By Tayhlor Stephenson, Studio M staff //
In a small shop tucked inside the White House, Tennessee, home of Dustin Michael Headrick, the 40-year-old Nashville native handcrafts one-of-a-kind guitar picks, which he advertises as both Nashville Picks and Master Artisan Guitar Picks.
“Having been raised up in the music industry and everything, I had known that old silver coin guitar picks were a thing that have been around since the late 1800s, so I started researching a little bit and found that there was an old folk art called ‘pick-smithing,’” Headrick says.
Twelve years ago, Headrick — alongside his wife, Stephanie — embarked on the journey of pick-smithing, which is a process that can take up to two weeks for a batch of 100. His picks have since become a nationwide novelty.
First, Headrick trims the material — antique metal, coins, wood, bone, horn and shell — and shapes it. He then delicately bevels the edges, an important step that enables the instrument’s strings to gently glide past the pick. But he’s not done until he polishes each treasure.
“He’s the only guy that does what he does that I know of,” says 61-year-old songwriter Chuck Jones. Jones first stumbled upon Nashville Picks at Centennial’s Tennessee Craft Fair five or so years ago. Since then, the eminent songwriter, who is known for his ‘90s cuts on the albums of Reba McEntire, Charlie Daniels, Rascal Flatts and more, has remained a loyal customer.
Headrick launched his music business in the early 2000s primarily online on sites like eBay, with hopes to reach the music industry just like his grandfather, Ed Hamilton.
Back in the ‘40s when outlaw country was the reigning genre, Hamilton was known as the DJ for “Louisiana Hayride,” a radio-turned-television country music show that featured artists like Elvis Presley and Hank Williams. A decade later, Hamilton moved to Nashville, where he worked for Monument Records, broadcasted for 650 AM WSM and voiced the Nashville Speedway.
“He was one of the primary catalysts for me getting into music,” Headrick says.
But he wasn’t the only inspiration Headrick drew from: Both his father and stepfather were career instrumentalists who played guitar for artists like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.
These are the people who prompted Headrick’s unique pick-smithing.
Refusing to settle for the ordinary oil-based plastic picks, Headrick started making picks “basically from anything I can put my hands on.”
“Oil-based plastic picks are not only cheap and disposable, they have a very dead, harmonic sound to them, which is why so many professional players find another type of pick to play with to set the sound apart from the pack,” Headrick says.
People in the industry flocked to Nashville Picks and their distinguished sound, which led to Headrick’s next business move: pursue the sales of these picks.
“I found out about (Headrick) and then I found out that we were friends and I was like, ‘Wait my friend is doing guitar picks?’ So then he came to visit me and I picked out the ones I wanted,” says Rob Wey, 60, owner of Nashville boutique Smack Clothing and Nashville Picks retailer.
In addition to an impressive list of retailers, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, Carter Vintage Guitars and UncommonGoods, Headrick travels all over the country to music festivals and art shows to sell the picks himself.
Headrick’s picks aren’t only known for their rich sound; they’re equally appreciated for their allure.
“I wear them and I use them while I’m playing both,” Jones says while sporting a Nashville Pick around his neck.
Jones isn’t the only customer to admire the picks for their beauty. Wey, too, converts them into trendy pieces.
“I turn them into jewelry then I actually kind of hoard them because they’re so beautiful,” Wey says. “I hate letting them go.”
Headrick hopes his guitar pick creations become a legacy.
“What I would like is for 100 years from now somebody to say, ‘Son, come here, I want to show you something. This guitar pick is a Nashville pick, and I want you to hold onto this and play with this and then give it to your son one of these days,” Headrick says.
And according to longtime friend Wey, he’s already accomplished that.
“His stuff, I think, is timeless.”
Tayhlor Stephenson is a senior majoring in journalism at Middle Tennessee State University.
Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
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