Red Bear Trading Classic II

ON THE WAY TO SUMMER NAMM, I BUMPED into my friend Doug at LAX, who showed me these faux tortoise-shell picks made from some bizarre dairy byproduct. They looked real pretty, but I couldn’t understand why Doug was so jazzed about them—especially after he revealed they cost 20 bucks each.

A week later, I tried the Red Bear Trading Company Classic II MSB (Medium with optional Speed Bevel) Doug had given me, and—this ain’t no fairy tale—the pick changed my tone the microsecond it touched the string, producing a warm, round snap that subtly emulated the sound of a guitar running through a tube preamp. By comparison, my custom Poly Carbonate Pick Guy and Everly Delrex Star (both 1mm) picks delivered sharper attacks with more sting. I dig that sound, as well, but the Classic II’s tone is like going from widescreen to IMAX. The level of sonic enhancement I got from simply changing my pick was kind of spooky—but in a good way. And while I’m not adept enough at sweep picking to exploit the Classic II’s Speed Bevel, the pick’s girder-like rigidity causes its edge to practically leap off a string with each pluck, helping me pick faster and with better articulation.

The Red Bear line is a bona fide labor of love by picker Dave Skowron and his wife Monica, who can make 50 picks during a 16-hour day—if they take a very short lunch break. The faux turtle shell is so difficult to work with that Skowron had to design much of the machinery he uses to manufacture the picks.

“It comes in 16" x 20" sheets that are 1/4" thick and warped like a potato chip,” he says. “I had to make special vacuum pumps, a heated brass press, and a buffer to flatten and work the material. Then, we put about 30 to 60 minutes of handwork into sanding and buffing each pick.”

The downside to these beauties is they require more care than picks typically get. Bend a Red Bear, and it’ll break. Leave it in your pocket when you do the wash, and it will absorb water and warp. Scratches and dings will bring on an early demise unless you buff them out (Red Bear sells a care kit for $3.75, or any drugstore fingernail buffer will work). However, if you’re looking for a rounder pop to your notes, any one of the seven Red Bear styles (plus thumbpicks and custom jobs) will be more than worth the extra trouble. And, heck, as I’ll happily waste $20 on a witless summer blockbuster, I think it’s far smarter to lay down the same tariff to improve my tone and technique.
KUDOS Remarkable tone. Speed Bevel for sweep pickers. Grip holes.
CONCERNS Fragile. Costly.
CONTACT Red Bear Trading Co., (775) 293-1732;