By Brian Scherzer
This review is long overdue and had its beginnings over 10 years ago. At that time I was laying down some bass tracks for Ariel Pozzo, an Argentinian guitar player and, although I am almost exclusively a finger-style bassist, there was a track that really required me to use a pick. I tried some of the typical choices available at that time but wasn't happy with the sound I was getting. As I was going through my small pick collection, I saw one pick sitting there that was quite unusual. It was from V-Picks and was made of thick acrylic, was larger in overall size than the others and, on a lark, I decided to give it a try. That pick ended up being the one I used for the track and, although I continue to be a finger-style player, whenever I need a pick for bass or guitar, I invariably use a V-Pick.
How in the world am I going to review something like guitar/bass picks? That was the first question I had to deal with when asking Vinni from V-Picks if he minded me doing a review of his products. Vinni Smith has been a member of The Gear Page since its inception, and was a member of TGP's predecessor, The PRS Forum, for several years prior to that. Somewhere along the line, he went from recording artist to develop some of the more unusual guitar picks available to musicians. I decided that the story behind V-Picks would serve as a review.
Anything we use, from strings to picks, can have an impact on both playability and tone. When it comes to picks, simply rotating the angle where the pick hits the strings can alter the sound. Even to a bassist, this gives a chance to sculpt the tone into what is needed for any particular song. Finding picks that are comfortable to hold, last for a while and don't slip out of my hand at an inopportune time was quite a challenge back then......until I started using V-Picks. They give me a much warmer tone than the typical choices I had used before. Attack is swift and, although most of the V-Picks made are quite thicker than standard picks, I quickly learned how to use them in a manner where the pick wouldn't get caught up in the strings.
Nothing I could write here is going to explain things well enough. After all, how do you describe how something feels in your hand, or the various alterations in sound you can achieve with a piece of acrylic? Being on the older side, I can still remember when tortoise shell picks were the standard for many players. There was something that set them apart from the cheap plastic alternatives that came about when real tortoise shell picks became illegal. I'm going to have to settle for letting the story behind the picks convince you to give them a try. If you don't want to believe me that picks make a difference, consider reading the interview below and you might be surprised by the names of some of the artists who use V-Picks. Vinni was the innovator and original "boutique" pick manufacturer and, although others have now copied his ideas, I tend to stick to the company that started it all.
Interview With Vinni
Brian: Having heard some of your recordings and, being familiar with you as a guitar player, what made you decide to begin making picks?
Vinni: I started making these guitar picks back in 1980. I was just not happy with the picks available then. They just didn’t sound or feel right to me. I had to hold them with a death grip and at one point I decided to play everything with an upstroke. This was really the only way I got the sound and attack that I liked and that I heard on my favorite records. Being the tinkerer and daydreamer that I am, I even made my own talkbox back in the 70’s after hearing Frampton. Anyway, I just decided that guitar picks were terrible and there has to be a better way, so I began grinding down rocks, wood, metal, coins, you name it. Being in the aquarium hobby as well, I was fascinated with Plexiglass aquariums. I loved the way they looked. One day I found a raw piece of cast acrylic by accident. I found out that Plexiglass was just a brand name. I took it home and made a few picks out of it. I played them at the gig that night and just loved them! Easy to hold, magnificent, big sound and they looked way cool. I always preferred the way a pick sounded when it was ruffed up and about ready to be thrown away. So, these acrylic, unbuffed picks were right up my alley. They also gave me that Brian May, Billy Gibbons, Ed King, Barry Bailey attack that I loved so much. After that night, I was done with “store bought” picks.
Brian: Tell me more about the early days of your company, getting the ball rolling.
Vinni: Unlike the 70s and 80s, in the 90s we had the internet. I made a lot of friends on forums and I very much enjoyed making these acrylic picks for them, sending them literally all over the world. It was just a blast. Sometime in this era our Daughter got very, very sick. Even though I had a good job with insurance, still the hospital bills and deductibles were astronomical. Members of this forum not only helped me along to cope with the worries of having a sick child, but a few, along with my wife coached me into selling the picks for extra money to pay doctor and hospital bills. It was a success and with tears in my eyes, I can still remember the day that we paid off the hospital. I do not think the members of The Gear Page know how instrumental they were in the miracle that pulled my family thru the past few years. A fellow named Steve started a thread here about the picks I gave him and the rest is history. We took the picture of me holding the pick in front of Audrey’s black grand piano. How fitting. We still use that picture to this day on the website. It has been touched up in Photoshop many times because in the original, my fingers were all dry and cracked and ugly from making picks! Soon I got to know some folks like Paul Reed Smith and Carlos Santana very early in my business career. They were very kind to me and gave me some great advise that I still use today.
Brian: I noticed that Carlos Santana plays with V-Picks. What other artists use them?
Vinni: I have to pinch myself sometimes! Carlos not only plays V-Picks, he also sells them on his store website! Other V-Pickers include names like Brad Whitford (Aerosmith), Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Jorge Santana, Derek St Holmes (Ted Nugent Band), Danny Kortchmar (James Taylor and Carole King), Greg Martin (Kentucky Headhunters), Billy Sheehan, Stu Hamm, Counting Crows, Moonalice, Chuck D’Aloia, Jimmy Herring, Andy Reiss. It just keeps going! I never know who is going to call me on the phone. Sometimes I want to say “Who is this really?” I have the best job in the world, for sure.
Brian: Do you mostly make just guitar picks, or do you make other products as well?
Vinni: We make electric & acoustic guitar picks, mandolin picks, bass picks, and even dulcimer picks. We also have a line of clear acrylic slides that my customers just love. They have a warm tone and will not break when dropped on a cement bar floor. We also sell some very cool leather accessories that are made by a family here in Nashville TN. An item that has gotten quite popular with our customers are the personalized pick display cases.
Brian: Many of us are familiar with the old standard in the past, tortoise shell picks, that have been illegal to own for some time now. What made you choose acrylic as your material? Is it special in some way?
Vinni: It is special indeed! First of all it looks way cool. I love the looks of these picks when they are done. They are just beautiful. I am very proud of our picks. The tone spectrum is much wider than any material I have ever used. Living here in Nashville, I am around a LOT of TS picks. I am never hesitant to put our picks head to head with them. I honestly think the acrylic sounds better than TS. Our picks have a better, stronger mid range. Also when you heat temper acrylic it becomes very strong and wear resistant. I have customers that literally play the same V-Pick for years. Not my words, but theirs! But the thing that has become a big selling point for us is the feel and grip this material offers. When your fingers warm up the pick, it becomes grippy. You do not have to readjust them when you are playing and the problem with dropped picks becomes a thing of the past. My customers are the ones that came up with this observation. We quoted one customer as saying “Never Drop Your Pick Again”. This has become one of our slogans. I have not found another material that reacts to your body temperature like this stuff does. However, acrylics are very hard to work with and very unforgiving. It fights you every inch of the way. I think this is why pick makers before me never used it.
Brian: What is different about V-Picks and why should musicians choose them?
Vinni: Well, first of all, we are the original acrylic pick maker. I started making these in 1980 and started the company into full swing in 2004. Other cast acrylic picks other than lexan were just not around until about 2 years ago. Now some are trying to follow the trend. However, we have a couple of secret sauce tricks that make V-Picks far above the others. We work with our suppliers and have mixed 2 different types of acrylics and added an inert material. This gives V-Picks even more of that gripping quality and characteristic. We also heat treat/temper our material. I learned this from an aquarium maker after moving here to Nashville. It changes the density and strength of the acrylic. These big aquariums you see that hold hundreds of thousands of gallons of water need all the strength their creator can come up with. This is why they heat temper them. What does this do to a guitar pick? It makes it much, much stronger and wear resistant. I can tell in 2 seconds if brand x acrylic pick is heat tempered. None of them are. This is why some of them chip and wear jagged edges and some even leave a dust residue on the front of your guitar. This does not happen with V-Picks. But honestly, for me, the biggest benefit our picks have over the competition is SOUND. The wide spectrum of tone generated by our plectrums is truly amazing. There is undeniably a big difference in tone. Every day I get letters, emails and calls from customers that are just blown away by the tone difference.
Brian: What exactly does "Heat Tempered" mean? How does it affect guitar picks?
Vinni: It means the same thing that it means when you heat temper metal or glass. It really does not change the composition of the material, but it does indeed compact it. This process makes it much stronger and denser. Just as with metal or glass, it must be heated up with an extreme temperature and then quickly cooled off. I am not talking here about the pick being heated up on a bench grinder or buffer. I am referring to a process that is purposely done for strength and longevity of the pick. If you are playing an acrylic pick, just call them up on the phone and ask them if their picks are heat treated/tempered. If they are not, then you are playing with an inferior guitar pick.
Brian: Please describe the differences and reasons for those differences in the various V-picks that are available.
Vinni: Our picks are hand made here in the USA. They are made by guitar players, for guitar players. We now have over 100 models and some great colors. I am confident we have the perfect guitar pick for every player out there. Some are simply designed for different instruments, as I mentioned before. Others are designed for different tastes and preferences of the player. And yet others for different sounds and effects. We even have a pick designed to make your 6 string sound like a 12 string, and it works pretty darn good! We have small pointed picks for players that are used to a pick like the Dunlop Jazz III. We have models that are fat and round and that produce a huge mid-range and just fly across the strings. We have picks that make harmonics just jump off your fretboard. For those who need some flex in your pick, we have Ultra Lites that are .75mm. We are the ones who invented unbuffed picks. This mat finished edge creates a very cool violin bow effect. Other pick makers have copied our design and refer to this option with fancy schmancy names. Basically it is the way the pick is when it comes off the grinder wheel for the last time. Extra care must be given to an unbuffed pick because it does not go thru the buffing stage, which hides a lot of sins. Anyway, this unbuffed option is our original idea. No one did this before us. My personal favorite models are unbuffed picks. And we even have picks for players with hand and arm injuries. Some of our pickers have told me that V-Picks are the only pick available that they can hold when playing. They say that we have given back their ability to play and make music with the instrument that they so love. Do you have any idea how this makes a person feel inside when you are told this? It is stuff like this that keeps me going full blast sometimes. I cannot imagine not being able to play my guitars anymore.
Brian: Following up on that question, how can potential customers figure out which of your various picks meet their needs best?
Vinni: I have tried to put a pretty good description and picture of each model on their respective webpage. There is a search option on the site so you can find a gauge preference. We have also put together some starter kits that are geared for certain genres of music and player. If this is not enough info, I am always available for a conversation via email or phone. Even for the toughest customer, if you have the patience, with over 100 models to choose from, we have the right pick for you. And we will find it! Also, we do not only make clear picks, we have reds, blues, greens, pinks, pearly whites and even Glow in the Dark picks. Mrs. V works very hard to make sure the formulas used render beautiful, rich, brilliant colors. Our picks do not look like some cheap toy squirt gun. You hold these in your hands and the first word out of your mouth will be “Wow”!
Brian: Is this now a full time job for you? I ask because I know that you seem to handle everything, including answering the customer service phone. Do you have employees to help?
Vinni: This is now a 24 hour a day job! LOL But I absolutely LOVE it. I have the best job in the world. I grind picks, I buff picks, I design new picks, I run the laser machine, I sweep the floors, I do website editing. Yes indeed, I do all the phone work here at V-Picks. If you call the # on the website, I will be the one answering. Unless I am driving, then Mrs V will most likely answer. If I don’t answer, just leave a message. I will return the call asap. However, I am not alone in my labors. Mrs V works VERY hard as well. We also have 4 others working with us. Our son Adam makes V-Picks in California, and we have a lady down the street from him that hand trims the picks for us. Audrey takes care of shipping and counting inventory. We also have an employee named Alan that works side by side with me here in Nashville. He makes fantastic picks. Between Adam, Alan, and myself, we punch out literally thousands of picks every month. And in my opinion, they are the best picks to ever go out of our front door, and they only get better as time goes on. Better equipment and more knowledge render better guitar picks for you. And in turn, you make better music for all of us. It is that simple. It is win/win.
Brian: You seem to know a lot about your customers and to be hands-on. In the music industry many businesses are judged as much by their customer service as by the products being sold. Is there a particular philosophy guiding how you run the business?
Vinni: I have very, very strong feelings about customer service and satisfaction. A wise man taught me that it is all about customer perception. I worked for Mercedes Benz for some years. One time I gave a customer a free torque converter valued at $3,800.00 under warranty and the car had over 100,000 miles on it! How do you think that customer felt? I am confident that he is still driving an MB if he is still alive today. Buck Knives is also another great example. I broke a knife blade because I was using it as a screwdriver one time. I sent it to Buck for a blade replacement and asked them to send it back COD and I would pay for the repair and shipping. They sent me back a brand new knife at no charge with a letter of apology for the inconvenience of not having my Buck knife! Now do you think I have ever carried any other knife in my pocket besides a Buck? Never! I told you about these things to describe the deep feelings I have about the service we give the players that use our picks. They don’t have to play our picks, they choose to. People from all over the world send us money via the internet in trust that we are going to send them a good guitar pick. We do everything we can to send out the best product and as fast as possible. We want those picks in their fingers now and we want them to be happy they made this purchase. I do my best to treat every customer as if they are my only customer. I think that anyone who has done business with me or knows me will vouch for that. If there is a problem, and they come now and then, they get handled first thing in the morning, immediately, before any other work gets done. Making our customers happy is #1 here at V-Picks. Our picks will speak for themselves, but I will earn the right for your trust.
Brian: How will this level of personal involvement be continued as the business continues to grow?
Vinni: I will answer this by bringing up a name of a fellow that I have admired and learned from for years, Paul Smith. Even though he has grown his empire to a multi-million dollar organization, he is still very reachable. Every time I have called Paul, my call has been put thru or he has called me back. One time from his cell phone in a taxi! Paul admits that his employees make better guitars than he ever has. Yet, I am sure, nothing goes out that door that he would not approve of. It is the same with V-Picks. Adam and Alan are making picks so good, I am not sure I could make any better. They both really care about what goes out the door and the future of our company. They both give 300%. And they both love what they do. I will continue to answer the phone, sweep the floor, edit the website for as long as I can keep up with it. I don’t ever really plan to retire. I love this job. I will be one of those old men that pull their pants up to their chests, walking around shaking my boney finger at the young ones telling them the “right” way to do things.
Brian: Having enjoyed listening to your playing in the past, do you still have time for playing music?
Vinni: I do have some time to play. Most every evening after doing the emails and internet stuff, I play for my 4 great danes next to the fireplace. They love it and they never complain about the songs I have chosen to play. I own more guitars than ever now. I think 12??? Some real beauties. I take lessons from Andy Reiss. I consider him to be one of the greatest players in the world. He plays in a band with Vince Gill called the Time Jumpers. Living here in Nashville, there are a lot of places to play, and you never know who is going to show up. I was playing Wes Montgomery songs in a liquor store one evening with Denny Jiosa (smooth jazz artist) and none other than Phil Keaggy shows up with his guitar and amp, sets up right in front of the cash registers and plays with us for 1 ½ hours. He has always been one of my biggest heroes. I am not in a band right now, but I am considering starting a duet with a buddy from Fox News. We want to do about 2 hours of songs on nylon string acoustics. Some instrumentals and some singing. Some copy songs and some of our tunes. So, the answer is yes. I love to play and I always have. I will play until they kick the dirt in over top of me.
Brian: Do you have any music projects planned for the future?
Vinni: Nothing really planned. I would like to do a record with Denny Jiosa. I want to re-record one of my songs, "Lady Named Katie" with Denny and Phil Keaggy. That would be an honor and it seems one that is actually reachable.
Brian: BTW, tell us, how is your daughter doing these days?
Vinni: Thank you for asking Brian. I get a lot of calls, letters and emails asking about Audrey. She is doing GREAT! We have so much to be thankful for. She is completely off meds now and there is no indication at all of illness in her blood. We believe she has been completely, miraculously healed! She lives here in Nashville with us and attends Trevecca Nazarene University and is finishing her masters degree in Psychology. BTW, Adam is doing the same in California. Mrs V and I are very proud of them both.
Editor's Note: For more videos, visit the V-Picks website at the following link: