Jim Dunlop, Guitar Pick Icon, Dies
Jim Dunlop, Sr., founder of the Dunlop Manufacturing company, has died.
Dunlop Manufacturing is the world’s most famous producer of guitar picks and has been a presence in the music industry for more than 50 years. The long list of artists who use Dunlop picks includes ZZ Top, Alice in Chains, Tool and Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash.
Dunlop was born Glasgow, then relocated to Canada as an adult. A chance correspondence from a friend inspired his move to the U.S. “I got a postcard from a friend of mine,” the entrepreneur remembered. “It had a picture of a bikini-clad lady and said it was 90 degrees in Muscle Beach. It was 12 degrees below in Ottawa. I decided I’m getting the hell out of here.
"So we packed up. My wife was seven months pregnant at the time. To get across the border, you had to prove you had $1,600 in your bank account. I only had $600 in the bank at that time, so I went straight to the credit union and borrowed $1,000. Then I went to the American consulate general in Montreal, showed them the $1,600 in my account, and they stamped my papers and said, ‘You’re free to go.’ I went right back to the credit union and paid the $1,000 back in full, and we crossed the border with $600 and a final destination: San Francisco.”
Once in the Bay, Dunlop founded his company in 1965. He initially made a name for himself by creating a capo that could handle a 12-string guitar. The business started from his home but quickly outgrew the small confines. He eventually set up shop in a Benicia, Calif., industrial park.
Despite branching into guitar strings, effects pedals and a wide range of accessories, it was guitar picks that made Dunlop famous among musicians. “I really just wanted to make something that musicians would use,” he recalled about his foray into pick manufacturing. “I got a patent on a finger pick that was rounded at the cuticle, and I made that in six gauges.”
From there, he continued to experiment, creating picks out of various materials, in different shapes and thicknesses. “I read every issue of Guitar Player magazine and found the parts where guitarists said what pick they used," he recalled. "I took that information, which was mostly about the shape, and I put it all together.”
In a video for CBC music, Metallica's Kirk Hammett credits the Dunlop Jazz III pick for positively affecting his career: The pick "completely changed my guitar style," he noted. "Completely changed how I play. Completely changed how I pick. This little pick thing was the best thing to happen to my playing."
While there’s been no official confirmation of Dunlop's death, an employee who answered the phone at Dunlop Manufacturing confirmed the news.