When I started HR! I wanted to take it seriously, so much so that I sought out the biggest names in plectrums and interviewed them. But the real intrigue lies behind the scenes, in the collectors who not only accumulate vintage plectrums, but preserve their existence for new generations of players to discover. A very serious player in this field is Guy Devillez, a collector with decades of pick-chasing under his belt, and he graciously agreed to slave over a hot email containing my questions to inform you all about the beauty of plectrum collecting. It’s a whole other world, so read on and enjoy!
HR – Thanks for talking to Heavy Repping! For our devoted readers, can you please introduce yourself?
GD – I’m Guy DeVillez, also known as “Coupe DeVille” in some circles. I have over 60,000 guitar picks. This includes vintage, promotional and artist signature picks. Also thumb and finger picks, as well as some odd plectra from India, Pakistan, Japan and China.
HR – What made you start to collect plectrums? When did you start, and how far back in time does your collection go?
GD – I started playing guitar when I was 12, and have always had a few picks around. I used to visit music stores, and if I saw any odd picks, I would get them. I never thought about it until I was giving a group lesson in my apartment in Monrovia, CA. Guitar Night was every other week, and if you talked about anything but guitars, we would beat the offender with a heavy leather Gibson strap. I would show them how to tune, change strings, and learned a ton of songs, as each person had to bring one song with chords to share. One night, I grabbed my old jar half full of guitar picks, poured them into a piepan, and passed them around the room saying, “You need to try every pick to see which one works for you”, and someone said “That’s a nice collection!”. A bell went off in my head, and from that point on, I was obsessed with picks. I went to the NAMM show and met Tony and Rosemary D’Andrea, and she gave me a list of pick collectors. 12 names with addresses and phone numbers. I contacted everyone on the list, and they all responded. Some of them were Joe Macey, Will Hoover, and Harry Anderson.
HR – A lot of collectors don’t have any desire to sell their plectrums but are willing to trade. What was your approach to this as you started to amass an increasingly large collection?
GD – I never thought I’d sell any of my precious picks. About 18 years ago, I met the woman who would become my wife, and she asked me what I was going to do with all of my picks. I was stumped. I said “I’ll probably sell them at some point”, and she said “When?”. I had been buying off of eBay for at least 10 years at that point, and had some of the rarest picks in the world. SRV, George Harrison, Clapton, Jeff Beck, The Stones, etc. I started selling them on eBay, and it’s been very good to me.
HR – As someone who’s collected a lot of older plectrums, how do you store them? What’s the best way to avoid damaging picks that have been stored for a long period of time?
GD – I have them in plastic fishing tackle boxes with holes drilled for ventilation. I live in Los Angeles, which is the perfect climate for celluloid. I have many friends all over the world who have had picks melt, crumble, or just disappear in a cloud of stinky brown gas. When I started, I would use the virgin vinyl sleeves, and inserts made for coins and stamps. They looked great, but as I started to notice a horrible smell, and picks turning funky, I got them out quick.
HR – Given that you’ve been collecting at such a high level, what are the picks that got away, or did you manage to track down all the ones you wanted?
GD – When I started collecting, I started a vintage pick collector’s newsletter, called “Pick Tips”. I started with the original 12 collectors, and grew into a nice group of 100 or so. Everyone would send in their want lists, and recent finds, so I was part of an elite group that knew what they were looking for, found them, and traded for other rare picks. I had collectors writing stories for the newsletter like Will Hoover, Joe Macey, Chris “Martin” Hewitt, Harry Anderson and many others.
HR – What’s the most direct contact you’ve had with an artist or individual whose picks you’ve been trying to get hold of?
GD – There have been many, but just recently I tried to approach Richard Thompson to get his autograph in my Danny Ferrington book. When Danny have it to me, it had everyone who played on the CD that came with the book, except for RT. I did my best, but failed to see him at a show in San Diego. My friend, Emery Budahazi cornered the bass player, Taras Prodaniuk. Taras said they had just been talking about Danny, and sure, he would get the signature for me. He took the book back to the bus, and came right back out, smiling. I thanked him and asked for one of Richard’s signature picks. He pulled his coin purse out and plucked one pick out. Yes! My friend asked for one as well, but was told this was the last one Richard had. So I was the lucky dog because my friend was on it.
HR – I understand that you used to publish a collector’s newsletter with some notable contributors – Joe Macey, Will Hoover (author of Picks!) and Jeff White (of Plectrum Spectrum) to name a few. How did that come about, and how did you distribute it? (this question at your discretion)
GD – I mentioned Pick Tips earlier, but it came about when I took a job at a call center that was just getting started. After training, we just waited for the calls to come in. It turns out that marketing had not sent out the postcards telling our customers about the toll-free service. So we sat, and was told that we could do anything with our computers that was legal. So I started sending out letters to manufacturers, collectors, anyone I thought might be interested. They were. I photocopied them, which was pretty standard for specialty ‘zines” like this. I also sent along and 8/12/ by 11 color copy of vintage picks.. I had many people who told me they subscribed just for the photos. I only did 11 or so issues. The first one was folded in half, and I had to arrange the vintage picks so the crease didn’t ruin it.
HR – What’s been the most exciting find over the course of your collecting career?
GD – My son lived in Sacramento, and through the newsletter, he knew that old furniture stores and drug stores were good places to look. When I was a kid, I went to the Owl Rexall Drug Store in La Puente, CA for my Fender picks and Black Diamond Strings. He visited a Chinese drug store, and asked about old picks. The sweet old lady opened a drawer, and he saw many picks we had only dreamed about. He wanted to make an offer on all of them, ans asked “how much?”, and she insisted on counting them out for 5 or 10 cents each. One of them was a Burdwise Wire-Grip that most collectors had never seen, except for old catalogs.
HR – When it comes to the plectrums themselves, what do you think of modern pick makers and the changes from the older styles?
GD – I’m out of the game as far as finding new picks. I just never find anything different, so I’ve become jaded. There is still the odd pick that shows up, the Swiss Cheese, or whatever they call them is pretty cool. I like a lot of the Chinese and Japanese graphic picks, but not much else going on. With computers to make the graphics, anything is possible, so not much is that interesting to me.
HR – What advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the pick collecting world now?
GD – Get Will Hoover’s book “Picks! The Colorful Saga of Vintage Celluloid Guitar Plectrums”. I became very close to Will making the newsletter. He sent me some signed numbered cards with Japanese celluloid ukulele picks for subscription prizes. He also provided articles for the newsletter, some being chapters that weren’t used in his book. One chapter was on signature artist picks. His theory was that there was no counterfeit celebrity picks. If someone wanted it, it was a good thing. He had some Stevie Ray Vaughan picks made up that he was going to put into each book, but hit a few snags. Instead, D’Andrea made him some tortoise celluloid 351s with the PICKS! Logo on them. His collection was starting to break down in the moist tropical weather in Hawaii, and he donated his collection to the National Music Museum in South Dakota. He told me that he was going to gift them to me and Joe Macey, but he couldn’t found our phone numbers. It took a researcher over a year to catalog his stuff, as he sent along his research documentation. A little known fact about Will’s book, is be made it the small size so it could fit into a guitar case.
HR – Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview – good luck on the hunt!
GD – I’m going to attach the very first “Pick Tips” pick poster that was also a contest, the person who identified the most picks got a free membership. The winner was Chris Gaylord, a true “Pick-Hound” who had some of the most amazing picks I’ve ever seen. Anyone can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Ebay, where my name is “picks4u2”.
Many thanks to Guy for the interview, and a huge thanks to Jeff White at Plectrum Spectrum for introducing me to him.