Guitar Girl Magazine caught up with the engineering savvy California resident Christina M. West, President of Tiptonic, in her San Francisco Bay area office to find out more about her, the Tiptonic story and the challenges of running a business in the male dominated music industry.
GGM: You’ve lived abroad and stateside. Why did you choose the bay area?
CW: Opportunity. The Bay Area exudes, supports, and inspires creativity and innovation and is filled with people ready to work hard to make a difference. With perseverance and luck you can work yourself to extremes, with a fighting chance of attaining success and great rewards. There’s also an atmosphere of openness, awareness, and earthiness that makes me feel that positive change is not only possible, it’s happening.
GGM: Now your background is in engineering, business and management. How have these brought you to where you are today?
CW: I’ve spent the last decades building and leading teams to help move humans toward a more sustainable, humane existence through smart engineering and solar energy. One of the joyous benefits is that the people who gravitate toward this work are generally full of heart and soul and are on fire about their causes and life in general. Not surprisingly many of them are musicians, including my husband who is a guitarist and composer as well as a solar engineer. He and I started a couple of successful solar companies, and we both performed in our company’s rock band.
GGM: How did you become to be a musician and what do you play?
CW: I’ve always loved music and wanted to play, but didn’t apply myself to learning an instrument until after I graduated from college. I helped out a friend in need who returned the favor by teaching me to play an old Martin guitar and to sing. I started with simple folk songs, which I found to be very fun and gratifying. My current repertoire includes Bob Dylan, Emmy Lou Harris, Stevie Wonder, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Marley, and others. I like to jam with friends and have performed at the occasional wedding. I’ve also started playing the ukulele.
GGM: What’s the story behind Tiptonic?
CW: Tiptonic manufactures Tone Tips, which are unique stringed instrument picks that fit onto the fingernails. As I mentioned, my husband, Jack West, plays guitar, particularly fingerpicking on an 8-string acoustic guitar. After years of ruining his fingernails with acrylic manicures he invented Tone Tips to keep his nails healthy and so that he would also always be able to play, even if he broke a nail. He happily discovered that the product greatly improved his guitar tone. He’s a big tone freak. We patented the invention but were too wrapped up with our solar start-up to develop the product. When our solar company was acquired in 2013, I split off to start Tiptonic along with Jack’s brother Britt West, who is also a guitarist. We debuted at the last winter and summer NAMM shows to very enthusiastic audiences.
GGM: What makes them special?
CW: Tone Tips mold to your fingernails and stay on even during really hard playing. The tip of your fingernail, even if really short, fits into a pocket in the Tip to ensure grip and strength. The Tips stick on with reusable adhesive. You can peel them off and reuse them dozens of times before needing to refresh the adhesive. But the main features are that they increase volume and improve the tone of the instrument -when compared with conventional picks or fingernails- and they improve the agility of the player. They are ideal for both seasoned players and beginners who are learning to fingerpick. I’m a pretty basic guitar player, but when I’m wearing Tone Tips I have greater freedom and feel like I can really rip. They are also ready to go, regardless of the condition of your fingernails.
GGM: When will they be available?
CW: We’re currently running a pilot program to get feedback from professional players and plan to go to market at the beginning of 2016.
GGM: What challenges do you face as a female company president?
CW: Coming from the engineering industry I’m very used to working with 90-95% men. I’ve actually really enjoyed it! The biggest challenge is dealing with stereotyping, expectations, and inequity. I try to rise above and lead by example. Change is slow with gender issues, but we are evolving towards greater understanding (or at least I hope I am).
GGM: And you have an artist program?
CW: Yes! Outside of Tiptonic I’m working with several artists and musicians on programs that benefit the public. One project is a dance and self-exploration workshop for girls in Oakland who are vulnerable to human trafficking. Another is a concert and video series to provide access to cultural music for those with limited exposure. We also work on linking musicians and artists with fiscal sponsors and support networks.
GGM: Will there be other products?
CW: Yes, but nothing that we are announcing just yet.
GGM: How can people find out the latest on Tiptonic Custom Finger Picks?
CW: Visit www.tiptonic.com and friend Tiptonic on facebook to see our videos and keep in touch.