Vinni Smith invented the V-Pick. If you’re not familiar with V-Picks, chances are you’ve heard some music made with them. How he started his business and how he runs it is a fascinating story. And we’re lucky enough to have Vinni share that story with us.
I read that you actually started making V-Picks all the way back in 1980, but didn’t start the company till 2006. What finally pushed you over the edge to give it a go?
Well, I quit playing guitar somewhere in the mid to late 80’s and did not start again till the ’90s. When I did start back up, I started with country. I had forgotten about those old picks that I had made of acrylic. So, I started all over again, working with and test driving different materials. Then my daughter and I found an old guitar bag of mine and inside was one of the original picks I made way back when. So, once again the search was over and we haven’t looked right or left since. I was working in the car biz, putting in about 10 hours per day. I started making these acrylic picks and sending them all over the world to my friends on guitar forums. There was just a big request, we decided to sell them. Then it really took off. Finally, my wife came up to me one day and said “You need to quit your job. It is getting in the way of our business”.
How did you come up with the idea for V-Picks?
Well, I was just not happy with the guitar picks that were available in stores back then. I was a bit fascinated with the Stone Pick, but they were SO expensive. I used to raise saltwater tropical fish and they looked the best when kept in plexiglass aquariums, so I loved the look of acrylic. One day I was walking in a store and found a sheet of it. Took it home and VOILA. Love at first sight. My buddy, John Dean named the picks. I thought he called them V-Picks because they were shaped like a V. About 3 months later it sunk in. I think the name has helped their popularity tremendously.
I know some people can be skeptical about your picks, however they change their tune once they try them. How gratifying has it been to see the business grow?
I never imagined how wonderful it would be to own our own business. I feel like I have the best job in the world. One day I got a call from Santana Management and Steely Dan in the same day! I love to get phone calls from my customers. The phone # on our website is the phone I carry on my hip. I like dealing with my customers personally. We are a Mom and Pop organization and so we see things thru from start to finish. So, yes, we see every bit of growth that happens. It is wonderful and amazing at the same time. Mostly new territory for me, but I learn as we go along. So far, we have not made many big mistakes! LOL
How important is to you that V-Picks is a family owned and run business?
As far as I am concerned it is ALL important. As long as I can, I will be the one answering the phone and Nancy will be taking care of our finances. Adam still makes picks for us until he gets out of college and gets a good job and the same with Audrey. Audrey does our shipping. Nancy’s Mom helps hand trim our picks also. The dogs patrol the ranch, so YES we are indeed family owned and run. It will stay that way as long as I can keep it that way.
Who are some of the big names that use your picks?
Carlos Santana, Walter Becker (Steely Dan), Brad Whitford (Aerosmith) Derek St Holmes (Nugent), Danny Kortchmar, Roger Fisher (Heart), Jorge Santana, Rick Vito (Fleetwood Mac).
It all started with one size V-Pick. How many different sizes/varieties do you offer now?
Yes, it all started with the Medium/Large Round 2.75mm. Then came the small pointed and FL Round. Just blossomed out from there. We have over 100 pick models now! We have picks for electric guitar, acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass and dulcimer.
People may not realize that you’re one heck of a guitarist in your own right. Who influenced you when you first started playing?
Alvin Lee, John Fogerty and Carlos Santana were my first influences. Then came Frampton, Barry Bailey, Brian May, and then Robben Ford.
Anything you’d like to leave us with?
I plan to be in this business for the rest of my life. I am going to be one of those old men that pull their pants up to their chests and walk around NAMM saying, hey sonny, why you playing that guitar so fast? You getting paid by the note?