PG remembers the guitar-accessory innovator and savior of classic electronic devices such as the Cry Baby wah.
To many in the musical-instrument industry, Jim Dunlop Sr.—whose passing was widely noted online today, February 7—was the crowned king of guitar accessories. Over the course of his long career, his eponymous company’s vast selection of everything from capos to picks and pedals became one of the best-known in the industry. Whatever the brand on your guitar or amplifier, chances are you have used a Jim Dunlop accessory at one time or another—and often without giving it much thought, so ubiquitous was his enterprise’s presence in the guitar universe.
In fact, it’s not a stretch to say Dunlop’s work and diligence in pursuing improvements in the less-vaunted corners of the guitar industry likely impacted just about every player who picked up the instrument from the early ’70s onward. It was these countless unsung advances in form and function that constituted his real reward from the work he loved, and this passion for the trade was bestowed to his son, Jimmy. “When I meet people and they say, ‘What do you do for a living?’” Jimmy told PG’s Chris Burgess in 2008, “when I tell them I make guitar picks, they kind of give me that blank stare, but I equate what I do with making paintbrushes for artists. I’m like the guy that made Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintbrush. You know what I mean? I have the opportunity to work with the greatest guitar players of our time.”
Jim Dunlop Sr. was born in Scotland in 1936 and remained a proud Scot throughout his life. Trained as a processing and chemical engineer—and a keen guitarist in his spare time—the elder Dunlop was already working on guitar-related accessories while employed in Glasgow as an apprentice to the inventor of the first hip replacement. He founded his part-time business, the Jim Dunlop Company (later Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc.), in 1965 while still holding that job, then emigrated to Canada shortly after. Following a brief stint in Ottawa, though, he decided to abandon the Canadian cold for sunny California. “I got a postcard from a friend of mine,” Dunlop recalled for the history section of his company’s website. “It had a picture of a bikini-clad lady and said it was 90 degrees in Muscle Beach. It was 12 degrees below in Ottawa. I decided I’m getting the hell out of here. So we packed up. My wife was seven months pregnant at the time.”
In California, Dunlop landed a job as a machinist with Dymo Industries, where he remained until 1972, all the while inventing and manufacturing guitar accessories on the side. After a less-than-successful effort at inventing a new guitar tuner, he invented and marketed first the Model 1100, then the Model 1400 capos—the so-called “trigger” or “toggle” capos still popular to this day—which so many guitarists found to be a vast improvement upon the traditional elastic-strap capos.
After being asked to manufacture a rendition of the out-of-production National thumbpick, he went on to patent a design for fingerpicks with a curved cuticle. He manufactured them in six gauges before moving on to tackle flatpicks—the unassuming yet essential accessory for which he remains best known. In short, Dunlop decided to give a lot more respect—and attention—to this thin slice of synthetic material that represents most artists’ point of contact between flesh and string.
As Dunlop told NAMM’s Oral History project in 2009, “At that time [guitar picks] weren’t very well organized, in respect that you more or less had light, medium, and heavy. And I thought, ‘Why don’t we make ’em and give people a choice?’ The nylon set was six different gauges, and we color-coded them, and changed the sizes to millimeter sizes. So that took off quite well. One of my biggest thrills is when a really good guitar player enjoys a product that we make. As an example, the Jazz III … I’ve really become overwhelmed at the success of that particular pick. It’s been copied left, right, and center. A lot of people swear by it, and my son [Jimmy Dunlop] has actually improved it. He put a different grip on it, and it’s a great pick now!”
The beaming guitar-accessory innovator stands next to his young company’s first overseas shipment, to Japan’s Moridaira Musical Inst. Co. Photo courtesy of Dunlop Manufacturing
The success of his pick endeavors enabled Dunlop to move to working at his own venture full-time in 1972, and from there he achieved success upon success. The long list of artists who use, or have used, Dunlop picks includes Billy Gibbons, Joe Bonamassa, Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia, Kirk Hammett, Slash, Jerry Cantrell, and hordes of others—to the extent that it might take less space to simply list the artists who don’t use Dunlop picks. And while many of the company’s most significant developments involved further improvements to the materials and processes from which and by which its picks were made—including developing the popular Tortex, Delrin, Ultex, and Primetone lines through the years—Dunlop’s advance into the accessories market expanded in several other directions, as well.
After manufacturing steel slide bars for Ernie Ball, Dunlop purchased an out-of-business glass-slide (aka bottleneck) manufacturing company and fast became a leader in that realm, while also moving into other necessities such as care and maintenance products, as well as guitar straps. Along the way, he also pioneered strap locks. An even bigger boom was just over the horizon, however: The world’s most popular effect pedal fell out of production in the 1980s, and Dunlop took up the call.
Always on the lookout for ways to expand his business, Dunlop heard that the legendary Cry Baby wah pedal had become unavailable, tracked down the owners of the defunct brand, and brought it into the Dunlop Manufacturing family. “It changed the whole direction of the company,” son Jimmy relates on jimdunlop.com. “It was very uncharacteristic of the products that we were working with at the time. You’ve got this guy who was a machinist, who made accessories like slides and picks and capos, and he just jumped right into the number-one-selling electronics product of all time.”
The move into electronics paved the way for acquiring other effects brands, including many classics that otherwise would have gone the way of the dodo. In the years since, several iconic MXR pedals, multiple variations of the Uni-Vibe, Fuzz Face, and Echoplex, a range of Jimi Hendrix pedals licensed from the Hendrix family, and a number of Way Huge favorites have joined the fold. All the while, Dunlop Sr. continued to live by, and revel in, the most humble of achievements—from, say, the improved grip offered by a new pick’s textured surface to the unveiling of an artist’s signature slide.
Anyone who encountered Dunlop at his NAMM Show appearances or dealt with him over guitar-industry matters knew him to possess a rare and admirable blend of the businesslike and the personable. He treated every query seriously, without ever taking himself too seriously in the process. He was a guy who made stuff, and he always attempted to make it the best it could be, but that never once landed a chip on his shoulder.
Ultimately, Jim Dunlop Sr.’s genius lay in his ability to identify subtle, incremental improvements in the less-glamorous products that fulfilled the essential everyday needs of guitarists—and he produced exponential leaps forward for the artform in the process.
Kick off the holiday season by shopping for the guitar player in your life at Guitar Center! Now through December 24th 2022, save on exclusive instruments, accessories, apparel, and more with hundreds of items at their lowest prices of the year.
We’ve compiled this year’s best deals in the 2022 Holiday Gift Guide presented by Guitar Center.
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About Mystery Stocking
Each year, Premier Guitar likes to put out these mystery boxes as a part of bringing some fun to the holiday season. Remember, this is supposed to be a fun holiday treat! If the contents of this box will ruin your holiday, deplete the last of your bank account, or end your ability to see the good in humanity, it may not be for you.
- This year's Mystery Stocking will cost $44.95. ($39.95 + $5 Flat shipping)
- Each box will be guaranteed to contain $40 or more in value.
- US only. (Sorry World.)
- Make sure your shipping address is correct.
- Have your credit card ready to go before you refresh the page. Paypal is not available. Autofill may not fill in your information.
- There will be NO REFUNDS given.
- There has been a huge demand for these in the past. We really did sell out in less than 4 minutes last year. When they are gone, they are gone.
- One per household, one per person.
Q: What's in the Mystery Stocking?
A: It wouldn't be much of a surprise if we told you, now would it?
Q: Will I definitely get my money worth?
Q: Can I return it if I don't like it?
A: Nope. All sales final.
Q: What if I live outside the US?
A: Sorry, US only.
Q. How much is it?
A. $39.95 Plus $5 shipping
Q. When will it ship?
A. On or before December 10, 2022.
Q. What form of payment do you accept?
A. Credit cards only. Sorry, no Paypal for this.
Q. Can I ship to a different location than my billing address?
Q. I tried last year and didn't get one. Will I get one this year?
A. There is an overwhelming demand for Mystery Stocking. Be sure you have a fast internet connection and be ready when they go on sale. Last year we sold out in 3 min 33 seconds.
Q. I want to buy 5. How can I buy 5?
A. You can't. This year, we're limiting to one per household, so more people can get in on the fun!
Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
Origin Effects introduce the new M-EQ DRIVER mid booster & drive pedal. Based on a vintage Pultec studio EQ, this unique pedal offers a range of mid-focused tones, from a subtle mid boost to thick, resonant overdrive. Featuring the Adaptive Circuitry recently introduced on their Halcyon Green Overdrive, Origin Effects have brought us a pedal with a character all of its own and a new flavor of drive.
A choice of three mid-range frequencies ensures that you can boost just the right part of your guitar signal and, when pushed harder, can elicit a range of saturation from a classic “mid-hump” overdrive to fierce “cocked wah” distortion. Thanks to the Adaptive Circuitry, the high-end roll-off of the Cut control is reduced as the pedal cleans up. This allows for a smooth transition from warm overdrive to bright clean tones in response to playing dynamics or guitar volume knob changes.
Introducing... M-EQ DRIVER || Mid Booster & Drive
Built-in the UK to the highest standards, the M-EQ DRIVER continues the Origin Effects tradition of vintage, studio-inspired tones in modern guitar pedals. The Origin Effects M-EQ DRIVER is available now from Origin Effects dealers worldwide.
RRP: 259 GBP (Inc VAT) / 319 USD (Ex TAX)
For more information, please visit origineffects.com.
The new finish, according to Lava Music, is “inspired by the beauty of the golden hour,” a shining time just before sunset and after sunrise when photographers covet to capture stunning pictures.
With bright and warm golden hues, the new finish adds a brilliant metallic glow to the surface of Lava ME 3, complementing its AirSonic 2 carbon fiber unibody which features L3 Preamp with FreeBoost 2.0, delivers industry-leading sounds by breakthrough acoustic technologies, and houses a multi-touch display powered by Lava-developed HILAVA system.
Speaking of the HILAVA system, Lava Music also added four new effects: Nebula, Desert Rose, Cassette, and Edge of Breakup. As unique as their names sound, they are very much different from what we normally know about effects. Programmed into the HILAVA system, each of the four is powered by the company’s latest ArctanDrive algorithm and incorporates effects like Pitch Shift, Delay, and Reverb. And every one of those incorporated sub-effects comes with various parameters that players can adjust to design unique, overdriven sounds by just tapping on the multi-touch display. That said, those effects enable users to play with overdriven tone on an acoustic-electric guitar without even plugging in any external gear.
LAVA ME 3 | Now in Golden Hour | LAVA MUSIC
Lava Me 3 in Golden Hour is now available starting from $999 on LAVA MUSIC, Amazon, and local guitar dealerships near you.
For more information, please visit store.lavamusic.com.