Roys Own Fingerpicks came about back in the mid 80s when I first got to know Little Roy Lewis. I had been in and around the business since the mid 60s but never had a reason to get to know Little Roy. A mutual friend Clarence Hall kept saying that "you guys need to get together." Finally at the Stuart, Va. festival, Roy came up and Hey, why dont I know you? The only thing I could figure was we traveled different circles. I had only seen a couple of Lewis Family Shows at that point. That started a long and lasting friendship. Within a couple of years, I accepted a job with the Gibson Guitar Corporation as a consultant, which led to Product Manager/ Artist/ Public Relations positions.
After I started full time with Gibson in 1988, it seems that our circles were the same and Roy became one of our first half dozen artist to use the new Granada (I was also able to get the band another banjo for Lewis, a mandolin and a guitar). It was always great being around the family because they were just wonderful folks. I even took a few trips with them. Mom and Pop Lewis, as well as the rest of the family, were great hosts and very accommodating.
At that point in time, there were two main fingerpicks widely available, National and Dunlop. I had seen Ernie Ball and Grover but they were not widely available. Roy was very unsatisfied with the National of day; the last of the nickel silver picks of the 70s were made with pretty worn dies and would have sharp burrs on them and the very last of those had some pretty bad stamped blades on them. Somewhere I have a box of those with misshapen blades. The new configuration of Nationals of that time were made of something that was too hard for most folks who were used to the older nickel silver composition. The Dunlops, while comfortable, were larger and for many somewhat awkward to get used to.
Roy kept after me for what seemed like ages to make some picks. I didnt know anything about making picks, but he persisted. About that time, Tom McKinney was searching for a machine shop that could machine stainless steel for his capos and I found Smiths Machine Shop where my dad worked part-time, and they worked out a deal. The owner of the shop, LaRay Smith offered to pay me a commission for the deal, but I ask him about a die to do some picks. We worked out an agreement and voila, I had a boot that was capable of stamping picks. Now, I had to get a bottlejack press (still used today) to punch the picks, one at a time.
Now the next problem was where in the world do I get nickel silver? I called several folks and finally Dick Boak of Martin Guitars put me on to Eagle Brass Company. The metal we use is 762 Nickel Silver which is 59% copper, 29% zinc, and 12% nickel.
Now I had no reason to not make picks...right? Wrong. How do I shape these things? I had met a gentleman in Tucson, Arizona that could make anything with pliers. He had a setup at the Palo Verde Flea Market and I had picked up his card on one of my trips out west. I called him up and told him what I wanted and sent him some blanks and some shaped picks and said fix me some pliers that will turn one into the other. In a few weeks, here came two sets of pliers that did the job.
I punched the first hundred pounds or so then Lynwood Lunsford was working for the Lost and Found and wanted some extra spending money so we took the press over to his place. From there it came back to me and then the last move was to Jamie Holt who does the punching now.
I had these waffled shaped pieces of metal, and I needed to flatten them completely before I could began to deburr the blanks and start shaping them. The first few hundred sets were literally put between two flat pieces of polished steel and rapped with a hammer. I was speaking with Jim Burlile one night while I was rapping these things and he said Heck Doug, let me make you a roller. The next thing I knew I got this large plywood container from Jim in California, and he had indeed built me a roller that I could use to roll the picks flat.
The first several hundred also had Roys Own engraved on them along with serial numbers starting at 00001. I would do two 00001s then two 00002s and so on. Finally I got in touch with a company in Los Vegas that made the stamps, and for the next while I hammered the name until I found a break rivet press for sale at a local auction.
My father Aubrey Hutchens now handles the picks from the time we receive them from the press, he deburrs, stamps the name, shapes the blade, rounds the band then puts them into a tumbler with stainless steel shot for 16 to 18 hours. My mother, Lillian Hutchens handles the picks from there- cleaning them, packaging them and shipping them, so its pretty much of a family operation.