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Thread: Ranieri, and Sandpaper

  1. #1

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    I have one, lone Ranieri pick, of genuine tortoiseshell, which I found in a mandolin-case I got via eBay eons ago. I had lent it to Jim G. for a while, feeling patently unable to play a darn thing with it.

    After a year or so, Jim returned it to me, for the same reasons. Yet today, as he and I were sharing a merry morning of mandolin duets, I picked it up and... I COULD play with it, and —with all due modesty— getting a rather lovely tone out of it! (well.. actual control being a whole other issue )

    This pick, however, is chipped and dented on the edges, and could potentially prove hazardous to my strings, not to mention the risk of nasty snags along the way.

    So, ye wise ones: how do I file the edges of a TS Ranieri pick, so as to make them smooth? Fine sandpaper? A nail-file? Some additional chemical that needs to be applied? Need I bevel them? Round or sharp around the edges? So many questions, so little knowledge (on my part)...

    I am keen to continue this pleasantly surprising experiment.
    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Victor:
    Yes, a merrry morning indeed. Rather than invent the entire wheel, let's turn back the old Cafe clock back to spring of 2004 to this thread on Ranieri. On page two of that thread is Alex's step-by-step instructions on how to make a Ranieri pick from scratch... er... from tortoise material.

    Jim



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    Thanks Jim, it looks like the shaping of the Roman plectrum has already been explained here by Alex. I wonder who taught him all this


    There are of course many possibilities ...
    The main advantage of a Roman (Ranieri/Embergher) plectrum is its length, which enables a very good balance for tremolo and other plectrum techniques. The shape of the edges and the points ... completely depend on the taste of the player. The sharper(rounder) the edges are, the clearer(rounder) the tone will be. Also the thickness of the plectrum can vary from quite thin to quite thick. The best you can do is experiment. I would suggest to make both the points and the edges quite sharp to start with ... then try, and make them rounder if needed.


    Here are just a few examples of what a Roman plectrum can look like (Which resembles yours most, Victor?)





    The next picture shows my material for shaping/polishing plectrums:
    - sandpaper: from N°240 to N°4000 (as Victor says: veeeeeery fine!)
    - nail-files: some even finer than the finest sandpaper
    - polish to finish with: (I use this "Dragon Polish", but other polishes are of course possible)




    Here is a PDF document with some pictures that show the traditional way of holding a Roman plectrum. (as explained in the Ranieri method )

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    Mando-Accumulator Jim Garber's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Embergher @ July 01 2006, 19:41)
    Which resembles yours most, Victor?
    Here is the pick in question.


    As I rec all it is not as thick as the ones that Alex or Ralf show.

    Also, Ralf, would you use the different sizes of pick for different purposes or are they just for experimentation and did you settle on one size that you use?

    Jim



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    Quote Originally Posted by (jgarber @ July 01 2006, 21:56)
    Quote Originally Posted by (Embergher @ July 01 2006, 19:41)
    Which resembles yours most, Victor?
    Here is the pick in question.


    As I rec all it is not as thick as the ones that Alex or Ralf show.

    Also, Ralf, would you use the different sizes of pick for different purposes or are they just for experimentation and did you settle on one size that you use?

    Jim
    The plectrums I showed in the first pictures above vary in thickness between 0,80mm and 2,00mm. They are all original/old tortoiseshell plectrums, varying in age from left to right from c.1920 to c.1970. (Tortoiseshell is the ideal material but - fortunately for the turtles - no longer used for the production of new plectrums.)

    Different sizes are possible. The ones I use are the "large size", which is about 65mm "when new", but as you can see they become smaller when you use them. I like the new ones very much for their excellent balance, but they can perfectly be used untill they have become quite a bit smaller:

    The thickness depends on many things:
    - the hardness and flexibility of the material they're made of: the kind of tortoiseshell, the kind of celluloid, ...
    - the size of the plectrum
    - the shape of the point (varying from very sharp to quite rounded)
    - the mandolin (or mandola, mandoloncello, ...) and the strings you use
    - the kind of sound you prefer
    - your plectrum technique
    - ...


    I also use different plectrums, depending on the instrument I'm playing. I prefer to play some mandolins with a thinner plectrum, others with a thicker one. The style of music can also influence the choise of plectrum.

    It really is very personal. Even if you like the sound I make and you play the same mandolin with the same plectrum, it will sound different and you may prefer to use another plectrum.

    (All this is of course applicable on the Neapolitan plectrum (with 1 point) as well. They can be shaped/used in exactly the same way, only their balance will feel/sound different.)

    For as far as I can see, Victor's plectrum has had quite a bit of use and seems to be about the same size as the two in the middle of the above picture. I expect also the thickness to be about the same (c. 0,80 mm) which is #fine for that size and kind of tortoiseshell.
    Unfortunately, it's been eaten by carpet/cabinet beetles (beware, they just love the nice thin edges of tortoiseshell plectrums!). To get a playble plectrum again, the edges should be made smooth and shaped again. I think the plectrum is wide enough to have a decent size left. Looks like a nice restoration project #

    Of course, Victor, you are also welcome to send it to me by post. I will then return it to you in new/shiny/playble condition ;-)

  6. #6

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    BEETLES!?! Who knew? Well, if it is any consolation, I keep my picks in a sliding-lid, beetle-proof case.

    Ralf, I thank you for your kind offer; I may take you up on it, as my "first journey" down this path. If I knew what I was doing, I would gladly try this myself but, being glaringly ignorant, I don't know where to begin.

    Expect mail from New York...
    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    Ralf, you have a gorgeous collection of plectrums! # They not only help you produce your great tone but they're also really beautiful to look at! #I just re-read the previous threads on the topic and found answers to questions I was thinking about regarding the purpose of all that extra length. #Alex's description* of the effect of the counterweight on tone and volume and especially on how it naturally falls back into place sound intriguing. #I'll have to try a Ranieri plectrum sometime.
    --Linda
    <<*An Embergher/Ranieri plectrum is held between the thumb and forefinger in such a way that both points can move freely. In that manner the string-stroking point allows the opposite point to move freely towards the direction it is falling (by the weight that is needed by the string-stroking point of the plectrum to slip from the string(pair) on which it is placed) when making a down-stroke. Or by the weight that is wanted by the player to obtain more forte = loudness of volume.
    When the plectrum falls down the string the oposite point will immediately bring the plectrum in exact the right position for the up-stroke to be made.>>

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    I agree with Linda about the aesthetic pleasure the Ranieri plectrums give. They could be a piece a jewelry!

    I´d like to try one myself. As many greater players than me have commented that they could not get the thing working for them, I´m pretty sure the result would be the same for me, but I´d like to try. The basic "ideology" and mechanical logic makes sense, beautifully. The problem is that I don´t really know where to get the raw material for making a pick myself. Trying to find celluloid somewhere only to make a few picks seems a trouble... I once tried to make a "Ranieri" pick by shaping down the biggest plastic pick I could find (a Fender heavy triangle) but the resulting pick is still rather short (about 4cm) and I think it does not help enough getting the idea working. I know these cannot be found for sale anywhere, but would some of you be willing to sell a pre-sawn blank like the ones on Alex´post, to get me started? (OK, I know I´m just plain lazy...)

    BTW: If I have understood right, it was Mr Ranieri who brought this type of pick to its modern form, but there were similar Roman plectrums around before (Embergher plectrums? De Santis plectrums? Sorry I don´t remember). Were these earlier picks already of the similar, two-pointed, uniformly convex type? Did master Ranieri just increase the length?

    thanks, Arto

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    One of the nice things about buying old mandolins is that quite frequently they come with old bits and pieces in their cases. Useless when they're old strings (mostly "Cathedral" brand for British mandolins), but very handy when it comes to tortoiseshell plectra. All of the ones in this photo came as unexpected bonus with old bowlbacks, all of them at least 30 years old. Some may be celluloid, but most are real tortoiseshell. Thickness varies between 0.4mm and 1.5mm.

    Despite this selection, I still prefer the tone I get from nylon picks, but maybe I need to persevere.

    Martin
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    This is the lone Ranieri pick. Thinner than most, I think, at around 0.8mm, and more elongated than the ones shown by Ralf.

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    Quote Originally Posted by (vkioulaphides @ July 02 2006, 09:50)
    BEETLES!?! Who knew? # #Well, if it is any consolation, I keep my picks in a sliding-lid, beetle-proof case. #
    Ralf, I thank you for your kind offer; I may take you up on it, as my "first journey" down this path. If I knew what I was doing, I would gladly try this myself but, being glaringly ignorant, I don't know where to begin.
    Yes, beetles eat all kinds of organic material ... maybe they are the natural enemy of our plectrums
    Oh ... don't forget to put the mandolin in a beetle-proof case as well: tortoiseshell scratchplates are also delicious!

    I think a newly (re)shaped Roman plectrum would be a good start for a "first journey", but beware, you may get to like these oversized plectrums so much that you won't use anything else anymore ... at least, this is how I infected quite a few people, including Alex and Het Consort. #

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    You are a dangerous man, Ralf.

    I should know...

    Jim
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    Quote Originally Posted by (Hrimaly @ July 02 2006, 10:57)
    Ralf, you have a gorgeous collection of plectrums! # They not only help you produce your great tone but they're also really beautiful to look at! #I just re-read the previous threads on the topic and found answers to questions I was thinking about regarding the purpose of all that extra length. #Alex's description* of the effect of the counterweight on tone and volume and especially on how it naturally falls back into place sound intriguing. #I'll have to try a Ranieri plectrum sometime.
    --Linda
    <<*An Embergher/Ranieri plectrum is held between the thumb and forefinger in such a way that both points can move freely. In that manner the string-stroking point allows the opposite point to move freely towards the direction it is falling (by the weight that is needed by the string-stroking point of the plectrum to slip from the string(pair) on which it is placed) when making a down-stroke. Or by the weight that is wanted by the player to obtain more forte = loudness of volume.
    When the plectrum falls down the string the oposite point will immediately bring the plectrum in exact the right position for the up-stroke to be made.>>
    Thanks, Linda,
    Alex's description indeed looks in a way like what I've taught him about plectrum technique, but this is what is also done with Neapolitan plectrums: they are to be held "lightly", in order to create a certain resilience between the index and thumb. When a downstroke (or upstroke) is made, "any" plectrum will then naturally fall back in its "starting position" (which is the right position for both up and downstroke). This is a technique that works for any plectrum.

    The advantage of the "Roman" plectrum has not been explained yet: it is the excellent balance and stability when making a crescendo or playing loud. Normally, when playing louder, you would need to put extra pressure on the plectrum if you don't want to risk to "loose" it, or even to prevent it from "flying into the audience". Unfortunately, more pressure is not so good for the "quality" of the sound. The size of a Roman plectrum allows you to minimize that extra pressure by its "larger lever": when making a downstroke, the top half of the plectrum touches the side of the index (see picture), thus creating a "lever" and preventing the playing point of the plectrum from moving "too much" towards the thumb.



    This way much less pressure is needed to "restrict" the movements of the plectrum. So the advantage of the Roman plectrum is not to allow the point to move "freely" - this can be done with any kind of plectrum - but to reduce the pressure of the index and thumb which is needed when playing louder. Less pressure = more relaxed wrist = unforced sonorous sound for tremolo and most other techniques.

    This is Ranieri's technique, combined with the advantage of a Roman plectrum, but many other techniques are possible. Quite the opposite of this is the technique of Maria Scivittaro and her pupil André Saint-Clivier. They both hold their (tiny) plectrum very firmly, only using the flexibility of the wrist and none of the fingers .... those who have heard their recordings will know that the sound they produce is completely different ... yet they are superb virtuosos and I appreciate them a lot.

    (I better "©" this text, before it gets copied/published by someone else # # #)

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    Quote Originally Posted by (Arto @ July 02 2006, 12:52)
    BTW: If I have understood right, it was Mr Ranieri who brought this type of pick to its modern form, but there were similar Roman plectrums around before (Embergher plectrums? De Santis plectrums? Sorry I don´t remember). Were these earlier picks already of the similar, two-pointed, uniformly convex type? Did master Ranieri just increase the length?

    thanks, Arto
    I prefer to call them "Roman" plectrums, because different sizes and shapes are found everywhere; also Ranieri used different sizes and shapes. The name Ranieri-plectrum is probably chosen because he was known to have always used these plectrums and also mentions them in his method.
    The name Embergher-plectrum probably refers to the fact that these plectrums (but also the Neapolitan type) are in his catalogue. They're named as "Sistema Napoletano" and "Sistema Romano 'Embergher' ", and it is also mentioned that the Embergher firm is specialised in these types of plectrums. However, the plectrum that is showed in the catalogue is a smaller/narrower type.
    It is not clear who is responsable for making the largest version ... it may have existed well before Ranieri used it. He's never mentioned it as being 'his invention', and he even shows the Neapolitan shape in his method as a possibility.
    I think the main feature of this plectrum is that even the smallest ones are considerably longer (and thus historically closer to the quill).
    The rest is a matter of taste and feeling of the player.

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    "This is Ranieri's technique, combined with the advantage of a Roman plectrum, but many other techniques are possible. Quite the opposite of this is the technique of Maria Scivittaro and her pupil André Saint-Clivier. They both hold their (tiny) plectrum very firmly, only using the flexibility of the wrist and none of the fingers .... those who have heard their recordings will know that the sound they produce is completely different ... yet they are superb virtuosos and I appreciate them a lot."
    Ah, but one must also not forget the famous, Ignorant-but-Curious school of mandolin-playing, of which I am a devoted adherent!

    My mandolin-background is folk music, of (naturally) Mediterranean flavor. My first attempts to educate myself —or eduMAcate, as Popeye the Sailor would put it — led me at first to the tight-grip, close-fist, small-pick approach; that my success was modest to negligible is no reflection on the approach in general.

    A motto that has stuck with me is from Calace's preface to his Method, to wit "la vera flessibilità dev'essere nel polso", "the true flexibility ought to be in the WRIST". Not to misquote out of context, however: Calace was arguing for a rigid pick, combined with a loose wrist. I know of no mention in Calace of the flexibility of the fingers in the pick-grip.

    To my vague, and sadly ignorant understanding of the matter, the Ranieri pick and the technique that goes with it incorporates the "internal" flexibility of the pick-grip in the overall technical approach.

    As soon as my vintage, beetle-eaten pick is restored (if possible, that is), I will continue my experimentation, aiming to "graduate" to the equally famous, Somewhat-Less-Ignorant school of mandolin-playing.
    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    A motto that has stuck with me is from Calace's preface to his Method, to wit "la vera flessibilità dev'essere nel polso", "the true flexibility ought to be in the WRIST". Not to misquote out of context, however: Calace was arguing for a rigid pick, combined with a loose wrist. I know of no mention in Calace of the flexibility of the fingers in the pick-grip.

    To my vague, and sadly ignorant understanding of the matter, the Ranieri pick and the technique that goes with it incorporates the "internal" flexibility of the pick-grip in the overall technical approach.
    That is right, this is one of the important differences between the Calace school and the Ranieri school, but many players apply the Ranieri (Roman) technique (flexible grip)using a Neapolitan plectrum, which is perfectly possible.(I don't change my technique at all when using any kind of plectrum) #
    Applying the Calace (Neapolitan) technique when using a Roman plectrum is something else: the size of the plectrum doesn't allow playing with a tight grip.



    Quote Originally Posted by
    As soon as my vintage, beetle-eaten pick is restored (if possible, that is), I will continue my experimentation, aiming to "graduate" to the equally famous, Somewhat-Less-Ignorant school of mandolin-playing. #
    If it can be a consolation ... we all are adherents of the "More-Ignorant-Than-We-Think" school, but that's not so bad, it keeps us discovering new things every day #
    Who would want "the perfect technique" and not having to learn anything anymore ...

  17. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    "...many players apply the Ranieri (Roman) technique (flexible grip)using a Neapolitan plectrum, which is perfectly possible."
    Indeed, Ralf, you have accidentally (or telepathically # ) traced the chronological development of my playing, which goes somewhat like this:

    1. The Hunter/Gatherer Era: play as possible, catch-as-catch-can, as long as the pick hits the strings, somehow, ANYhow. Crude, noisy, imprecise effect...

    2. The Caveman Era: look at some method books, try to hold the pick "correctly", as per Pettine, Branzoli, et al. Precious little dexterity... #

    3. The (slightly) improved homo plectans era, with flexibility of the grip leading to some, modest gains in primitive dexterity.

    As you write, said flexibility/dexterity, however modest, has been done with Pettine-style, pointy, Neapolitan picks; considering my age, lack of practice time, and natural recalcitrance, I will probably remain entrenched in my current, low skill-level.

    Of course, there IS that Ranieri pick that Fate mysteriously planted in that vintage mandolin-case I got from England, years ago... #



    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    This is a very interesting thread. Is there a commercially made version of the Ranieri style pick?
    Kevin Vail

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    Quote Originally Posted by (aries753 @ July 03 2006, 20:06)
    This is a very interesting thread. Is there a commercially made version of the Ranieri style pick?
    When I was 8 years old there was this music shop in Antwerp (Belgium) who used to have a box with at least 500 of these (tortoiseshell) plectrums. Everyone used them here, so they sold quite well. Those were the only commercially made Roman plectrums I've ever seen in a shop. Unfortunately, the shop doesn't exist anymore since a few years.

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    On an even more rudimentary level: where does one find "sheet celluloid"? (for lack of a better term) One can presumably get "ivorite" (i.e. celluloid mimicking ivory) piano keytops, then do the cutting, filing, etc. Ditto on "ebonite", pretty much the same thing in black... The white stuff, at least, is as easy to find as the nearest piano-parts retailer.

    Being a known and certified lunatic in such matters, I would be willing to place an "industrial" order for, say, 100 "blanks", then distribute them (at cost, of course) amongst the willing experimenters; there are surely several, ehm... Usual Suspects on this board. One could even get a low-grade machinist to cut them to a crude approximation of, say, 7 cm. long, 2 cm. wide, at a reasonable, mid-range thickness; said usual suspects could do the rest of the filing.

    Ah, a "dangerous man" you are, Ralf, as Brother James has already remarked!
    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    Victor:

    You might try these guys:

    http://www.texasknife.com/

    (I'm not kidding.....)

    I've bought some celluloid from them for replacement pickguards. They have thicker material as well, maybe something to suit your needs. Give them a call, they are rather friendly, as good Texans should be.

    Tell them Jim Bowie sent you....

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    I don't know if the different colours - white, black, tortoise, ... - all have the same caracteristics (hardness/flexibility). I think there are quite a few kinds of celluloid. The problem is many of the suppliers don't even mention caracteristics ... the material is mostly used for pickguards, so the flexibility/hardness is not really important.
    It would be nice if some useful material (between 0,90 and 1,50mm thick) could be found, and even better if it could be cut in the right shape. The perfect shape can easily be obtained by drawing 4 circels as shown here. (if necessary I can provide a real model).
    The finishing of the edges(and certainly the points) is rather personal and would best be done by each individual player.

    However, before ordering 100 blanks or so, it's probably best to try a few first to be sure that the material is suitable. (I've never tried a "tortex" pick ... maybe there are modern materials that are even better than celluloid ... I doubt it though)

    Terrapin Guitars make custom pickguards. They say: " ... We can make just about any pick guard shape you desire ..."
    So if they have the right material, they would probably be able to make very small 'pickguards', in the shape of Roman picks? #... (the price could be a problem though)

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    Quote Originally Posted by
    "I don't know if the different colours - white, black, tortoise, ... - all have the same caracteristics (hardness/flexibility)"
    True. I think that there is probably zero correlation between color and rigidity. Polymers being manufactured in countless gradations of ANY parameter, you can probably find equally countless variants.

    Yes, one ought to be patient in such matters...

    Private anecdote: I once thought of buying a paper tube wide enough to house one of my long-necked, folk lutes; I didn't feel like spending, say, $200 on a custom case. So, I contacted the XYZ Paper Mills of South Carolina (I think...), and asked for those super-rigid, thick carton tubes that art-dealers use to roll paintings in. You know what I mean, of course; they come in various diameters, lengths, etc.

    The papermill-lady, in Southern, dulcet tones, asked me, "And how many THOUSANDS of them would you like, Sir?"
    It is not man that lives but his work. (Ioannis Kapodistrias)

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    I bought a small 4"x6" sheet of tortoise plastic from International Luthiers. It is a little on the thin side tho. In wonmder if there is a way to weld it together for a thicker piece?

    Jim
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    Perhaps, Jim, but there ought to be ready-made celluloid in just about ANY thickness. Besides, pickguard-makers are working with unrelated priorities (to ours, i.e. of the PICK-makers), namely making something with a bold enough visual impact, yet thin enough not to require too deep an inlay-job.

    But, as usual, I am rambling madly... piano keytops are probably too thick and lacking any of the needed flexibility Why would piano keytop-makers concern themselves with how well their products flex?

    More questions than answers...
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