For several months we have trying to pin down Nik Monnin, the man behind the new Apollo Picks, which have created quite a stir in the bluegrass and acoustic music world. But Nik is a busy guy, not only doing all the intense handworking of the various flat picks he offers for sale, but also designing new models for top professional players who have worked with him to develop signature picks at his shop in Ohio.
The Apollo Picks are made from casein, a phosphoprotein found in mammalian milk. It has a wide range of uses, from food additives to paint to industrial and medical applications, but since it has an organic base, has also been found to be an excellent substitute for natural shell picks. Not all of the casein materials available to the market are the same, and Nik believes that part of what sets the Apollo Picks apart from other synthetics is the large supply of vintage casein he has at his disposal.
“Casein just isn’t made like this today,” he tells us, “and I was able to acquire a large collection of some of that last remaining supply. As it happens, the factory that made this stuff went out of business sometime in the early ’70s, and it won’t ever be made again.”
Nik also makes picks from two other materials, PEI and PEEK. PEI, or polyetherimide, is a plastic material available in many grades. He believes that he and Wyatt Rice, with whom Nik has been collaborating for some time, have found a grade and type of PEI that offers many similarities to shell, in look, feel, and tonal response. A Wyatt Rice signature pick made of PEI is on the horizon from Apollo.
PEEK is a similar thermoplastic, poly etherether ketone, used in a great many engineering applications. It is also utilized in skull reconstruction following brain surgery.
Nik says that both have appropriate uses as picks.
“PEEK is very dense and wears really slowly. It sounds beautiful when polished up, and can tame some of the ‘high end’ on acoustic instruments. For example, John Reischman likes to use PEEK when he puts a new set of strings on his mandolin… then when the strings are broken in, he likes PEI.”
Monnin has only been at this the past two years, but already has more work than he can handle. There is no online store on his web site, and he requests that those interested in Apollo Picks simply join his mailing list. When he has sufficient supply to take new orders, people can be notified that way.
There are 11 distinct pick shapes available from Apollo, covering most of the familiar styles. For example, there are six rounded triangles, differing only in how much the edges are rounded, and five variations on the basic teardrop shape. Jazz players may prefer the smaller teardrop pick with a rounded top, while grassers choose one of the triangles.
All of these shapes can also be ordered with beveled edges to individual preference.
So ordering from Apollo Picks isn’t a simple point and click exercise. Monnin offers three materials, 11 pick shapes, and either left or right hand bevels. They are also available in a number of colors and patterns, primarily in the casein. PEI picks are solid black, and PEEK can be solid white or grey. They sell for $35 each, and delivery is dependent on how backed up the shop is at the time of your order.
Both Mike Marshall and Norman Blake are recent endorsers, each of whom has a signature shape and size pick with their name attached.
So visit their web site, learn a bit more about this high-quality boutique product, and get on the mailing list for production updates.