a buzz, the music store guys, who really didn't care one bit would say 'but its not coming through the amp'. Not that you are necessarily amplifying your sound, but over the years, I have grown less and less concerned about these kinds of anomolies in favor of enjoying myself. One test is whether the musicians I play with are concerned about it. If they aren't, I tend not to worry about it and just "let it go". If it bothers the audience or the other musicians, then yes, it's still and issue that has to be solved.
     
    RBrownBass likes this.
  4. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I file my calluses down all the time with sanding boards designed for feet and toenails. As with nails, it's best to go in one direction only, and check often to make sure you aren't taking too much off. Those thick manicure boards with shining and buffing surfaces on the sides also work great on dry fingertips, and can help smooth out the striking surface of the finger once the major sanding has taken off the larger parts that protrude.
     
  5. turf3

    turf3

    Sep 26, 2011
    I actually lubricate my pizzing fingers with Chapstick to reduce friction. (Just a small swipe right on the callus.) This is one of my tricks for pulling hard for several hours without getting blisters.
     
    RBrownBass likes this.
  6. cpaterso

    cpaterso Supporting Member

    Jan 4, 2007
    You can often hear Charlie Haden's plucking finger(s) make a "snap"/"click" sound when playing the E string. I guess he just made it part of his sound. Maybe you can too??
     
    RBrownBass likes this.
  7. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    I tried the emery board approach and both fingers sound similar like they did before. Thanks so much!

    Cpaterso, I'm not a good enough player to put a flower on Haden's grave, so shoring up any and all issues with my tone is a must. This hadn't happened before with any other calluses, so I was particularly concerned.

    I knew I wasn't crazy. Right after I posted the thread, I turned my wrist and did the pizz for a few minutes in a sort of bass guitar style (fingers perpendicular to the string) to avoid the callus striking the string and the sound was gone. That won't work for regular playing, but what it did was help me pin down the source of the click.
     
    PauFerro likes this.
  8. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    Having done a 3 week seminar with Charlie I'm sure he would be the first one to say that the idea is sound like the most honest idea of YOU rather than the best reproduction idea of HIM.

    I keep my pizz hand calluses filed down as much as possible on a regular basis, I find that the sound gets too much treble in the attack with hard calluses, I generally use a fine grain sandpaper sponge.
     
  9. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    Can't disagree with this.

    To both of you: I hadn't ever developed the calluses I have now (because of low action and Corellis) and didn't know that they needed to be thinned out from time to time. Really appreciative of the advice, because even as I asked the question, I was really in "What am I thinking about to even consider thinning a callus?" mode. Glad to know it wasn't such a crazy idea.

    Well, I needed some extra layers of skin, so some damage is necessary (that's really what a callus is- the result of the body healing a damaged area by growing layers of skin more quickly than the top layers can be removed thru abrasion. In my case, a blister has always been the fastest start to the process). Just not this many. I don't have a problem with blisters once I get the calluses, but they come and go. It's the result of a not-daily practice schedule, and I can change that anytime I want to.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  10. RBrownBass

    RBrownBass Supporting Member

    Aug 22, 2004
    This is totally unamped that I was talking about. I played almost totally thru the amp between 1998 and 2016 (huge break between 2000 and 2008) when I had the CCB with 3-7mm/low standover and the Corellis. I've played seven unamped gigs (out of about 30) since since July, and that's at only 5-10mm or so, probably less because I was lower before I got the Zyex ADG/Spiro Weich E to replace EADG Mittels. I've started to put what time I put in into getting a bigger sound with the new bass.

    I get where you're coming from. I'm not OCD or anything, but if I don't like the sound I'm hearing from myself acoustically, it's not so much fun.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2017
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    When I first started working seriously on the Bach suites and recording the end results of practice sessions, I started to notice the same thing - not so much a "click" per se, but that the middle finger stroke sounded different from the index finger stroke, and that I preferred the sound of the index finger stroke. It became a bit of an obsession for me because I really wanted to work on the faster movements that required a lot of alternating finger technique.

    To the end of making the m stroke sound more like i stroke, I spent a lot of time shaping and smoothing the callus, and that helped some. But what helped more was just listening to the tone quality of the i stroke and then playing the depth and break angle of the m stroke to see/hear what brought it closer. For fast passages, I discovered it really doesn't matter - it's like the difference between he sound of a down bow (i) and and up bow (m). But in more lyrical passages, there's a way to strike the string which involves an angle of the wrist/elbow when making the m stroke that makes it sound more like the index stroke, so when that sound is called for, I just kind of automatically do that these days.

    long and short: I imagine the physical adjustment would be different depending on the physiology of the individual player, but IMO it is possible to get the two strokes to sound more consistent through listening and experimentation.
     
    bassmanbrent and RBrownBass like this.
  12. Jeremy Darrow

    Jeremy Darrow

    Apr 6, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    Endorsing Artist: Fishman Transducers, D'Addarrio Strings
    I always thought this was the sound of his fingers making contact with his palm after a hard pluck. A "one-hand-clapping" kind of thing. It's one of my favorite little things about his playing.
     
    Chris Fitzgerald likes this.
  13. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    NYC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    it's more like his finger hitting his thumb, almost like snapping your fingers.
     
  14. Les Fret

    Les Fret

    Sep 9, 2009
    Good topic. I have a similar problem lately but not on double bass but on classical guitar:

    I have studied classical guitar at the Conservatory and at that time I played with fingernails. I am also playing electric bass and back then I always taped in my nails to avoid damage. It was doable but not ideal and a hassle so I cut off my fingernail right after I got my Conservatory degree. After that I learned to play classical guitar without nails and managed to get a good sound and still play bass. But for the last five years I play more double bass. The last 6 months or so I noticed that when playing my nylon string guitar my middle finger has a much sharper sound than my index finger. First I thought that my nail was a bit too long but that was not the case. So I guess it also must be the differences in calluses between i and m. Although I don't have really big calluses or so. I guess there is always a slight difference in sound but lately it is annoying me. I don't notice it on double bass but on classical guitar. I have to try if sanding the callus works. Any other thoughts or solutions?
     
    RBrownBass likes this.

  15. Hmmm, I do that too on the e-string. Not consciously, but the snap certainly is there. It doesn't bother me, so I don't worry about it.