For bluegrass players, finding the right pick is crucial. Shape, thickness, material, bevel and tone all play a role in how a picker extracts the sound they seek from their instrument. In recent years, the introduction of new aerospace-grade materials and the demand for custom shapes has triggered an explosion in pick choices beyond the tried-and-true offerings from the big manufacturers.
In this competitive atmosphere, Apollo Picks (www.apollopicks.com), the brainchild of Nik Monnin, gets a lot of interest. Working in several materials including milk protein casein and tougher thermoplastic PEEK, Monnin offers a variety of shapes and thicknesses, all of which can be fine-tuned by the customer. The PEEK is a dull neutral color visually, while casein can be rendered in various colors, multiple shades of natural tortoiseshell, ivoroid, and more.
Monnin sent two Apollo Picks to Bluegrass Unlimited for review, one is a uniquely gorgeous “spiral” casein material Monnin sourced privately, as well as a PEEK example. I must admit to having something of a pick addiction, having collected gypsy jazz picks in various materials and thickness from around the world, in addition to natural shell picks, BlueChips, Wegens, and more. So I had plenty of options to compare the picks sent for review with others.
The spiral casein Apollo pick instantly became a favorite. Soundwise, the Apollo casein pick produced a warmer, richer sound than my standard BlueChip TAD-1R. Monnin’s artful work on the pick’s bevels deserves special mention. Meticulously fashioned in a rounded RH bevel, not a speed bevel, the pick slipped on and off the string quite easily. Tremolos were noticeably quick to execute on mandolin. The PEEK material featured similar craftsmanship. The PEEK tone wasn’t as warm as the casein, but to my ear it was a bit louder and brighter. That may deliver just the tone many players seek, especially for stage use and jamming.
Through his work, Monnin is gaining key endorsers and champions like Adam Schlenker, Massimo Gatti, and more. Mike Marshall is using a PEEK Apollo Pick in the shape and thickness of his beloved D’Andrea Pro-Plec plastic pick, and look for a major Apollo Picks endorsement from another widely-respected mandolin legend this summer.
Priced at $40 for his casein creations and $25 for the PEEK materials, these picks aren’t cheap. But Monnin does offer a 40-day return policy, so consider that insurance in case the pick you order isn’t exactly what you wanted. Durability is another issue. The PEEK material seems as resistant to stringwear as a BlueChip. The casein, however, will demand frequent polishing and buffing as one would do with a natural shell pick, and many modern players lack the materials or experience to really buff out a pick properly. But that’s what the internet is for, isn’t it?
Given the quality of the materials and how deftly Nik Monnin shapes and bevels each pick, Apollo Picks should be on your list to check out if you’re still looking for that perfect pick.