Broken Nails, Banjo Picks, and the Birth of an Idea
The history of Tiptonic starts with engineer and musician, Jack West. A prolific inventor—with over 150 patents and dozens of successful products (some of which currently ship by the millions every year)—Jack is also an accomplished guitarist with 6 albums released to his credit. Many know of Jack because of his work in the solar industry. And, most recently, Jack has been in the news because of his work with Elon Musk on another of Jack’s inventions, now being marketed as the Tesla Solar Roof. More info on Jack can be found on his Wikipedia page.
Jack plays fingerstyle guitar and, like most, found that activating the string with a combination of fingernail and fingertip helped to increase volume, brightness, and articulation versus just using bare fingertips alone. But when the music started to really pump, Jack’s fingernails couldn’t hang. He was increasingly breaking nails on stage, just when things were starting to gel with the band. Nothing is more of a downer than having your gear fail you in front of an audience—especially when it’s your own fingernail. One night after a particularly dramatic gig—his fingernail snapped and flew into the front row—Jack decided that it was time get serious about this problem.
First he tried acrylic nails. Jack liked the extra length and increased volume, but he found that the harsh chemicals were damaging his nails. He also didn’t like wearing them 24 hours a day. This made many day-to-day tasks more cumbersome, and the risk of getting fungal infection beneath the acrylic freaked him out. Banjo picks just didn’t feel or perform the same as natural nails, and required too much variation of his technique. Other thimble picks that cover the sides of the fingers didn’t work either. Jack needed something that provided the benefits of a fingernail, but had the durability of a pick and didn’t require harmful chemicals. And most importantly, the solution just needed to feel natural and not require a whole new fingerpicking technique to use it.
What happened next was the birth of a radical new concept in the development of fingerpicks: the Fingernail Pick! Jack called it this because what he had invented was both a prosthetic fingernail and a pick at the same time. It was a removable pick that was sized to fit perfectly over just the fingernail, as opposed to wrapping all the way around the fingertip. Jack’s new Fingernail Pick was effectively like a removable, superhuman fingernail that you could easily take on and off, thus allowing the product to be worn only while playing the instrument.
Evolution of a Brilliant Solution
Once Jack got his patent on the new Fingernail Pick, he started hand-crafting them for himself and has been using them at gigs ever since. But the excited interest from guitarists everywhere he played made him realize that there was a real market for this idea. That’s when his wife, Christina West, and his brother, Britt West, decided to join the effort. Shortly thereafter Tiptonic was formed as a business unit of Glissphonic, LLC*, and they were off and running.
Britt, a professional guitarist and entrepreneur as well, moved into the lead role as VP of the Tiptonic Division. Britt was on fire with excitement about the concept of fingernail picks, so he led the effort to determine the best way to manufacture the picks in high volume and get them out to the world. After a pilot phase of several years making custom 3D-printed picks, the team had gathered enough data on the natural variations in fingernail sizes to formerly launch the new Fingernail Pick product. The key to the final design is that it is available in Standard Sizes that fit every size fingernail we’ve measured—and we’ve measured a lot of them! In addition to being able to fit everyone with a perfectly sized pick, the new Fingernail Pick product also solves all of the problems that Jack had originally experienced, while providing a host a new benefits, like significantly increased volume, fatter and more articulate tone, increased speed when playing fast runs, and the unique ability to use a single Fingernail Pick exactly like a flat pick (by simply rotating the finger slightly and pressing the thumb against that finger as if it was holding a flat pick).
Today we are happy to announce that the much anticipated, standard-sized Tiptonic Fingernail Picks have arrived, ready to help pickers of all stripes experience a better way to play.
* Glissphonic, LLC, is a privately held technology company in California developing various Jack West inventions, most of which are not publicly announced yet.
Jack West – Founder, President and CTO of Glissphonic, LLC
An engineer by training and a prolific inventor, musician, and entrepreneur, Jack is most known for inventing the Zep mounting system for solar panels. Tesla sells millions of this suite of products every year and it is found on approximately 25% of all residential solar systems in the US. SolarCity acquired Zep Solar (Jack & Christina West’s company) in 2013, then Tesla bought SolarCity in 2016. More recently, Jack also invented the product now being sold as the Tesla Solar Roof, prior to his departure from Tesla in 2017. Jack’s patent on fingernail picks is one of over 150 patents to his name. He has also recorded and released 6 albums. More info on Jack can be found on his Wikipedia page and his music website, www.aheadbehind.com.
Britt West – Founder, VP Tiptonic Division, Glissphonic, LLC
Britt has worked his entire career in the music industry, as a professional guitarist and songwriter, a registered piano technician with the Piano Technicians Guild, a master piano rebuilder, and a concert level piano tuner. He toured the country for a decade in the 90’s as principle songwriter guitarist in rock band, White Buffalo out of Athens, GA. He is also an accomplished machinist, engineer, and inventor, having invented and patented a number of key components and features of the Tiptonic Fingernail Pick product line. Britt has been leading the Tiptonic Division of Glissphonic since 2014.
Christina West – Founder, VP of Glissphonic, LLC
Christina is a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur most known for founding Zep Solar with Jack West (her husband) and being a driving force behind the rapid growth of Zep Solar—the company had approximately 100 employees when SolarCity acquired the company in 2013. Christina has held a number of leadership roles in her career including VP Business Administration & HR at Zep Solar, Co-founder and Principal, High Sun Engineering, VP of Engineering, Davis Energy Group, and General Manager of Ahead Behind Music.
Music is an evolving language that connects humans to each other and to the natural world in unique and deeply satisfying ways. Tiptonic’s primary goal is to develop and sell musical accessories that add significantly to the language of music. We hope that you will enjoy playing music with our products as much as we do!