By Morgan Simmons
Published Friday, November 27, 2009
Toss a BlueChip pick into a fire, and it won't melt.
Step on it, and it won't break.
Put one in your hand, and you have what a growing number of professional bluegrass musicians say is the best sounding, best playing pick on the market.
At $35 apiece, they better be.
Matthew Goins and his four-man crew run the BlueChip Picks company out of a small machine shop on the outskirts of Knox County. When not making picks for guitar and mandolin players, they manufacture special parts for semiconductors.
And it is that work that makes Goins keep the material used for the picks a secret.
"We're just five old country boys who stumbled onto something good," Goins said.
The first BlueChip pick was made four years ago after one of Goins' machinists who plays guitar decided he needed a pick that would outlast tortoise shell, the Holy Grail of pick material that can no longer be purchased legally because it comes from an endangered sea turtle.
Working with a piece of high-tech material, they fashioned a guitar pick that delivered clear, rich tone. Because the material was self-lubricating, the pick slid smoothly off the strings, yet it was easy to grip, even with sweaty hands.
There was no doubt that the pick had potential. What Goins couldn't figure out was how to make the picks remotely affordable given that each 10-inch-square, half-inch-thick piece of the material they were made from cost $4,800.
"The material was so expensive, I could have easily said 'I don't waste it on picks' and walked away," Goins said. "I'm mighty glad I didn't."
After months of brainstorming, Goins finally developed a manufacturing system that enabled him to sell his picks for $35 apiece.
People bragged on the picks' tone, grip, and speed, but for the most part, they remained a secret shared among a few pickers around Knoxville. The turnaround came at the 2007 Fall Homecoming at the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, when Goins gave a few picks to Danny Roberts, mandolin player for the nationally recognized bluegrass band, The Grascals.
The following week, Roberts called Goins, and they talked picks for almost two hours.
"I asked Danny if he thought this was something worth pursuing," Goins said. "He said, 'I've searched for the perfect pick my whole life. As far as I'm concerned, the search is over.' I was blown away."
Rather than sink a lot of money into advertising, Goins travels to Nashville and lets his picks do the talking. Renowned mandolin player Chris Thile is a recent convert to BlueChip picks, as is Dan Tyminski, Rhonda Vincent and The Steep Canyon Rangers, to name a few.