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Vendor Spotlight: Howling Monkey Guitar Picks

Vendor Spotlight: Howling Monkey Guitar Picks

Words and photos by Olivia Bauso

Material makes a difference when it comes to guitar picks, just like getting to know a business can make a difference when it comes to purchasing products.

Brian Staebell is a brand new Dad (congratulations!), longtime Guitar Player, career Marketer and founder/owner of Howling Monkey Hand Made Guitar Picks. Established in 2013, Howling Monkey manufactures handmade guitar picks made from tagua, a “vegetable ivory” imported from South America.

About the size of a plum, the tagua nut is a tropical tree fruit making its way back into the hearts of consumers. Fair Trade gift shop, Ten Thousand Villages explains that in the early 20th century, tagua was introduced to makers as an alternative to using elephant tusks for ivory buttons. However, tagua was quickly replaced in most products by more cost-effective plastics, until recently. Due to increasing environmental concerns, designers -- particularly jewelry makers -- are thankfully putting tagua to work once again, due to its biodegradability. 

Tagua fell into Brian’s lap while he was working at a local music store. A customer was able to source the material from a business in Batavia that sells products made in third world countries and sells them here in America (and sends proceeds back to the villages). Just a few months before this, Brian’s master-woodworker father passed away, leaving Brian with his tools. Though Brian had only ever designed and created products digitally, something drew him to experiment with the material. Brian explains, “Sometimes things just happen for a reason — it’s always been strange to me. Somehow when my father passed away, it just came to me.” It was as if he was there for him, helping him do it. 

Brian worked and experimented with the tagua in his father’s shop. He says, “I was home, lonely and had all of his tools around me, so I just started making guitar picks. It was very therapeutic.” Brian spent hours designing, making and testing out his creations, beginning first with a design on the computer and then translating that to the material. Lucky for him, he had easy access to test groups -- at the music store-- allowing him to receive ample feedback while developing the product. When he first began, it took Brian about 20 minutes to complete each handmade pick, which he’s now cut down to 3 or 4 minutes.

As a marketing student back when animals were selling everything in commercials, Brian noticed that monkeys could really sell anything. “I never imagined I would have a business named after them some day, but that’s always stuck in the back of my mind,” he laughs. The name Howling Monkey really comes from the Howler Monkey, which is found in South America along with the aforementioned tagua. Brian adds: “And monkeys just go well with guitar players, from a musician’s standpoint. It all just made sense with what I was going for.” The logo was then developed by local caricature/comic book artist Rob Dumo, a friend of Brian’s.

Howling Monkey got a jump start on sales once they were mentioned in some well-known guitar publications. Guitar Player says about Howling Monkey picks: “This is a go-to pick for killer riffs and sparkling chords.” Guitar World also had some kind words to add about Brian’s work. A review said, “They feel unusually comfortable in my hand, and they even make my official "office guitar" a bit more fun to play than usual. The extra thickness of the pick wasn't a problem; in fact, I found I was able to use the sides, or body, of the pick as an extra tool to alter my tone while playing.” Brian is thankful for the good press he received right out of the gate, “Out of nowhere, the biggest guitar magazines noticed me and it really helped me gain credibility amongst musicians. Now I’m trying to continuously get myself out there locally.”

Browse and purchase Howling Monkey Guitar Picks online or at our Brainery Bazaar in November or December! Brian will also be selling his custom picks and doing live engravings on site at the Rochester Maker Faire on November 18th.

Catch Howling Monkey and other local vendors at our monthly Brainery Bazaar, held every second Saturday right here at Rochester Brainery. Each month the first 25 attendees will receive a free Rochester Brainery tote bag stuffed with surprises from the vendors themselves! 

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