» D'Andrea USA history
THE FIRST PLASTIC PICK. EVER.
This simple wedge of plastic is the very tool that transfers your energy and inspiration from fingers to strings. The sound of a musical piece depends as much on the selection of pick as it does on the choice of strings, amps, effects, or guitar.
Many players keep a variety of types and gauges available for varied sounds and playing styles. Guitarists experiment constantly because the quest for the perfect pick never ends. We have been supporting that quest since 1922.
In 2012, D'Andrea USA. celebrates 90 years of designing & manufacturing professional guitar picks and music accessories, making it one of the oldest companies in the music industry.
It all started in downtown New York City in 1922. Luigi D'Andrea, a Neapolitan vacuum cleaner salesman, happened upon a sidewalk sale offering some sheets of tortoise shell colored cellulose nitrate plastic and mallet dies, used to make little heart shaped decorations for the tops of powder puff boxes. He punched out a few hundred of the little 1” flat hearts on his kitchen table. When his young son, Anthony, observed that the hearts resembled an uncle's tortoise shell mandolin pick, it gave Luigi an idea. Sell the plastic heart “picks” to a music store for mandolin and guitar playing.
A few days later, he sold a cigar box of the little hearts to the G. Schirmer & Son Co. a New York music store, for the amazing sum (in 1922) of $10.00! He knew he had something to build on here, and so he started a small factory on 27th St. NYC.
Up until this time, most picks were hand-made from real tortoise shell- the carapace of the Atlantic Hawksbill turtle.It provided the finest tonal quality but it had drawbacks. It was very expensive, had a tendency to break, and was scarce. Folks had tried other materials such as bone, stone, and ivory but now was the time for some innovation.
Luigi punched the little disks out of the celluloid material, by hand, with the heavy mallet and a variety of knife edged dies which he designed.
The cut edges were then finished by hand with sand paper. He also made the traditional tortoise shell picks the same way. The real shell came from Europe in irregularly shaped "plates," which were soaked in oil and pressed between heated stainless steel plates for days. The plates were regularly tightened with a hand wheel.
The pick material was then taken off the press hot and cut by hand with a steel die and heavy mallet, to get as many good picks as possible from the irregular plate. They had to work quickly because if the shell cooled or dried out, it would shatter when cut. The edges of the plate made thin picks, further in was medium, and the center supplied the thick gauge. They were then either tumbled or finished by hand on a sanding wheel. Some would have to be re-pressed flat again at the end of this process, for the gauges were never uniform.
By comparison, the new celluloid process was slightly simpler because the 2' x 5', sheets were flat & uniformly gauged. The incredible discovery was however, the dense celluloid plastic was remarkably close in sound and flexibility to the real shell. It became instantly desirable! Celluloid sheets were readily available in the U.S. until the late 60's and after that, only from Italy & Japan.
During this early time Luigi experimented with different shapes and sizes. Guitarists he knew would visit him, and bring their special needs to his attention: making the picks bigger, smaller, longer, more round, sharper, point two sides, then three. He started numbering the styles. Among them is the famous #351 which eventually becomes the 'standard' "Fender" pick. One of the oddest was the #84, a combination of 3 #353 picks in thin, medium and heavy, beveled on one edge, and joined by a rivet. It could be flipped out like a pocket knife to the desired thickness when needed. Because he tried to please so many of the players with modifications to pick styles, most of today's pick "inventions" were already included in the D'Andrea catalogs of the 1920's!
The dilemma of holding on to a pick was also addressed. There was a whole line with shaped cork cushion grips, including a heart shaped grip for a heart pick, in several sizes. One line also had notches in the sides of the picks that held tiny rubber bands. That look actually became part of the D'Andrea logo from the 1920's to the 50's.
Some picks even had 1/4" holes in the center for grip. When imprinting became an integral part of pick manufacturing, different "patterns" were embossed for grip. Some styles were actually struck with a die which imbedded tiny ridges in the tops to "corrugate" them.
By 1928, Luigi D'Andrea was the Henry Ford of guitar picks! He had semi-automated equipment to punch, tumble and imprint as many as 59 differently shaped picks in both celluloid, and real tortoise shell. He produced flat picks, thumb and finger picks, pick guards, as well as guitar, bass, sax, accordion & drum bags, and cases.
In the 1930's, Luigi's son, Anthony, joined the business and began many innovations of his own. Not only the production, but the marketing of picks became his forte. He took his cue from the candy business and secured some surplus compartmentalized boxes with glass tops which he filled with pick assortments.
Picks were soon sold by the gross and half gross in 4'' square plastic 'jewel' boxes with separate lids. These eventually evolved into the clear plastic compartment boxes we see today. He put picks on cardboard displays, die-cut point of purchase counter easels, and pop-up boxes.
The 1930's popular guitarist, Nick Lucas, using the old round top #351 pick that Luigi developed for him, had his name imprinted on the picks which were inserted into a counter display card.
The picks originally made in the 20's were used on mandolins, banjos and acoustic guitars. Soon, early blues and jazz players used them. It is hard to imagine the musical explosion of the 50's- Rock N' Roll - without a plentiful supply of D'Andrea's guitar picks! The demand skyrocketed and D’Andrea developed more styles and colors.
During this time they were also a leading producer of hard shell & chipboard, guitar and instrument cases.
TONY D'ANDREA Jr.
By the 1970's, Tony D'Andrea Jr., Luigi’s grandson, took over and expanded the business into more guitar accessories, straps and care products.
He also addressed the grip problem, in ‘75, with PRO-GRIP celluloid. The normally highly polished surface was treated with a resin coating. The shiny pick was now dusty looking but it stayed put.
Tony also gave players the 4th and 5th sound by developing gauges between Thin, Medium and Heavy.
New exciting v-resin materials in burled wood, malachite, crystal & shell patterns were used for PROPLEC, a super heavy pick in vintage shapes.
Another area of innovation for Tony Jr. has been the pick imprinting processes. In the beginning, simple one- shot foot peddle hot stampers were used to imprint the picks, first with a D'Andrea logo and then with players names.
The 50's saw the advent of mass producing private labeled picks for guitar companies, requiring sophisticated automated printing and packaging. By the Rock ‘n Roll 60's, every one from the local music store to the Beatles, wanted personalized picks.
Tony developed the fastest multi-shot equipment for punching, imprinting and bagging to fill that demand.
By the 90's, he had revolutionized the imprint process with the introduction of pad printing. This process overcame some of the speed and design limitations of hot stamping.Very intricate multi colored logos could be produced by computer generated film.
By 1996, even a photograph could be imprinted on a pick and today they are printing in 4-color.
After 90 years of producing, developing and innovating, there are twelve D'Andrea brand pick lines in five plastics, including classic celluloid. For the Anniversary, there’s a new “Vintage” line which bears one of the original logos. Private label picks are made for many prominent guitar manufacturers, thousands of music retailers world wide, and most of the veteran and contemporary artists. Among our many endorsees are Al DiMeola, Lee Ritenour, Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi, Slayer, The Ventures - a real cross section of musical styles. There are over 40,000 imprint dies in the D’Andrea archives.
When Luigi’s son, Anthony, took over the business in the 50’s, it was expanded into cases and other guitar accessories. Today, his grandson Tony, is President of the company, along with his wife Rosemary as VP (retired) and brother-in-law, Charles Lusso as Production Manager and CEO.
In 2012, D’Andrea USA serves a world wide customer base with hundreds of music accessories, guitar care products, straps and partnered brands, and still takes great pride in offering the finest, most professionally crafted guitar picks for every players’ perfect sound.
Play Every Day!