The Real Pick of Destiny
Here is the story of the strangest acquisition in my gear collection.
(This shouldn’t be confused with the weirdest piece of gear I’ve ever owned. While there are many contenders for that title, the Gibson/Maestro Rhythm N Sound – a one man band box that I was able to play the most horrific / glorious Shaggs inspired bongo, bass and guitar travesty of the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” imaginable on – takes that title.)
Back when I was student at Berklee College of Music, I took a job at a music store in Cambridge called Sandy’s Music. Sandy’s is owned and operated by Sandy Sheehan, who is one of the greatest guys I have ever had the privilege of knowing, and I have a full book’s worth of wild, wonderful and strange stories from my various experiences working there.
Sandy’s had some new inventory, but its specialty was in funky used string instruments (and in particular acoustic and electric guitars). The store would get no name guitars in all the time and we’d set them up to make them playable and get them back out the door. The range of instruments that came in spanned from some truly special pieces (like a 1898 Martin O-17 parlor guitar) to some real … um … challenges. In the beat to crap strap of one of these, I found a pretty cool guitar pick.
Here’s the front:
And here’s the back:
I was experimenting with a number of heavier picks at the time and thought I would give this one a try. The first thing I noticed was that the pick’s edge really glided over the string but had a very crisp attack that helped a lot with clarity. The little ridges in the back acted as a grip and the pick didn’t slip out of my fingers at all.
There wasn’t a lot of clearance past my finger:
… but it didn’t affect the picking. In fact, the pick just worked really well. I also found the “Speed King” label to be amusing as I just assumed that the pick was supposed to designed to assist with fast playing.
It became my go-to pick. I just absolutely adored it and found myself using it over and over again. I started looking into the pick (and its availability) so I contacted Pickboy in New York directly and asked about ordering more of them. The person I talked to informed me that the pick was based on a Ritchie Blackmore pick (“Oh … THAT Speed King“). Mr. Blackmore had been making his own picks for years and then worked out a deal with Pickboy for a pick line. Once the initial run of picks was made, Blackmore apparently decided that he didn’t want them distributed and bought up the remaining inventory.
There are a series of articles on Blackmore’s picks on Pick Collecting Quarterly that painted a slightly different take on the pick’s origin but was quite clear on the scarcity of the item.
Here’s a quote from Part 3, “Finally there is an extremely rare version of the embedded metal plate nylon pick that is nearly impossible to find anymore. It is called the Speed King pick… Even though the Speed King picks are promotional, some collectors still consider them the holy grails of the nylon Blackmore picks.”
It’s bizarre to me that something so physically small can be the rarest piece of guitar related “gear” I own. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
You could create something similar by taking a fender style pick, a straightedge and a x-acto knife to cut the sides of the pick off (thus leaving a rectangular pick). It would be difficult to copy the feel and tone of the speed king, but you might find that the shape works for you.