Back in 2003, the Wall Street Journal
ran a feature story about all the retro-looking electronics housed in his office. Some of the stuff is makeshift – the reproduction of a 1950s Grundig radio has a fruit basket on its top to make it look like an antenna. But Mearini, who has high hopes for his new company Rock Hard Guitar Picks
, is all about looking to the future. He’s been selling his metal guitar picks online and in local guitar shops. And he thinks the unique product is revolutionary.
Mearini, who grew up in Ashtabula, started playing guitar when he was in ninth grade. The summer of 1977 proved to be particularly inspirational.
“Foreigner’s first album came out and Boston’s first album came out. Somehow, that changed my whole life,” he says one afternoon from his office. “The next year, I got my guitar. I still 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.”
He taught himself to play and took lessons with Tom Gwilt, a local instructor who was a classical guitarist who taught at Bowling Green and Akron.
“I was a self-taught flashy shredder type,” he says. “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 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 needed more stylistic training in those days. To this day, I have less style than I should.”
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.
“I got in and auditioned and paid the dorm fees [to attend Berklee],” he says one afternoon from his office. “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.”
Years later, he founded Genvac AeroSpace Inc. and Teraphysics, tech companies that produce products for the military. Mearini kept his passion alive playing guitar in a band. But when he became frustrated with so many of his plastic picks breaking, he created the Rock Hard Pick, a scientifically designed guitar pick that’s virtually indestructible.
“I made my first guitar picks out of a quarter toward the end of graduate school,” he says. “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, his company started to coat metal. Mearini thought steel guitar picks could be sandblasted and coated to feel like nylon picks. It worked. He swears by the product.
“It’s the best guitar pick in the world,” he says. “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. I just like to play really fast and that’s why this thing with metal picks makes sense. The one person I would love to get to evaluate it is [Queen's] 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.”
Mearini says local shredder Neil Zaza is a fan of the picks. He also says business has slowly started to pick up.
“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,” he says. “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.”
Scientist and entrepreneur Jerry Mearini works out of an office that looks like something from another time. An old 1959 TV is hooked up to a VCR that plays old sci-fi flicks and various gizmos and gadgets clutter the space.