DIY Vespel Picks
Making my perfect pick from the same material used to make Blue Chip picks
When I set on a quest to find the best Jazz-style picks for acoustic and electric guitars, one of the first “boutique” picks that came up were Blue Chips. The only problem with them was the price – 50 bucks for a 2mm thick Jazz III clone was a bit more than I was ready to pay for a pick. And soon after I realized why they are so expensive, the stuff they are made from (Vespel Polyimide) costs an arm and a leg. I was quoted over a $100 for a single 10x10cm sheet! Apparently, it’s an advanced polymer used for mechanical parts that demand friction resistance, as well as heat and chemical resistance and whatnot. Picks made out of it should last for years! So I looked around and found a grab bag of plastic samples on eBay that contained three small Vespel scraps from rods of various diameters, together with 10 different types of plastics. All that for 20 bucks. Three of those scrap pieces turned out to be large enough for guitar picks and were enough to provide at least 7-8 blank discs, so I got a good deal.
Blue Pick Jazz picks
Vespel comes in many different flavors. SP-1 is unfilled, “vanilla” Vespel. Other variations are filled with graphite, Teflon on other materials to make it more suitable for certain applications. SP-21 and SP-22 contain 15%/40% graphite for improved wear resistance which sounds appealing for guitar pick use, but after comparing the color of Blue Chip picks with colors of different Vespel variations it seems they match the color of SP-1 perfectly. Apart from SCP-5000, all other types of Vespel I saw are noticeably darker in color, so I think it’s safe to assume that Blue Chip picks are made of SP-1 only. Although their patent #US20090249938 is not limited to SP-1, but also covers the use of all other variations. They probably did so to cover the most ground and ensure nobody else uses Vespel of any kind for guitar picks. Cunning 🙂
Few different Vespel rods
With these Vespel rods, the trickiest part of the process is cutting the discs out of the rod. You want the cut to be as thin and as precise as possible, or you’re making some very expensive dust 🙂 . It’s probably easier if you have a band saw, especially if you take a square piece of wood, drill a hole of the same diameter as the rod, stick it in and then cut the wood together with the rod. That way at least you have flat surfaces to work with instead of the rod. We, however, don’t have a band saw, so it’s down to the good old hand saw.
After the disks are cut, the next step is fine sanding them to thickness, followed by cutting the pick to shape with a fret saw. I really like Gravity Sunrise pick, so we used it as an inspiration. The final step is sanding the edges and creating the bevel by hand using very fine sandpaper (#1000 grade).
To help with the grip and the looks, I took them to be laser engraved, each with its own design. Then filled the engraved area with golden nail polish to make the design stand out. I roughly covered both sides with nail polish and after it set (5-10mins to be safe), I scraped away the excess with a sharp blade. Everything that was engraved stayed golden because it was deeper. Finally, I polished both sides with 2500 grit sandpaper.
What I like the most about the pick is how it feels in the hand, it’s very comfortable to hold and feels like there’s nothing there. It glides across strings effortlessly and produces balanced, slightly warmer sound. Compared to Gravity Sunrise, which is a slightly bright pick, Vespel is a bit less bright, but still clear. It’s firm, but does flex a tiny bit with picks 1mm or thinner. All in all, I’m very happy with results. The closest shape that Blue Chip makes is standard Jazz III, so other than saving money, I got the pick shapes and designs that I really like.
There’s a potential issue with the grip, however. When your hands are dry, vespel grips OK, but it gets very slippery in sweaty hands.