06 January 2019
Using Alaska Piks on Kalimba
If you don't have much thumb nail, these inexpensive piks can help
When I would teach large kalimba classes in the past, one of the supplies I had to bring with me was the Alaska Pik. If you have no thumb nails, plucking the kalimba's metal tines can be painful. Eventually, novice players will either grow their thumb nails or develop calluses on the playing surface of their thumbs. Until then, or in emergencies, the Alaska pik can be a life saver!
Ken Purcell, the inventor of Alaska piks, was vacationing in Alaska when he got the idea for his PVC guitar piks. While they were initially designed for guitar finger pickers, the piks also work great on kalimba players' thumbs. I always carry a set of three piks with me in case I break a nail or two before a gig. I carry three piks in case I step on one!
In my mind, the best way to pluck kalimba tines is to use one's thumb nails. I have great feeling and great control. If I break a nail, my Alaska Piks are not far. I find that, when I first put the piks on, it takes me a little while of playing to "recalibrate" my brain for the pik. You see, the piks extend a bit farther than my natural thumb nails, and I have to get used to the length of my new plastic nails. But once I am accustomed to the new length, I can pluck, slide a glissando and stop at the right tine, or most anything that I could do with a natural thumb nail.
Thumb Circumference and Alaska Pik Size
Get a little piece of string or a twist tie and wrap it around your thumb. Mark the point where the string begins to overlap on itself, and then straighten it out to measure the circumference of your thumb. Oh, and if you are the sensible sort who measures in cm, you are probably also smart enough to divide your number by 2.54 to compare to inches in the chart above.
In general: Medium piks (ie, for medium FINGERS) generally fit on young children's small thumbs (up to age 8 or 10). Large piks generally fit older children, young teens and adults with smaller hands. Most adults probably want to get Xtra-Large piks. If you have truly large hands, the XL piks may not fit.
When you slide an Alaska Pik onto your thumb, you may experience discomfort. The first thing to address: do you have the right size for your thumb, or is it too tight? Keep in mind that Alaska Piks are sized for the fingers and not the thumbs, so your correct size may sound bigger than you thought.
Next to consider: are you putting the pik on your thumb correctly? The pik goes over the thumb flesh and under the nail. If the pik does not slide under the thumb nail, it will not be stiff when you pluck a tine. If you really have no nail, the pik won't work. You need to have a bit of nail for the pik to slide under. When I break a nail and then trim the wreckage, I make sure to leave a bit of nail sticking out for the pik to slide under.
You might be thinking "What?!? Slip something under my nail? Doesn't that sound like torture?" Not really, and there are a lot of adjustments you can make to the PVC plastic pik that can make it fit better and more comfortably. The instructions for these adjustments can be found above in the blog post banner image, as well as in the instructions following this paragraph. There is also a video (at the bottom) where Ken Purcell shows us all how he files and clips the piks to optimize the fit and comfort.
Custom Fitting Instructions
Alaska Piks can be manicured to precise length: Use clippers, then file. To manicure, place pick securely "Over the finger, Under the Nail," decide the length desired, then clip and file. For a side-of-the-fingernail attack remove plastic at indicator #1 in the image.
To match the curvature of the user's flesh under the nail area, file on the backside of picking surface (indicator #2). This adds security. This should be done before changing length. 3) To un-stiffen pick remove all or part of the pressure band (indicator #3). For added comfort file smooth all uncomfortable edges.