The Rock Hard Pick Shredders Dream About
Scientist and entrepreneur Jerry Mearini was all set to go to Berklee College to pursue one of his passions, music, before he changed his mind to pursue another, physics, at Ohio State University and later Case Western Reserve University. Years later, he founded Genvac AeroSpace Inc. and Teraphysics, tech companies that produce products for the military. All the while Mearini kept his passion alive playing guitar in a band. But when he became frustrated with so many of his plastic picks breaking Mearini was compelled to create the Rock Hard Pick, a scientifically designed guitar pick that’s virtually indestructible. We recently caught up with him at his office where he has an old 1959 TV that still “works like a charm” when he wants to loop hours of old sci-fi movies on it.
Tell me where you grew up.
I grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. I wanted to get out. I was going to go to Berklee School of Music in Boston. I got in and auditioned and paid the dorm fees. The day before I was supposed to leave, I thought about how I was going to play guitar for the rest of my life. Then I thought about how I should go to college to do something that could help me make a living. At that last second, I realized I needed to study physics and I needed to get a PhD.
What got you interested in music in the first place?
I started playing guitar when I was in ninth grade. It was the summer of 1977. Foreigner’s first album came out and Boston’s first album came out. Somehow, that changed my whole life. I was in eighth grade at that time. The next year, I got my guitar. I have my SG in the office. I used to have my amp but I’m in a band and my amp stays where I practice. There was something about the guitar that was calling me. I taught myself to play. I took lessons with Tom Gwilt. He was a classical guitarist who taught at Bowling Green and Akron. I was a self-taught flashy shredder type. I needed to learn some theory. He gave me an intensive course over that summer. He taught me to sight read and I learned some jazz improvisational techniques. I taught him rock stuff. A few years later, I came back from school and he was at a bar with his bass slung down to his knees. I thought I created a monster. He looked like Jesus Christ. He had a beard and long hair.
As a self-taught musician, you were really good.
I took a scientific approach to music. I was knowledgeable about the theory behind the make-up of chords. Tom made me recite the circle of fifths. I could rattle them off. It had some scientific basis to it. I need more stylistic training in those days. To this day, I have less style than I should. I just like to play really fast and that’s why this thing with metal picks makes sense.
Did that idea come to you then?
No. When I started college, I put my guitar down. At the end of grad school, I had two guitars in my office at Case. I made my first guitar picks out of a quarter toward the end of graduate school. I had access to a machine shop. That was a disaster. A few years ago, I went in the back room here and made two stainless steel picks and stamped my initials into them. I loved them but they were breaking strings. Six months ago [my company] started to think about coating metal. The tool industry buys diamond-like carbon for lots of applications. We put it onto lenses that are mounted on the outside of military aircraft that go supersonic speeds. They never scratch. I was thinking about that and these guitar picks. I thought it would prevent them from breaking the guitar strings. It was a great learning tool. We sandblast the edge so it feels like a nylon pick. It’s the best guitar pick in the world. I’ve been sending them out for six months to guitarists. They’re laser-diced in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and then they tumble them in gravel at Universal Grinding. The edge is nicely rounded and it feels like a regular pick. It has a cool metal-on-metal sound.
Have any famous guitarists starting using the picks?
It’s so new. The one person I would love to get to evaluate is Brian May. He’s a physicist. He would make guitar picks out of coins. He used a British five pence coin. There’s a man who understands the value of a hard, metal pick. I don’t know how to get ahold of Brian May. A friend of mine has a friend who grew up with Dave Grohl but I haven’t tried to contact Dave Grohl yet. I’ve given a couple to Neil Zaza and he likes them. You can get them online for 20 or you can go out to the local music business and buy them for 15 and find cooler styles in the stores. Neil says he loses four or five a night. He’s a great shredder.
Do you see it as a hobby?
It started as a side project hobby but as I look at the improvement of the metal I want to turn it into a real business. Not just guitar picks; the real advantage is on the rest of the guitar. A guitar will benefit from a reduction in friction. I intend to coat everything, even the fret. I have an old 1985 Explorer. I made a pick guard out of aluminum and coated it. It’s beautiful. You can eliminate scratching and you can eliminate the guitar going out of tune. Anything that wears due to movement, you could substantially improve. The business here is the Rock Hard-ization of musical instruments. For now, everyone around here thinks I’m crazy but I’m still pushing it forward.