One of the most diverse builders that I’ve come across in my Pickemon search has been one based out of Hong Kong, and one of the most chatty when it comes to my incessant online badgering. That builder is Brock Little of BHL Guitar Technologies, who makes items like the Hodor, Exultem and the Megalodon that currently graces the top of the HR! Facebook page. Despite a mad schedule and thousands of miles, I had a talk with Mr. Little about materials, moving and the magnificent joy of plectrum creation. Read on!
HR – Thanks for talking to HR! For those who might be unaware, how would you describe BHL Guitar Technologies?
BHL – First and foremost, I consider myself a tool maker for musicians. I produce guitar picks, with a focus on ergonomics and performance. I take a great deal of pride in my products, and go to great lengths to ensure that everything that leaves my shop is finished to the same high standard.
HR – You’ve been making picks for some time – what were you doing before you became a plectrier?
BHL – It feels like I’ve done a bit of everything, from commission sales to heavy industry technician. I’ve sold mobile phones, computers, cars and real estate. I’ve worked in machine shops and an aluminium smelter. Whilst all that has been going on, I’ve spent a couple of decades as a guitar technician and repairer, mostly on the side.
HR – I understand you’re from Australia originally – what precipitated the move to Hong Kong?
BHL – Mrs Little said “We’re moving to Hong Kong. I said “Ok.”
HR – You’ve made plectrums from all sorts of materials, from Ultem to UHMWPE. What materials are the most enjoyable to work with?
BHL – All materials have their own particular charm. Ultem is great for its consistency and ease of polishing. UHMWPE machines like butter. Horn and bone are very compliant, and shape beautifully (they’d be my absolute favourites, if it weren’t for the smell!). As for the final appearance, I’d have to say that jade and other stones I’ve worked have made for the most satisfying finished products.
HR – It’s common in the boutique plectrum game to operate at higher thicknesses, but you’re not afraid of going a bit thinner for models like the Wizard – what’s your personal preference in this regard?
BHL – I spent years making my own picks, trying every idea that came to mind, and found that pretty much everything has its place. I don’t really have a personal preference, considering I mostly play finger style, these days. I rather like that there’s something for everyone, and I try to make sure that the options are there, for people to see what connects with them.
HR – Given the spread of the shapes, beveling and finishing you use, can you give the readers some insight into your build process?
BHL – Most picks start out as machined blanks from my CNC machine. They’re then shaped by hand, to remove machining lines, and clean up the overall shape. As you said, there is a great spread of shapes, bevel styles and finishes, so some parts of the picks, like the tips, have to be machined by hand. I use high speed rotary tools for rough shaping, then move on to hand sanding, for final shaping and finishing. Depending on the model, I’ll then polish the tips, and texture finish the grip surfaces. It’s a lot of work, but I like to think that the end user will spend many more hours with them than I will, and I want them to get the most enjoyment out of them, from the moment they open their package, to the music they make with them.
HR – What’s been the most rewarding moment in BHL’s history?
BHL – Every time someone gives feedback on something I’ve created for them. There’s nothing better than having someone tell you that you’ve changed the way they play for the better.
HR – You’ve made some pretty barmy thick stuff, are there any outrageous custom orders that have come about?
BHL – I’ve done one at roughly 25mm thick, and quite a number at 13-15mm, but they don’t seem quite as outrageous as they once did. Something this size would only be available as a custom order; Whether someone is buying it for the benefits of having something that size, or they’re simply after something personal and unique, I’m not here to judge.
HR – Do you think there’s a growing trend towards players favouring smaller builders? If so, why do you think this might be?
BHL – The fact that smaller builders are the ones trying new things is a great attraction, but I think that people are also looking for a connection with builders, making it much more personal. Smaller builders are in a much better position to respond to feedback quickly, and bring new ideas to fruition.
HR – What’s it been like being a plectrier in 2019? What is it like being in the pick-making community?
BHL – It’s an interesting time, to say the least. More and more people are looking for something to give their playing an edge, and the number of people looking for that “something unique” is on the rise. The community of pick makers, that I’m in touch with, is great! Some of us chat quite a bit, and share tips on trends and manufacturing. Due to my unique location, I’m also able to supply quite a number of other pick makers with high grade materials. It’s very handy, being able to arrange group orders for materials that are normally sold in quantities far too big for any small shop making picks!
HR – Who’s playing BHL?
BHL – I have a great following amongst rock/metal/prog players, and also a great number of jazz players. It’s a good split between adventurous young people, looking for something fresh, and the more mature players, wanting something more sophisticated.
HR – What’s next for the company? Have you got anything in the pipeline for this year?
BHL – I’m always working on developing new ideas and products, along with improving existing designs. This year, I’ve already introduced two new models, the Spartan and the Shovelhead. I’ve also made some major changes to the line of Exultem flat picks. It’s always a pretty safe bet to say that there are changes on the way, with me!
HR – Many thanks for the interview – all the best indeed!
BHL – Cheers, mate! I can’t wait to see what you get up to with Heavy Repping! 😉