In the increasingly crowded arena of custom and boutique flatpicks, we’ve seen an interesting trend develop. One on side, we find makers who’ve discovered that certain existing industrial materials developed for wildly different purposes than plucking the string of a guitar or mandolin can be fashioned into world-class plectra. The second track we see is for boutique pick makers to develop and manufacturer their own base pick material where they have greater control over the material specs, hardness, color or shell swirl patterns, etc.
Enter Techpicks, a swashbuckling band of Italian materials scientists who play guitar and decided to put their collective advanced NASA-level science degrees to use concocting flatpick-specific new materials based on aerospace materials science. The result is a new flatpick that extensive in-hand testing says holds its own with picks made from natural shell, modern industrial plastics and polymers, casein and more, at a more affordable price point. Like NASA engineers hitting a tiny, distant asteroid, Techpicks hit its moving target.
So I asked the Techpicks Team (Sara, Francesco and Alessio) for additional insight into the origin of the company and their new picks. “We are a small company founded by Italian music enthusiasts and material scientists who, after almost 15 years of testing and fine-tuning, decided to take the leap and commercialize our own picks. We do believe our approach is highly disruptive: in fact, we started from our deep knowledge of thermoplastic materials, tested a huge number of formulations over the years, and selected those that guarantee the best attack, stiffness, grip, friction and timbre. Why disruptive? Because the material is simply the key factor to us.”
Available in only one tri-corner shape and a 1.4mm thickness-fits-all product range (presumably to simplify manufacturing for the start-up), Techpicks come in four material flavors, shall we say. The crew report that new formulations are being studied and will be released over the next months.
Upon inspection and testing, the TP1 (black) boasts high stiffness, and is what the company calls the best solution for playing precise plectral guitar styles such as jazz, metal, and progressive. On acoustic guitars, TP1 creates a dark and articulate tone along with a clear attack. The company say their medium-stiff TP2’s key advantage is that players will feel a low friction on the strings. Intended more for electric guitarists like the TP1, Techpicks recommends it as the ideal solution for acoustic guitars styles of playing such as crosspicking because it creates a warm and well-balanced tone across the lows, mids and highs. Their TP3 (cool white) is medium stiffness with extremely low friction and good wear resistance. “Great for speed picking, the attack is extremely sharp and precise on electric guitars,” they assert. This material is reminiscent of the white material Michel Wegen employs, and in truth, all three of these materials proved to be excellent at their intended purpose. But they didn’t really bring anything unique or new to the boutique flatpick marketplace.
That changes, at least within the bluegrass world, with their TP4 (brown) pick model. Techpicks describes this pick as, “From the aerospace technology to our strings, TP4 is appreciated for its clear and balanced tone, with sparkling harmonics as well as a great attack. (The) TP4 is the perfect solution for flatpicking and bluegrass players: despite its medium thickness, it has a high stiffness that allows (the musician) to play with dynamics in different styles of playing.”
Over weeks of testing and handing Techpicks to numerous top players at Winfield and IBMA to try out, this was the Techpicks model most flatpickers and mandolinists preferred. Indeed, one especially hard-core tortoiseshell pick devotee, a superb musician who has turned up his nose after just a handful of notes at every Blue Chip, Wegen, Apollo and other boutique brand pick I’ve handed him, liked the TP4 pick so much he played the rest of the night with it.
Upon close inspection, the TP4 material actually looks somewhat organic. It is not uniform in color and appearance like a Blue Chip, and the hydrophilic plastic has almost a bit of a grain to it. In the classic “pick click” drop test, it wasn’t as brittle and hard as a shell pick or a Blue Chip. But on the instrument, it produced an articulate, clear tone with a lovely bit of bite in the treble attack. Not quite as slick as the TP2 and TP3, it still slid over the strings with little friction and the resulting harmonic notes had a lovely airy quality that suited any high-end mandolin or guitar.
Techpicks comes with a standard Right Hand bevel on the tri-corner pick design, and TP thoughtfully included a seven-hole star pattern cutout in the center of each pick that adds the perfect amount of grip. I didn’t try hand-shaping a TP test pick, but these materials should be easier to fashion into a different shape than the Blue Chip.
Retailing for $12 apiece, plus about six bucks overseas postage from the Techpicks headquarters in Varese, Italy, a set of all four material picks is bargain priced at $29.
Check out their Instagram, or visit the company’s e-commerce site at techpicksitaly.myshopify.com
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