The Maker’s Dozen – Carlos Diez from Rombo
As the last few years have seen players take a real interest in all aspects of their equipment, and with smaller builders now coming more to the forefront of guitar player’s minds, there’s been an increase in fresh thinking in the pick world. Thicker, thinner, newer materials and the advent of 3D printing have changed the landscape, and taken makers into new territory. In one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve ever done on any platform, Carlos Diez of Rombo – whose Kickstarter launches on 22nd of January – took some time out from a very busy engineering schedule to talk to me about their bold new designs for these incredible-looking plectrums.
HR – Thanks for taking the time to talk to Heavy Repping!. To those who haven’t heard of your company, how would you describe Rombo Picks?
CD – Rombo is a very small start up formed by three guitar enthusiasts who are developing new guitar picks. We like guitars, product development and product design. Our dream is to design a product that feels good between our fingers and that people can enjoy and appreciate. Since we all are very big believers of the power of the online communities, we will launch our product on Kickstarter. This is the only way to build a strong community of passionate guitar players, who want to see the Rombo picks come to life as much as we do.
HR – What’s the motivation behind Rombo?
CD – Some years ago I (Carlos) was working with 3D Printers and started printing my own guitar picks. I made some designs from video games I liked, and some other funny things. I have a lot of friends who play guitar and I started giving them some picks to test. Everyone found them really cool so I started thinking about it and after many many talks with Judith and redefining the concept of Rombo thousand of times we finally found a way to translate these feelings to a concept that could work.
We are very influenced by product design, since it is something we both love. Actually, we get this influence from other classic brands that aren’t music brands, like Philips, Adidas or Bosch. Although we both work full-time for other companies we realized this was something we really wanted to try and has become our personal project. The process has been wonderful and we’ve learnt a lot.
HR – You’ve got quite a small team – what did you all do before you started the company?
CD – That’s true, we are only two founders (Carlos and Judith) and Santi, as a technical support. I (Carlos) studied engineering and product design and I work as a product developer in Stuttgart (Germany) since 2015. I played in several bands as a lead guitarist and I have the pleasure to have a very guitar skilled older brother, who taught me a lot. One of my passions is computed 3D modeling.
My youngest brother, Santi, is helping us a lot with the campaign, he plays guitar and bass and he’s also an engineer, so he’s gave us some technical support during the development. Currently, he also plays in a surf rock band called Los Antideslizantes.
Judith is a product manager for consumer products and has a short relationship with the guitar, she is a beginner (improving everyday!) and she is fascinated by product categories and topics related to ergonomics, user experience and design.
HR – One of the big things about Rombo is your choice of materials – what can you tell the readers about that?
CD – We put a lot of effort defining three points that are strictly connected:
We did not want to create “flat” picks with some engraved logos or lettering. This led us to follow some basic product design and ergonomic rules and look for alternatives to create new forms, like concave surfaces or very pronounced bevel edges.
The textures we tested were very different. At the end, we decided to use a micro structure called VDI 3000 ref.33 for the hold area. Most advanced players hate the logos they have on this area and after hours of guitar training they can be annoying. Personally, I never had this problem but many people asked us to design a hold area that is comfortable while having enough grip. We are very happy with this decision and after we got used to the microstructure we liked a lot!
Besides, this texture is still fine enough to manufacture very complex surfaces like we will have in Rombo Waves and Rombo Classic.
The material is one of the most important thing when it comes to guitar picks. We are still looking for the final formula. Nevertheless, we have made good progress in this area and we have no doubt we will find something we will be very happy with.
HR – Aside from the clear environmental consequences of this polymer, what are the tonal benefits over more commonplace pick materials like Delrin?
CD – The main advantage is the pick noise. With Delrin I have the feeling I hear the pick a lot. The surface of our material can also be polished, this way the friction between strings and guitar pick is reduced, which can also affect to the sound. We have also tried to increase the dynamic range, but it is really difficult to change one parameter and we are still trying to find a balance here.
Our aim is to find the harmony between sound, ergonomics and durability. One of our next steps is to try a very small percentage of nano glasfiber or other compounds and change the mechanical properties of this polymer. We are excited to find out how this will affect the sound!
We will manufacture using two compounds, one of them is out of fibre waste and 100% recycled, which can only be produced in black.
HR – What were the challenges you faced when working with such a material? Did they influence the final designs?
CD – One of the challenges of the recyclable material was to find a reliable supplier that can provide a stable amount of this material year after year. The recycling industry is growing a lot, but in the area of thermoplastics it is still very difficult to find the right formula and ensure that the quality standards we demand won’t be affected. This is one of the reasons why the recycled compound is only going to be available in black: Right now it is the only way to get a compound 100% out of fibre waste.
The final designs did not change. Plastic is a very versatile material and can be formed in very complex forms. I design lots of consumer plastic parts in my daily job so this isn’t a new area for me.
HR – The presentation of Rombo as a whole is one of new approaches and new ideas – what do you think has made players take more of interest in picks?
CD – At the beginning we did a big market research to understand the different guitar players. There are many advanced guitarists who know exactly the pick they want and the pick they need to use in order to increase concrete skills (speed, precision etc.). Other players love gear and love sharing it on their social media profiles, they care about design as well and admire every pedal they have. Some beginners are very confused regarding the gear and guitar picks, they try lots of picks but still do not know what their goals with the guitar are.
I think the design and ergonomics are very important here. A guitar pick that’s well designed must look good but also feel good when holding it. The sound is also crucial. However, many people who tested random picks can’t really tell what they love/hate about the sound of guitar picks. We realized many guitar players did not think this could influence the sound. This assumption was the starting point for the storyline and the logical structure we developed for Rombo.
HR – What plectrums were you using before you started up Rombo?
CD – I love the Jazz III series from Jim Dunlop. I used them for many years even when I was playing power chords. I like that they are thick, but the material is very soft. I also like picks with a round tip, like Dunlop 207 Jazztone when I play clean. Judith loves thinner picks and since she started playing some months ago she has used the the Rombo prototypes a lot. Santi likes Dunlop 0.78 nylon and also Jazz III geometries.
Before we started this adventure we did not know much about smaller brands like V-Picks, Chicken Picks and Gravity Picks. I always bought the picks I got in my local store and did not think much about them. These brands are doing an awesome work, they specialized in one area and every guitar pick lover knows the differences between them.
HR – With the initial production run having been completed, what’s the feedback been like from players? What have you learned so far?
CD – We have produced around 80 picks so far. This was only a mould trial test. The reason for this mould trial was to ensure that we can provide the quality we expect, and we used different materials as well. We manufactured Rombo Origami and distributed almost all the samples in order to receive honest feedback.
So far, we have received positive feedback and that’s very motivating. Some users like the material a lot, some other find it too soft and flexible. Right now it is a challenge for us to make a decision here and that’s the reason why we will do further tests changing the parameters of the guitar pick.
HR – Being that you’re so new to the table, what advice – if any – have you got from more experienced companies? Have you found plectrum making to have a community like pedal building does?
CD – We asked many people for advice. We got advice from some people that had Kickstarter campaigns in the past and read many books about Kickstarter and crowdfunding because it is a very complex topic. Also, we received advice from people that have their own businesses and know how to ship worldwide or do the taxes, or use marketing tools, etc… Without the Internet, we would not have been able to get this information.
There are many guitar pick communities! This is awesome! Most of these people make their own picks and share them online. Some of these are made out of stone or materials that can be formed with simple tools at home and they look incredibly good. Other people collect every pick they can and have and have a very wide knowledge regarding brands, materials, etc… I was surprised to discover these communities and happy when I saw they are excited about new brands.
HR – What’s been the most exciting part of the Rombo story so far?
CD – The development of the whole concept. It is our first project, we all work 8/5 for other companies where the roles are very defined. With Rombo we had to learn to have a bigger perspective of everything and take care of things that we had to learn from the beginning. We are very influenced by the DIY culture and believe that two or three people can create really cool things if they are organized and want to learn new things. We improved our engineering skills and had to communicate with lots of people.
The designs of the picks and the pictures we made were a very beautiful part of the project because we started to see that this was real and start receiving feedback from people on the social media. That was very motivating and encouraged us to continue and give our best.
HR – Now the big one – how much are these picks going to cost at the end of the process? Are they available exclusively individually or in packs?
CD – The picks will be available in packs. There will be packs with the complete collection (colors and types), packs with just one type of pick, and packs with a try out mix. We also want to offer more than one pack at the same time, for example 5 times the try out mix; this way people will be able to share shipping costs.
The final price will be defined in the next days! We have worked very hard to reach affordable prices comparable to picks of the same category. So, although I cannot tell the exactly price, I can ensure that the Rombo picks won’t be expensive. Besides, the Kickstarter prices will be reduced up to 50% since we want to thank all the backers for making this possible.
HR – Thanks for talking to Heavy Repping! I genuinely appreciate it, and wish you all the absolute best!
CD – Thank you for giving us the support and the opportunity to be part of your community!
Find out more at http://rombopicks/com, and follow this exciting adventure on Instagram at @rombopicks.