Getting Picky With It
It was at the 2008 Nashville NAMM Show that I met Vinni Smith and his family. I was demonstrating for Folkcraft Instruments, strumming the mountain dulcimer on a stand when this group, all dressed in black, walked up to the booth and watched me closely. The man closest to me, who turned out to be Vinni, asked me what mountain dulcimer players liked to use for picks. At the time, I was committed to the Herdim zither pick and I explained that it was the plectrum of choice for most players. He smiled and held out an impossibly large chunk of diamond-looking material and said, "try this."
I looked at it incredulously. It wasn't a pick so much as it was a golf ball with beveled edges, impossibly gigantic and ridiculously scary. Taking it, I decided to tackle a riff that I'd been having trouble with and, when I played the lick cleanly, quickly and easily, the words, "so, tell me more about this pick" streamed out of my mouth. That was how I discovered V-Picks.
Since then, I've used only V-Picks in my performing and recording. This incredible concept involves using cast acrylic in a staggering variety of forms and functions. Not only does the material stick to your fingers without adhesive after it warms up, but each design features specifically crafted edges, bevels, curves, surfaces and textures to create more volume, change tone, reduce pick noise, increase sustain and attack as well as generally look super-cool in your hand. At the time, they had 63 different pick designs which has now rocketed to over 100 and luminaries such as Carlos Santana, Phil Keaggy and Billy Gibbons all swear by them.
After exploring some of the many models (Vinni gifted me with the "Big Fattie" diamond chunk that I had first played - I still have it), I took to inquiring about modifying a triangle-shaped pick called the "Shredder." After some rounding of edges and angling of bevels, an extraordinarily perfect mountain dulcimer pick emerged. Vinni named two versions of the plectrum after me, despite my humble protestations. Given my tendency towards a heavy right hand, I was breaking the tips off of the .80 mm "Bing Ultra-Lite", so I graduated to the 1 mm "Tremolo Pointed" pick designed for mandolins. Still, I found myself using a variety of V-Picks for flat picking and strumming applications. Many dulcimer stores and vendors began carrying the "Bing" picks and it's become an emerging choice for players who are looking to up their game.
It had been a long time since seeing Vinni in person and after he moved his family from Modesto, California to Nashville, I finally endeavored to go see him on the far west side of town yesterday, bringing my friend Levoy Elmore with me. It was great to see Vinni and his wife Nancy again and meet his ginormous great danes River, Q and Jordy. We talked and caught up, picked a little and I stocked up on "Bing" picks as he also revealed their latest astounding creation, the "Nexus", a crazy-looking chunk of triangular genius that I immediately decided would get an on-stage test run at my next gig. The Smiths are humble folk, God-loving people and they've done the world a ton of good by engineering an incredible breakthrough in music technology. I can say, without hesitation, that Vinni and Co. changed my life and plussed my game as a musician. How often can you say that about a piece of gear and its creator?