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Planting trees back home makes Adam Chiasson feel warm and fuzzy inside.
For every wooden guitar pick sold by his Calgary-based company Tree Picks, Chiasson plants a tree back home in Nova Scotia.
Chiasson, originally from Sydney River in Cape Breton, studied jazz saxophone at Dalhousie University before heading west. He grew up in a musical family, playing guitar and fiddle before heading to university.
“I played a lot of East Coast music. Most people in Cape Breton play music,” he says.
Chiasson moved to Calgary in 2005 after graduation.
“I moved west. Things were booming. My dad was a handyman, so I knew the trades. I started a renovation company in Calgary. I’ve been a natural entrepreneur all my life.”
Music continued to be a part of Chiasson’s life as he played in bands in Calgary.
“The whole time I was working, I was playing music as a hobby,” he says.
It was a natural shift for Chiasson, with his background in construction, to begin experimenting with wooden guitar picks.
“I was in a woodshop one day that sold exotic woods, and I saw this piece of wood that looked like the perfect wood for picks. I bought it, and it sat in the corner of my basement for years. Then I stumbled across it and made 40 or 50 picks out of the wood,” he says.
“I gave some to my friends and used them myself. I got feedback from my friends that was positive and encouraging so I kept going. I experimented with different woods and styles and shapes. After six or eight months, I thought, ‘Maybe I could sell these things.’ The entrepreneur in me kicked in. It started as a side hustle and it kept growing. Now I can do it full-time.”
While Chiasson isn’t unique in his offering, he’s come up with a way to make a stronger pick.
“Other companies make their picks out of solid wood. Ours are laminate – pieces of wood glued together so they are stronger. It’s basically the way plywood is made,” he explains.
“A half-inch sheet of plywood is stronger than a half inch of solid wood. They glue three sheets of wood together and alternate the grain, so the grain runs in different directions. You can go thinner but it’s very strong. So, our picks are thin but strong.”
Chiasson uses a laser machine to cut and emboss the picks.
“You could make picks with a jigsaw and sandpaper, but to make them in quantities for sale you need the expensive gear. A laser cut machine is expensive.”
Chiasson uses thin layers of wood that are glued or laminated together.
The picks are made from a variety of wood - including cherry, maple, zebra, walnut and ebony - and can be purchased as a sample variety pack so guitarists can try out the different sounds. The wooden picks can be used on both acoustic and electric instruments.
Chiasson sells the picks on his website, treepicks.com, as well as in retail stores. While most of his business comes from the US and Canada, people all over the world have purchased them.
“That’s the beauty of the internet. We sell them to people all over the world. I keep track of the countries and we’re now up to over 24 different countries,” said Chiasson.
The sound from a wooden pick on a guitar is different than a plastic pick. Chiasson spends a lot of his time educating musicians about the distinctive sound.
“It’s a warmer sound. I didn’t invent wooden picks, but I’m trying to get guitar players to think a little differently about picks. There’s a big difference in sound and it’s fun to experiment,” he says.
Jazz and folk artists have endorsed his guitar picks and have emailed Chiasson with positive feedback. Legendary jazz guitar player John Schofield tried out the pics and loved them.
“Other artists include up and coming singer-songwriter Josh Sahunta, Matt Blais, Troy Kokol and Newfoundland’s Chris Kirby. Michele Bruyere, drummer for Buffy Sainte-Marie, is one of our signature artists.”
The picks are easy to customize and Chiasson is happy to put the name of the band or singer on the picks to use as a merchandise item at live shows or on websites.
“The Barra MacNeils sell them on their Christmas tour,” said Chiasson.
Tree Picks are also sold as novelty items in gift stores, customized for the region.
“They are easy to customize and great for gift shops. We can put the Nova Scotia flag on them, and they do well in gift shops.”
For each pick sold, a tree is planted in Nova Scotia.
Chiasson was inspired to plant trees when he came up with the name Tree Picks.
“I was coming up with names for wooden picks. I thought of Tree Picks, and I was inspired by that,” he said.
“The tree planting side is something I came up with when I thought of the name. I had heard about an apparel company that did kind of the same thing. I’m from Nova Scotia, so I wanted to do it back there. Something about planting trees back home makes me feel warm and fuzzy.”
The cost of the seedlings is included in the price of the guitar picks.
“You can buy a tree seedling surprisingly cheap if you buy them in enough quantities. We buy them and give them to different groups, and they plant the trees. We’re not a tree planting company,” said Chiasson.
The trees are planted mostly in Nova Scotia and particularly in Chiasson’s home of Cape Breton.
“We’ve planted them in Inverness County and Baddeck. This fall, we’ll be planting trees in Antigonish. We’ve connected with a tree planting company there,” said Chiasson.
Chiasson takes every opportunity to connect with musicians and share his Tree Picks.
“I was in New York City a few years ago and we went to the Stephen Colbert show. Lake Street Dive, an Americana band, was playing. After walking out of the theatre, I was able to talk to the guitar player. I gave him some Tree Picks. He sent me an email a few years later and told me how much he liked them and was using them,” Chiasson says.
“It started as something fun to do and it’s a lot of fun connecting with other musicians who make music with them. Just this morning, I signed a contract with a musician in Mexico. I love seeing where they go.”