The Maker’s Dozen – Vinni Smith of V-Picks
If you’re anywhere near this site, you’ll know irrepressible acrylic-lovers V-Picks. One of the biggest names in the plectrum game, they’ve got one of the largest ranges going, with over 100 models to choose from. At the tail end of last year, I sent some questions to company founder Vinni Smith, and in the very early hours of this morning, these answers were returned to me. What follows is our discourse, and it’s a good one, so enjoy!
HR: Thanks for talking to Heavy Repping!. For anyone who doesn’t know, how would you describe V-Picks to the uninitiated?
VS:My pleasure, and thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me! So V-Picks are one of the premier boutique pick makers on the market, we aim to cater for lots of players needs, all while bringing tone and grip to the table.
HR: You’re well known for making picks from acrylic – what was it that drew you to this material? What sort of acrylic do you use?
VS: In all honesty, the main draw was durability and density. I’ve always found that dense material gives you the strongest transfer of energy into the string, but they also last a whole lot longer. Another huge benefit is that acrylic is relatively easy to work with (compared to something like wood, or bone!). I don’t want to give away too many secrets, but we worked with suppliers to get the blend that has that middle ground of durability, grip, and how well we can work with it.
HR: I’ve seen a couple of videos regarding your crafting process, which looks pretty hands-on. What can you tell me about what goes into it?
VS: Oh absolutely! There are some pick makers out there that charge a fortune for their products and in fairness to them, it’s because they’re using expensive materials, no machines, and doing things by hand takes time. We obviously offer some more expensive models like the Colossal or Insanity, but they’re priced that way because after our machines have cut the basic block, I then have to go in and shape the bevels by hand, and then buff them. This takes a while, but the results are always worth it. On the other hand, we have models like the Screamer (which is actually our best seller!) and the hand work that goes into those is minimal, and therefore they’re 90% cheaper than a Colossal!
HR: When and why did you start ghost buffing plectrums? What is ghost buffing?
VS: I forget exactly when I started doing those. Initially when I was making thicker picks they were shaped, then buffed. At some point though I played one between the shaping and buffing stage and I liked how it felt and sounded. Because it hadn’t been buffed it had a textured bevel on it. So for a long time I offered picks as buffed, and unbuffed (if you look online you’ll be able to see old unbuffed picks). More recently we decided to change the name from unbuffed to ghost rims – it just sounds cooler! So essentially, they just don’t have a super smooth edge on them. As you play them though, the string will essentially buff this edge, so we do offer kits to scratch the edges up like new.
HR: What advantages do you feel acrylic has over other materials when it comes to picks?
VS: Well as I said earlier, I really find them to be more durable, and also they almost grip to the fingers when your hand warms up. I tried a lot of things, and the acrylic just gave me the best attack!
HR: With such a huge range of picks delivering such varied character, what 5 do you think best represent V-Picks as a company?
VS: Oh that’s a hard one! I’d have to say the screamer because our customers love it. The freakishly large rounded is another because when all I ever wanted was to be like Carlos Santana, so when his people contacted me to say that he wants to buy my picks because he loved them more than the stuff he got for free, I was stunned! Aside from those, the small pointed is a favorite of mine, the Dimension was the first real success we had with thicker picks (4.1mm), and I guess the Insanity because it’s the go too example of how overpriced people think we are!
HR: Out of all the picks you’ve made so far, going all the way back, which one has been the most rewarding?
VS: I’d have to say getting one of the bigger picks like the Insanity or Colossal right. The goal there was always to help people who have problems gripping small picks due to playing related injuries. When we started getting emails in from people telling me they were using a pick again after thinking they’d never be able to play full time again – there’s no feeling like that!
HR: What’s been the biggest moment in the history of the company so far?
VS: That has to be working with some of our amazing artists like Carlos, or Billy Gibbons. We have some amazing players using our picks, and they genuinely buy them like everyone else. It would be so easy to just give free things to someone like Billy and hope it turns into sales, but nothing speaks more highly of a product than when people choose to pay for what they love instead of playing free picks they don’t.
HR: You’ve got a pretty healthy roster of artists – how did you get involved with the likes of Johnny Hiland, Santana, Stu Hamm and Blues Saraceno?
VS: We’ve been very lucky in that many of our artists just get given a pick by a friend or fan and they end up reaching out because they loved it. We don’t have a huge budget for marketing and trade shows, we’re a small family run company, so there’s no budget to have people chasing down artists. Word of mouth has been amazing for us and I’m thankful of that.
HR: Since you got started back in 1980, what’s it like being a plectrier now? Have you seen the interest in boutique picks change in recent years?
VS: It’s been a series of ups and downs. When I started, people thought I was crazy! Even I thought it was crazy, it was a friend that convinced me to do it. Over time things picked up but it was hard to reach new people. As time has gone on and the internet picked up, more people have jumped in to do what we do, but now it’s more accepted that your pick is a big part of your tone! I’ve even seen some of the big companies start offering more expensive, specialised models recently. It’s crazy!
HR: V-Picks seems to have always been a family company – with your growth over the years, how much have you had to expand? (at your discretion)
VS: Yeah, it’s always been a small operation. I’ve had a few employees over the years to help with shaping picks, postage etc, but we’re not wanting to expand much beyond that. The bigger a company gets and the more people that contribute to the creation of a product, the less love goes into it.
HR: With 2019 rapidly approaching, have you got any new models planned you can talk about for the new year?
VS: We have been talking to some of our artists about their ideas, and we’re trying to listen to customers to work out what they need. We’re always prototyping picks to find what works, so it’s hard to say what will come out – but being a part of the community could help to shape that.
HR: Thank you so much for the interview, I genuinely appreciate it. All the best!
VS: You’re very welcome, and thank YOU so much for taking the time to talk to me and checking out our products! You’re doing a great service for the community! Rock on!
www.v-picks.com and on Instagram @vpicksguitarpicks