Into View – Joe Macey
Whenever I get talking to anyone who’s in the pick collection community, the name that comes up over and over is Joe Macey. I first heard about Joe when I was researching picks on YouTube and was blown away by his collection. Suitably impressed, I then spoke to a bunch of collectors in the vintage game, and was intrigued to see his name being mentioned with reverence. As a result, I tracked Joe down on Facebook and he agreed to talk to me, so enjoy this interview as much as I did, and I hope you get as swept up in the story.
Hello Joe, and thanks for talking to HR! For the benefit of the readers who don’t know you, please introduce yourself.
I was born in 1958, spent my growing years in the small steel town of McKeesport south of Pittsburgh, Pa. left in 1979 to join the Navy, and since 1982 have lived here in southern California. I’m what I call a 2nd generation pick collector, those of us who started in the early 1990’s. As a matter of reference; The 1st generation of “broad category” vintage collectors were Will Hoover, Chris Gaylord, Chris Martin, Harry Anderson (the only collector who’s person appears in the book Picks) all of whom are out of the hobby and no longer have collections. There were other collectors too, but their focus were on artist picks, not vintage picks in other categories.
How and why did you start collecting picks?
It was early 1991 and I had a few other low end collections a blue collar guy could afford; Political Buttons, T-Shirts with radical themes, unusual colorful pencils, and ball caps. Then came picks. As a guitar player I would buy picks to experiment with. There was always a need for spare picks because like combs, I was always losing them. These picks accumulated in a small jar and one day I decided to count them. I poured them out on the kitchen table and the tally came to 138, most were different, but there were a few spares of my favorites. It was at that moment I decided I had a pick collection, or the start of one anyways. Soon after I decided it would be sane to have just one collection before my attention was spread too thin. I gave away the other collections to my two boys and friends. Picks is what I decided to focus on. Of course at the time I had no idea that over the years my pick collecting obsession would surpass all the others combined in terms of time, attention and expense – lol!
How many are in the collection?
Tens of thousands, too many to count. But the collection takes 3 storage bins to contain.
What were the methods of collecting and communicating with other collectors when you originally started?
In 1991 I did not know of any other pick collectors, or if there were other people even collecting them. Unlike stamps, coins, Disney stuff etc, you read or hear about those collections and even if you do not collect, you know they exist. I had not heard of such with regards to picks, and it would remain so for the next 5 years until I first came across Will Hoover’s book Picks! around 1995. Inspite of having no contact with other collectors, I enjoyed the very same quality about picks that I continue to enjoy taod- looking at them! When I picked up a copy and read Will Hoover’s book Picks (about 3 times with highlights) I learned that pick collecting was a small, but marginally established hobby. Soon thereafter I went to my first NAMM show in southern California. There at the D’Andrea booth I spoke with Rosemary D’Andrea who told me a day earlier a small group of collectors gathered for an impromptu mini pick convention, and she had the names and phone numbers of a few of them. She gave me the name of the first collector I was soon to meet, Guy DeVillez, aka Coupe. From there on connections to the other collectors throughout the U.S. were soon established, and I began trading with all of them. For every collector that seemed to leave the hobby, 2 or 3 more would be added.
As for pick hunting, in those first 5 years in which I did not know of other collectors and was not on the internet, I would just pick out the names of music stores in the phonebook and make a casual trip in my spare time. That evolved to where I would plot the music stores out on a map, draw out a route, then make a planned trip. I was able to knock out over a dozen or more stores in a day in L.A. using that method, and also applied it to Bakersfield, Ca. and Orange co. By the late 1990’s I was online doing searches and came across a compendium of 8,000 music stores throughout the U.S that there name, address and phone number. I would make cold calls at random and inquire as to how long they had been in business, and if they had any old picks. That turned out to work well too. Then came eBay which opened up another avenue for collecting. Not content with what I would see on eBay USA, I started going over to eBay sites in Europe and made some remarkable finds, especially in France and Germany. Hint: Europe is still virgin territory, ripe for the pickins – pun intended.
Why do you think so many people are interested in collecting vintage picks?Were you ever interested in collecting celebrity plectrums?
Vintage picks that were once commercially available are amazing with respect to their physical characteristics, i.e.; shape, material, and variety of patterns, etc. in comparison to artist picks from the 1970’s and 80’s that attract the attention of so many other collectors. Now I collect some of those picks too, but it is not a primary focus, they were acquired just to round out the collection and make sure there were no holes and I all categories were covered. Currently there are more collectors focused on post 1970 band picks than vintage picks pre 1970, but I see the vintage numbers growing first hand in terms of new wave of broad category vintage collectors.
What’s your favourite period of pick making?
The 1930’s and 60’s were both periods of extensive and diverse pick designs as seen offered in catalogs during that time here in the U.S. and Germany. My own collection validates that too. Having said that, and in terms of pure creativity, the French stand out from 1900 -1920, and were truly the master innovators who influenced the U.S. and German designs to follow. This would be so until the early 1920’s when D’Andrea enetered the picture. For reasons I cannot explain, the French faded completely and the U.S. and Germans ran neck and neck in offering diverse unique designs. By the late 1930’s the U.S. took the lead in innovation, and it has remained that way to this day. I would like to have given you a simpler answer, but it is a bit nuanced as you can tell.
What are your favourite memories of tracking down something elusive?
Attempting to directly track down a specific pick while a worthy goal, turns out not to be practical. My modus operandi has always been “If it is vintage, I want it – period! A shotgun approach. So I would go out in the early days to music stores near me in Long Beach and ask for whatever vintage picks they had, and I buy them, all of them. Of course I did not need all of them but felt one day other people may be interested in them, and they would always make great trading stock, which in fact they did in the early years of pick swapping with other collectors. One of my biggest moments in terms of finding a special pick in the early years was at Montana & Lace music store in Huntington Beach. Eddie Montana would buy and sell vintage guitars, and sell the picks he found in the cases of those instruments. Around 1995 I bought a bunch of excellent vintage picks from him that included several B.K’s, just the initials on the picks mind you, but they were authentic 1950’s Barney Kessel picks. Confirmation of their authenticity came from luthier RC Allen (.d) who once worked at Fife & Nichols Music in L.A. where the BK, AR and FN picks were sold in the 1950’s and early 60’s. Later when the Long Beach Press telegram interviewed me for an article they published on picks collecting, the interviewer ask to photograph my favorite pick. The BK was my choice. The young lady that interviewed me said with enthusiasm, that she was conceived during a Jimmy Buffet concert, so I gave her a Jimmy Buffet tour pick without her asking, she loved it and would cherish it as a memento to commemorate her conception. Notes. ( AR= Allen Ruess, jazz guitarist for Benny Goodman, and FN=Fife & Nichols for the store itself that sold the picks. Carol Kaye of wrecking crew was a patron and fondly recalled Fife and Nichols in an interview I read 20 years ago. Now in the years following the Bk find, a number of other picks of even greater historical significance came into my possession far exceeding what I could have ever imaged in the 1990’s; Cristofaro, Odell, Mayflower, Abt, Lyon & Healy, all of which have been catalog authenticated to be well over 100 years old.
Have their been any picks you wish you’d got ahold of?
There are two on the list at the moment, one very doable; George Harrison Om logo, and a 1901 Star of David, which no one has actually seen in real life, just catalogs.
What do you think of the modern designs in the pick world?
This is a great time for new collectors who are discouraged with the difficulty of finding vintage picks but would still like to collect them. So many new designs have exploded on the scene in the past 20 years, just like the innovators back in the 1930’s and 60’s that I previously mentioned. So many boutique makers too, patented designs, makers that appear for a few years with something cool, then fade due to poor marketing or simply a design that does not sell. Some of the most coveted picks for the collector turn out to be picks the average player finds lacking.
Who are the most engaging people you’ve met on your collecting travels?
That is perhaps the best part of collecting, the people you meet along the way. Over the years I’ve met a few that are not just close pick associates, but have formed a genuine friendship with like Brian Bouchard and Guy DeVillez. Just too many others to list for it would be a long one, but I must give great admiration to Annie Pearson who passed away last year. She truly appreciated the hobby and was a first class investigator into the history of picks. She’ll be dearly missed.
What did you think of Will Hoover’s book?
It is a great place to start your pick education and the first book I ever read on picks. I recommend it to all new collectors as a starting point. It gives you a good overarching view of the pick world and Will provided details the rest of us would have missed simply because some of the folks he interview have passed on.
I’ve spoken to other collectors (Guy Devillez, Jeffrey White) who’ve named you as one of, if not *the* guy in pick collecting. How do you feel about such a reputation?
Before I give you a direct answer to the question, let me just preface it by saying Coupe, Jeff, and I go back to our early days of vintage collecting and I am grateful for what I’ve learned from both of them. Jeff blew Coupe and I away when he would come back from Japan during his trips there in the mid 1990’s, with graphics on picks so awesome and ahead of their time that we both were instantly attracted to our new category – Japanese picks. That is just one example of how all the first and second generation collectors learned from one another back then. Where I may have diverged was in minutiae, wanting to learn more about them and memorizing the D’Andrea catalogs, printing every U.S, patent for guitar picks from the USTPO in 1999. Hunting trademarks. Acquiring more than 60 old wholesale musical instrument catalogs, some over 300pgs, just to look at the picks and see what was being offered in a given year. Then there were jobbers, personal stories, and by 2010, just about anything you wanted to find out about a name brand on a pick because of the information explosion on the internet. Let me also mention the art of studying picks and determining their age through cross comparison of attributes to other picks. Studying them in that manner requires having 1000’s in the first place, but once you have them the natural step in to cross compare them. This method has led me to so many discoveries. The importance of knowing your vintage pick comes ito play in other areas. Once during a 3 way pick off with myself and two other vintage collectors, neither of them novices, I drew the last straw and would pick 3rd from a lot of about 40 picks we mutually acquired. When the lot was poured out on the table for selection, I scoped a plain dark seemingly mundane 1920 D’Andrea # 89. My two friends made their choices of some better known picks, I picked the 89 that they both passed on. They asked why I selected that pick, and I told them it as the rarest of the group. That what appeared to be blemishes were not, but in fact the effects of genuine tortoise being smashed flat with a mallet so they could then die cut the shape of a #89. That is how they did it at the D’Andrea company in the 1920’s. Not long after they perfected making genuine tortoise picks flat with no mallet marks. So that is just one example of how studying vintage picks has paid off. But the vintage collector need not get that far into it because you can acquire a good eye for most vintage picks just by their appearance after looking at them for a year or so.
What advice would you give to anyone looking at getting into collecting picks – what to look for, where to start etc?
Determine your category: Vintage, artist, materials, promos, foreign made, patented picks etc, and go from there. Study the details of your chosen category and educate yourself. The internet has made tracking them down a breeze compared to the pre internet days so that’s now the best place to start your hunt. When all’s said and done with regards to pick, simply looking at them and appreciating them as a visual experience is what it’s all about in the first place, and the last.
Thank you so much for talking to me – it’s been a genuine honour.
The feeling is mutual.
Hit up Joe’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLOv21fAmH8&t=96s