By Damian Fanelli
A few months back, a pack of Howling Monkey guitar picks arrived at the office.
I wound up with two of them (one of which happened to have my name engraved on it, sorta making it mine by default), and Brad Tolinski got a nice red one.
Howling Monkey picks are unique because they are handmade in Batavia, New York (Wait, there's more!), out of a nut found in South America called the tagua nut, also known as "vegetable ivory."
As the company's literature says:
"Tagua nut has many of the same attributes as animal ivory. Because of their ivory-like nature, tagua nuts wear down very slowly and produce a clear, vibrant and warm tone, illuminating the sound of the instrument, not the pick. Our proprietary designed grooves are cut into the pick on the front, and 'Howling Monkey' is laser-engraved in the back to provide extra grip. The pick's edges are beveled to give extra attack.
"A unique attribute of tagua nut picks is that the heat in your fingers reacts with the pick and makes it curl to the shape of your finger for more control and comfort. The pick returns to its original shape once it cools down."
It takes Howling Monkey about 20 minutes to make each pick, and the company takes custom orders: "If you'd like a specific dimension or thickness, we can make them to almost any spec as well as customizations with names or logos of any kind. Each pick is original because the grain structure is different in each one."
I must say I really like my Howling Monkey picks. They feel unusually comfortable in my hand, and they even make my official "office guitar" a bit more fun to play than usual. The extra thickness of the pick (Remember, this isn't regular plastic) wasn't a problem; in fact, I found I was able to use the sides or body of the pick as an extra weapon to alter my tone while playing.
Basically, when I first tried them, it felt like I went from a Honda to a Porsche — or a very nice Volvo. They felt like "custom" picks, aka "expensive" picks.
Which brings me to the price: These high-end picks start off with a base price of $9.99. I liken it to buying some very nice Ray Ban sunglasses. They do the job remarkably well (As in, you get what you pay for), and they last for a very, very long time — as long as you don't leave them on the roof of your car before going for a drive (like I did last month — goodbye, Ray Bans!). In other words, if you can keep tabs on your tagua nut picks, you'll be happy for a while.
For more information on Howling Monkey guitar picks (There's actually a wealth of information at the company's site), visit howlingmonkeypicks.com.
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar Aficionado.