From Monza, in Italy’s industrial north, Emanuele Dubini reminds us that working with natural materials (for Emanuele everything from rare woods to Deer horn is fair game) can and does produce artefacts of unusual beauty.
Emanuele, whose company Zwart Plectrums, makes those mysterious little pieces of magic that guitarists use to transfer inspiration to instruments, otherwise known as plectrums.
Like lucky charms, they have talismanic properties for musicians and often form a part of the magical triumvirate of mind, instrument and plectrum.
“A plectrum is an extension of a musicians hand and enables them to channel all their musical energy through this magical intermediary”
Plectrums, or Plectra, have a rich history and are made and used in different countries to pluck the strings of a variety of different instruments. Plectra used for the Japanese BIWA and Shamisen to the arabic Oud and the Chinese Sanxian share a common intent in string plucking but that’s about as far as it goes, shapes and materials vary wildly including Ukulele Plectra made from felt.
Emanuele has taken a deep dive into this tradition and his practice is informed by a real multi-cultural imperative; using traditional materials from across the globe, including rare woods and animal bone, his plectrums become almost jewel-like in their minimalistic useability.
I caught up with Emanuele a couple of weeks ago to discuss his work:
I started making plectrums to explore new sounds for stringed instruments like unusual tones, playing styles and different feelings that could be achieved by using different materials, shapes and by sculpting different tips and finishes.
What did you do before this?
Before making plectrums I studied and worked in the fields of art, design, cabinet making and luthiery and experimented with tons of techniques and materials, mainly natural.
I chose the plectrum journey due to the fact it was a natural evolution of my studies and research which is constantly in progress and tone focused basically.
What is the inspiration for your work?
Nature, food, design, artisanal products, geometry behind artworks, architecture, and many more fields are a constant inspiration to me.
I’m mainly inspired by the possibilities of creating new tones, particularly after 14 years of guitar playing and a lot of music listened to from all around the world. There’s not a direct connection to sounds I’ve heard but I mainly refer to my own experimentations until the tone I’m looking for has been found.
I’ve studied the evolution of artisanal plectrums from ancient books which also displayed ancient ways of shaping several natural materials from wood, bark or shells particularly for the early Mandolin.
What does the future hold for Zwart
More experimentation into new designs and concepts for shape and tone and of course, always new materials to explore including different animal bones, stones, shells and maybe even metals.
What is the process you use for making plectrums?
I use several ancient hand tools to achieve an outline shape then use a handsaw, again very old, and then a range of files and knives to create
the finer detailing. The final process depends on the material but always starts with lots of sanding, and if the material dictates I either polish by hand or use different oils depending on the material or finish required.
Can you tell us which musicians use your plectrums?
And lastly, you use the Stealth Mask P3 Dust Mask when you’re working, why?
Working with materials like this that make very fine dust it’s important to protect my lungs; I’m only a young person and don’t want to harm myself in any way, either now or for the future.
Stealth Mask reached out to me when they saw I was doing this work and sent me a couple of masks and spare filters. When I started using the mask I realised it was really light and comfortable so I could wear it for many hours as I often spend a long time sanding and smoothing my products. It’s got a great breathing valve that means I can wear goggles to protect my eyes and a really soft, close fitting face seal that’s free from Silicon and Latex so people with allergies don’t have to worry about that.
And I feel safe and confident because I change the filters every twenty eight days to keep the mask working at maximum efficiency.
Plectrums are available to order via Instagram message to @zwart_plectrums or from stock from Heavy Repping or by contacting Emanuele directly at firstname.lastname@example.org