The majority of guitarists are primarily concerned about one particular aspect of their guitar playing quest; tone. Timber Tones Plectrums are made from 18 different exotic timbers from around the world, including Cocobolo, Bloodwood, Santos Rosewood and Bubinga, all providing subtle differences in tone.
Guitar Jar catches up with director Rob Wooller to ask him more about the Timber Tones product range, and what his thoughts on the materials used in plectrums and how they affect guitar tone.
…once people have spent money on a good quality Guitar, Amp, Cable, Strap etc the thought of buying a good quality plectrum seems logical…
- Hi Rob, before we get into the details of the Timber Tones range, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
I have been playing guitar for 6 years now and tried my hand at all types of guitar and styles of playing although I am a rock fiend at heart. Years ago, one of my school teachers played us Dark side of the Moon in a lesson and the Guitar bug has grown since that day.
- Can you tell our readers when you set up Timber Tones and what inspired you to start the business initially?
Timber Tones were officially released at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in 2010 although there was a year of product development leading up to that point. As with most guitarists, I have always enjoyed developing my sound by trying out new equipment and investing in good quality, so I was always surprised how few high quality plectrum options were available on the market.
I was aware that there were a couple of people manufacturing timber plectrums by hand, however they were very expensive and the playing tip was not very repeatable. As soon as I saw these, the idea for a precision machined plectrum manufactured from a wide range of timbers was very clear in my mind.
- Timber Tones are breaking into a market that is dominated by high-volume manufactured celluloid plectrums. How has Timber Tones plectrums been received by the guitar playing community thus far?
Well, we have been amazed by the response. I actually get 2 – 3 emails per week from gigging musicians offering to be endorsees for the product. We attend all of the large Guitar Shows and our greatest pleasure is watching a sceptical face turn to a smile when they sit down and can actually hear a warmer deeper tone come from their guitar.
I used to think that the price point of £3.00 was going to put off many people who are used to spending 50p but this hasn’t been true at all. I guess once people have spent money on a good quality Guitar, Amp, Cable, Strap etc the thought of buying a good quality plectrum seems logical… it is after all the same price as a Pint, or half a pack of cigarettes.
- In your opinion, how significant to a guitarists tone is the type of material that a plectrum is manufactured from?
As guitarists we have always known that the timber used to manufacture the guitar has a significant impact upon the tone, so it is logical to extend the use of these beautiful materials to the very item that you use to interact with your instrument. The most simple comparison that I can make is this: if you hit a nice piece of timber with a small hammer you can imagine that you will get a deep resonant sound, now imagine hitting that hammer against a piece of plastic!
Beyond tone however, there is a feel to wood, which is very pleasing. Many of our customers really enjoy the natural feel and grip afforded by timber.
- Timber Tones plectrums are manufactured from 18 different exotic timbers and cover a range of different hardness, providing subtle differences in tone. What influenced the choice of woods used your plectrum designs?
It was important to me that we covered every type of guitar and playing style, so I already knew that I needed a wide range of timbers. We tried wherever possible to use timbers usually associated with guitars, as their tonal characteristics were well proven.
The 18 timbers that were eventually chosen give many incremental steps in hardness and density, allowing a guitarist to fine tune their sound precisely. In addition to the tonal characteristics, the other issues that we had to consider were durability, grip, import legislation and a reliable and sustainable supply.
- The Timber Tones range is vast. Do you have any tips to help potential customers in obtaining a Timber Tones plectrum that suits their playing style / guitar model? For example, I play a bright sounding Stratocaster – can you recommend a Timber Tone plectrum that can warm up the tone somewhat?
I would like to claim that this is an exact science, however every guitar sounds different and everybody has their own sense of hearing and sound interpretation.
I would suggest that the first step is to think clearly about how your guitar sounds to you. I have had many people describe their guitar to me in great detail and as much as knowing the shape, make, model and materials help me to pin point the right plectrum for them, I always ask them the question, ‘How does your guitar sound to you compared with your ideal tone?’. In simplistic terms, the hard woods brighten the sound of a guitar and softer timbers mellow the sound.
Practically however, I find that the hardest timbers such as Ebony sound slightly too bright for acoustic guitar, although they are very popular with electric guitarists who want a clean crisp sound and good life for a harder playing style. At the other end of the spectrum our very softest timbers will give a beautiful warm sound on acoustic, but in order to get a good life from them we recommend them for Nylon strung guitars.
Recognising this issue, we have recently released a mixed pack of 4 timbers for electric guitar and another for acoustic guitar. As for your Strat, as it sounds bright to your ear I would recommend Bloodwood, which is the softest timber that we recommend for electric guitar.
- Timber Tones plectrums undergo rigorous quality inspection prior to retail. Is it possible to tell Guitar Jar readers what is involved with the inspections of your plectrums?
Quality is our top priority and it starts right at the beginning with material choice. Our manufacturing facility has literally hundreds of tonnes of timber which are the wedges left behind when cutting a rectangular slab for Guitar Manufacturing. The pieces that we use are hand picked paying attention to structural integrity and pattern. These wedges are then planed into slabs that can be fed into our automated router having again been inspected to ensure that there are no visible faults in the material.
Once cut to shape the picks are positioned in a vacuum jig while a CNC mill machines the chamfer on one side, these are turned over and the process repeated. Both of these hand operations give us the opportunity to check the plectrums. Having been machined each pick is hand polished to remove machining marks and to ensure a smooth surface before being tumbled in the reduced paraffin wax. The picks are then packed to be shipped. At this point we utilise an independent inspection company who do a sample inspection in line with British Standards Quality procedures. The inspector checks to see that the plectrums are within dimensional tolerances as well as checking for issues such as nicks, scratches and dents.
When the picks arrive with me I carry out a 100% inspection as I polish them with Tung Oil, this is very time consuming but as a ‘High end’ luxury item this is the level of attention to detail that I feel is required. Just in case any rogue plectrums do make it to the shops we offer a 100% guarantee on all of our products.
…as it sounds bright to your ear I would recommend Bloodwood, which is the softest timber that we recommend for electric guitar…
- Do you offer endorsement opportunities to players who wish to purchase a high volume of specific Timer Tones plectrums?
We are currently writing an endorsee strategy and have many ideas about how this could create mutual benefit, watch this space for details coming soon.
- Are there any famous guitarists who currently use Timber Tones plectrums on a regular basis?
Well I can tell you who own some Timber Tones Plectrums although I can only speculate as to how often they get used. Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Lee Ritenaour, Michael Hampton (Funkadelic), Lisa Loeb and The Late Great Gary Moore to name but a few. In addition we have a huge following of session guitarists and full time gigging musicians.
- Where can guitarists purchase your products?
Many Guitar Shops in the UK have them on the counter, however if you want to pin point your nearest shop or get a list of On line retailers go to www.wildchilddistribution.com where you will find a list of UK outlets.
- It’s been economically tough over the past couple of years. How do you remain motivated?
It is difficult out there at the moment and we are still working 7 days a week and waiting for that first wage packet as with any new business. I spend 4 days a week on the road and visit 8 guitar shops a day and I love every minute of it. Our customers are really happy with the product and they seem to be selling very well.
In addition we have picked up distribution into many countries and will be making announcements about several other countries in the coming weeks. The music industry is a great place to work and I have made some good friends in the last year. Enjoying what I do on a daily basis keeps me going.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
I have a 1969 Gibson ES150DW that I bought a few years ago. It was battered, had a neck break, the truss rod was glued by the neck fix, the bridge rattled and it had few original components. I spent a lot of time and money getting it back into shape and now it’ll be with me for the rest of my life.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
I think it would be impossible to choose just one, I would go for Michael Shrieve for being so talented at such a young age, Mitch Mitchell because the drumming on Electric Ladyland always amazes me, but probably I’d settle for Keith Moon as the post-gig pub sessions would be the most memorable.
- Lager or Cider?
I normally drink Guinness but I am on the road covering the west country and south of England at the moment, so I’ve switched to Cider… out of respect.
- What’s the plan for Timber Tones for the next 12 months?
The main priority is to break America. We recently attended the Winter NAMM show where we helped to sign up 55 American retailers on behalf of our American distributer. Through the distribution company we have 10 sales reps selling our products in the USA and we have a target to get into 2000 shops in the next 24 months so very busy times ahead. We are also exhibiting at the Frankfurt Musikmesse in April, Guitar Nation in May and Summer NAMM in July.
We are also at sample stage with some really exciting new products!!!
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