By now, you all know I’m a guitar player and love everything guitar related. I’m really into everything that comes with it and ho wit affects your playing and sound. One of these things is picks. I love gutiar picks, I have a lot of different guitar picks and even reviewed some picks on this blog. Today, I would love to show you all an inspirator for me and my pick goofyness. John Tron Davidson had an awesome blog called ‘Heavy Repping’ and I had the chance to interview him for the blog!
Hey John, first of all, thank you for making some time for Vinyl & Coffee, really appreciate it!
You’re welcome, and thanks for asking!
So, let’s dive into it! What got you into playing the guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was 15 – I’d been on the violin and piano for a few years before that, and spent a lot of my young life in choirs before starting to sing in bands. To be candid, I told myself I needed to play the guitar because I wouldn’t get any work if all I did was sing, but it quickly took hold as an essential thing in my life.
And what did get you into the world of picks?
My earliest picks were things like the Dunlop Tortex 0.6mm, then the 500 Series 0.71mm, and when I got into Cat Kills Six (my very old band in Glasgow) I started using 1mm Dunlop Wedges and other, thicker things. I was always on the look-out for unusual stuff but the real shift came when I was working at Wunjo Guitars on Denmark Street in London, when I got talking to a guy who played in a theatre pit band. I’d ordered some Gravity Sunrise 2mm’s and he told me about V Picks, and because I felt more connected to the guitar because of these, my curiosity led me into the Plectroverse.
How did Heavy Repping start?
It started with a series of one-minute reviews that I did on Instagram of the Dragon’s Heart Hardened Heart, and I found that I got pretty excited about the whole thing – who was making it, what the materials were, the stories behind them and so on. I got a reasonably favourable reception for these videos, and the deeper I got and the more picks I collected, I started to talk to the makers and discovered that no-one was talking about picks or taking them seriously. This seemed crazy to me, as they’re something that reaches out beyond the musical universe and into popular culture. Even the non-musician can recognise a plectrum, and for all these companies to be making picks and not be known, all these players who could be making better music with better tools, it was daft that someone wasn’t covering it. I started posting reviews of picks, and once I got into double figures, I reached out to a few big names in the game and found they were more than willing to talk to me, even though the site was nothing at the time. My first interviewee was Eppo Franken of Chicken Picks, and after this serious event, I got the courage up to press on – now I’ve interviewed Vinni Smith from V Picks, Ruvane Kurland of The Original Coin Guitar Pick Company, Brian Staebell at Howling Monkey, Matt Halliday of Stone Age, Tom Winspear of Winspear Instrumental, Igor from DawMan, Carlos Diez from Rombo, Chrys Johnson from Jim Dunlop, Roopam Garg of the Surrealist, Dusty Schiefelbein from T1, Pete Punckowski at Swiss Picks, Alexis Rodea at Iron Age, and Andrew Federico Jr. of Monster Grips, Brock Little at BHL, Connor Kaminski, Zoe The Pick Collector, Guy Devillez, and Nick Pagano of Gem Picks.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
When I first started getting mail – not emails, but physical letters from makers. Sometimes it would be a short note, sometimes a few pages of writing – that made me feel extremely proud, but if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would be the post I made for the first anniversary. The genuine care and respect that I got from the community truly humbled me, and let me know that what I’m doing actually matters to the people I’m doing it for.
What would you like to see Heavy Repping doing in the future?
I’m aiming for HR! to be the front page for picks on the internet, by building relationships with the makers, talking to all the collectors, and reviewing/interviewing/writing about as much of the trade as possible. The YouTube channel runs a number of series – Reviews, The Sunday Special Road Test, The Science, Story Of The Pick and the recent Face Off! – and I’m about to start filming a new series called I Rest My Case where I go to meet bands and musicians and get them to try all the fabulous picks I’ve got. In the long term I’d love to act as a conduit for anyone interested in picks, to show them what’s out there and let them find the right builder/model for their style. This’ll obviously take a lot of time and work and I’m only one man, but it’s doable, so I’ll do it!
What have been the reactions so far about what you are doing and how you are serving the guitar world?
The most common reaction I get is surprise – the majority of players have no idea what’s out there because the companies that make the picks are chiefly one-man shows with enough time to make plectrums, ship them out and run an Instagram, and it’s rare to see any adverts in magazines. All the makers I’ve spoken to are thrilled that someone’s taken up the torch finally, and that alone makes it worthwhile. I always give people at work (Mansons’ Guitars) the opportunity to try whatever I’ve got on me, and that’s started a lot of conversations about why such things even exist, especially when it comes to exotic materials like stone, UHMWPE, Tagua and so on. Oddly, I get a lot of nods from drummers that I’ve spoken to – they understand that you wouldn’t use the same set of sticks for every style of music, so using different thicknesses/shapes/compositions of plectrums makes complete sense to them.
You’ve tried hundreds of different picks, do they still get you excited?
Absolutely. I’ve always found the prospect that I’ll never have the chance to hear all the music that’s ever been recorded as something genuinely exciting – you could live numerous lifetimes and there’d still be more to find. Picks is the same – whether it’s a builder I’ve bought from a dozen times or someone I’ve only just discovered sending me out free stuff, I can’t wait to get home after work and find what’s come through the letterbox. Even when I think I know a material inside out, some maker will manage something I didn’t think was possible – acrylic and Ultem are big ones for this. If I were a richer man, I’d give it the full Kevin Shields treatment and get five of everything from everyone.
Have you got a favorite pick? Or a top 3 of picks? Or is this impossible to do?
I’d be lying if I said there aren’t some that stick out, and to be completely fair, I’ll state that there’s no one company I’d choose over any others. This isn’t because all pick companies are equal, but because I can’t make that choice – I’ve got close to a thousand mostly hand-made picks, so that’s a tough gig. The most important pick to me is the one a young lad sent me in the post when I was working in London after I gave him one of my earliest Gravity picks – it was his lucky pick, and I keep it in a pouch on my keys to remind me that what I do in life is worthwhile. As you’ve asked, my current favourites are the Dragon Picks Juma, the Hawk ToneBird 6, the Stone Age Pvrpetrator, the Arcanum Standard and the Plectrums Handcrafted True Blood – ask me again tomorrow!
How have you changed as a player when using all these different picks?
I’ve grown significantly in confidence over the last few years, chiefly as a result of getting so deep into picks. I had a guitar (the Stick) built for me last year by Mike at Odessa Guitars here in the UK, and that became part of my skeleton almost immediately. The combination of The Stick and finding picks that let me say exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it meant that I came on hugely as a player, and it’s partly the hope that I can do that for other players that keeps me going.
And the last one, what advice would you give a beginning guitar player that just discovered there’s more to picks than the orange .6mm Dunlop pick he’s had for months?
There’s no one pick that works for absolutely everyone – if there was, we’d all be using the Dunlop Yellow. The best approach is do what I do – comb through Instagram, Etsy and Facebook looking for people who make picks, set up a Google Alert on your phone for guitar picks/plectrums, talk to makers, talk to collectors. Until the rest of the musical world gets into this, you’ll continue buying direct, so do your research and then take the plunge. I’m always available to answer questions, so go through the website or hit me up on Instagram and ask whatever you like. If I can help, I definitely will. To those of you who draw laughs when you talk about picks to other guitar players, remember – there’s a whole community of people who get just as excited as you do, and for every 1000 people that get excited about another Les Paul, there’s another one trawling eBay for vintage D’Andreas.
Again, thank you John, wish you all the best with Heavy Repping!