The new, cool looking line of Amoeba Music guitar picks may be priced at just 50 cents per pick, but in the world of guitar pick collecting some avid collectors will pay many times that amount for a heavily desired pick. As reported by the Pick Collecting Quarterly about a month ago, one guitar pick collecting fanatic forked over $1063 in an eBay auction for a Kiss (circa 1974) black on white Ace Frehley / Pastore Music guitar pick. Yes, as any serious guitar player will tell you, guitar pick collecting can become as much of an obsession as guitar playing itself.
Guitar picks, which are a type of plectrum designed for use on a guitar but often used to play other string instruments too, such as mandolin or banjo, come in all kinds of shapes, styles, and are made from numerous types of materials including plastic, rubber, felt, glass, tortoiseshell, and stone, and can range in price accordingly. Although picks have been around for centuries (early ones been made out of bone, shell, wood, metal, amber and other materials), it wasn't until the 1920's that they were mass produced. A relatively more recent phenomenon is the customized pick. Traditionally made by rock bands, with Rick Nelson of Cheap Trick been one of the first to famously toss out dozens of them during concerts, more recently entities such as Microsoft, MTV, Verizon, and Budweiser, have all emblazoned their names on guitar picks. Right now there are thousands upon thousands of customized guitar picks out there with legions of avid collectors following them.
"Picks are a functional, intrigue part of the musician’s toolbox and often collectible," said Zak Wilson from Amoeba Music Berkeley, who designed and oversaw the production of the recently introduced Ameoba guitar pick. A self described "pick freak," Zak not only uses guitar picks but is also an avid collector himself, with an ever growing collection of over a thousand different picks. "Nowadays a lot of picks are printed by pad printing, while back in the day it was done by metallic stamping," noted Zak. "But I wanted it [the Amoeba pick] to be kind of retro and old school like back in the day when they'd take a hot stamp. They'd make a dye and they'd stamp it right into the pick so it embeds." Zak says D'Andrea, the company that printed the Amoeba picks, is one of the original guitar pick makers and, along with Dunlop, one of the biggest pick companies. "For the Amoeba pick we did a variety," said Zak. "There's the classic celluloid pick, the designer celluloid. There's the pearl pick. And there's the V-Resins which is a solid color."
I asked Zak what pick, out all the ones available for guitarists, best suits a player? "There are so many styles and sizes and different types of picks, it all comes down to what you as a player are comfortable with and what sound, style you are trying to achieve," he said. "Some people started with a pick and then moved on to play without them. Brian May of Queen uses a sixpence coin for the different tones and it's really a part of his sound. In fact, of late he's even had some minted with his own head on them." Not surprisingly, these are a hot item with collectors. Depending on whether a band is still touring or not adds to the rarity and demand of a customized pick. "Some of the bigger names are hard to come by but everyone who collects has some that mean something to them because of the band it's from and that they actually caught it at a show," said Zak.
As for Zak's most prized guitar picks in his large collection? "I'm a big Van Halen fan, so some Van Halen guitar picks," he said, adding that he also has another one he is fond of that he got when he began learning to play guitar. "I used to take lessons when I was a kid from Joe Satriani, as did everyone in Berkeley in high school when I was going to high school, and he took a pick once like a Fender Heavy and rubbed it on the carpet at such a speed that it kinda disintegrated the pick 'til it was about half the size and then he played with it so it was a small jazz shape size. I picked it up off the top of the lesson practice amp afterward and still have it to this day. A nondescript pick with personal meaning. But that’s the beauty of it really."
The Amoeba Music picks cost just 50 cents and are available at the Berkeley, San Francisco, and Hollywood Amoeba stores. Ask if you need help in locating them.