The Maker’s Dozen – Nick Pagano, Gem Picks
I’ve always said that there’s no right way of making picks, and indeed, there’s companies out there taking different approaches to things. One of the most exciting companies is Gem Picks, who make their picks out of PVC in the US. Given the fact that they’re operating at the affordable end of boutique plectrums, it’s my duty to sit down with head honcho Nick Pagano and talk about the origins of these fabulous tools. Read on as we talk about how it came to be, where the motivation came from, and what’s next for this fantastic company.
HR – Thanks for talking to Heavy Repping! For the unaware, how would you describe Gem Picks?
NP – Gem Picks is my dream come to life. I’ve always had a strong desire to create something that combines my artistic and entrepreneurial interests. Specifically, something fun and novel that also serves a practical purpose – so fashion AND function! To me, that’s what Gem Picks is. To the outside world, Gem Picks is a guitar pick company focused on making great plectrums with a whole lotta design character!
HR – What prompted the creation of these fabulous-looking items?
NP – As the story goes, the summer of 2015 had me and my bandmates playing quite a few gigs – somewhere in the ballpark of 60 performances throughout the course of a few months. During that time, I began experimenting with various gear because I was in the fortunate position of having some extra cash and opportunities to do so. I found that I became most interested guitar picks, so I began collecting and playing whatever I could get my hands on. During one particular gig, I decided that the next pick I was going to add to my growing collection was the diamond-shaped guitar pick…totally assuming such a thing existed. So later that night, after the gig, I searched online – nothing. The next day, I went to my local music shops – nothing. At that moment I said, “Whoever creates that is going to have something really great on their hands!” I then said, “Why not me?”. At that moment I decided to go for it and haven’t come up for air since.
HR – What was your background previous to getting involved in plectrum making?
NP – Before starting Gem Picks, I played in two very busy bands. The first was an original alt rock band called Fairhaven. We made it on the radio and toured locally opening for national acts as well as headlining some really great shows ourselves. After that, I joined an events band, playing dozens of weddings and corporate events per year. All throughout this time I was a manager at an eyewear company so that I could have a steady “9-5” to satisfy the sales-y, business-y part of me. I also grew up heavily involved in the fine arts all throughout school. Gem Picks was my opportunity to finally combine each of those unique interests into one focused endeavor.
HR – Of all the materials available to you, why did you elect to go for PVC? Did you consider other materials prior to settling on this unusual choice?
NP – I chose PVC because I like the way it plays and feels. It’s not too firm, not too flexible, very elements resistant, and has the right “grip” I was looking for. Socially, its bright and articulate and doesn’t produce the unsavory “clicking” sound produced by other picks of a similar nature. It also lends itself quite nicely to the manufacturing process we use.
HR – For the benefit of the readers, are you able to shed some light on the construction process? Have you had any horror stories with it?
NP – Our picks start with large master sheets of PVC, are then foil stamped with aluminum to produce the facet designs, and are finally die cut. Nothing too complicated there. The horror stories have to do with production. For the picks to look right, the facets need to align perfectly with the outside shape. In some instances, the foil stamped facet designs did not align perfectly, leading to huge quantities of picks being aesthetically flawed. Needless to say, I have a large supply of strange looking picks for my own personal playing purposes!
HR – When you debuted the designs, what was the feedback like from the plectrum making/guitar community? Did it lead to any revisions?
NP – The response was overwhelmingly positive. I was blown away by how well-received they were from a design standpoint. The only criticism came from those expecting a boutique feeling pick. In essence, our picks are still mass-produced and on par with what brands like Dunlop are producing. However, that’ll be changing very soon…
HR – Out of your current roster, what’s your personal favourite?
NP – My personal favorite is the 0.73mm Ruby colored Diamond model. Our Teardrop model of the same gauge is a close second.
HR – I’ve heard murmurings that there might be a couple of new models on the go – what can you tell the readers about that? Are you planning to go thicker?
NP – They will indeed be thicker. They will be handmade. And they won’t be made from PVC.
HR – What’s been the most rewarding time in the Gem Picks life so far?
NP – Just the day-today of everything that goes into running the business. I’m super passionate about almost every facet of running Gem Picks! However, my number one favorite part is the people. I absolutely love interacting with anyone who shows interest and am extremely privileged to have met so many awesome people from around the world.
HR – Why do you think it is that players are gravitating more to smaller, independent builders for their guitars/pedals/picks etc?
NP – I think that with the rise of social media, specifically Instagram, it’s become increasingly easy for customers to become exposed to smaller, independent builders. And I truly believe that if given the choice, most people would rather support independent companies over juggernaut brands.
HR – How does it feel when players come to you and tell you they use your picks?
NP – Amazing. It truly validates all the hard work and extreme dedication that goes into producing our products. Not that validation is what I’m going for, however, it certainly doesn’t hurt!
HR – How handsome am I likely to look in the new Gem Picks t-shirts?
NP – To quote Derek Zoolander – “Really, really, really, ridiculously good looking.”
HR – Much thanks for the interview – all the absolute very best!
NP – Thank you John! I think we all can agree that what you’re doing for the plectrum community is nothing short of outstanding. Super grateful for all that you’re doing.