The History of D'Andrea
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The history of D'Andrea Inc. is the history of twentieth century music, and of that very essential guitar playing tool, the pick...

This simple wedge of plastic is the very tool that transfers the energy and inspiration from fingers to strings. The tonal effect 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 at D'Andrea have been supporting that quest since 1922. In 2002, D'Andrea Inc. celebrates 80 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 the idea to try to sell the plastic heart “picks” to a music store. As it turned out, he was able to sell a cigar box of the little hearts to the G. Schirmer & Son Co. in New York 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..

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 some 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", then it was 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 wooden 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 celluloid process was slightly simpler because the 2'x5', sheets were flat & uniformly gauged. It was readily available in the U.S. until the late 60's - then only from Italy & Japan.

During this early time he 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. Soon he had created 23 shapes in tortoise and 56 shapes in celluloid. 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!

That age old problem of holding on to a pick was also addressed. There is 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 centers 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 the 1970's, D'Andrea introduced yet another innovation addressing the grip problem - PRO-GRIP celluloid. This treated the normally polished surface with a resin coating. The shiny pick was now dusty looking but it stayed put. In the 90's that treatment was used on the molded Delrin PRO-GRIP BRITES pick line.

By 1928, Luigi D'Andrea was the Henry Ford of guitar picks, with semi-automated equipment to punch, tumble and imprint as many as 59 differently shaped picks in both celluloid, and real tortoise shell. His New York City factory 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 some innovations of his own. Not on
 
ly 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 "Nick Lucas" picks on a card were an example of his packaging ideas.

The picks originally made in the 20's were used on mandolins, banjos and acoustic guitars. The early blues and jazz players used the picks back then. 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! As more and more folks began playing guitar, the demand grew rapidly. Anthony, (Tony, Sr.) then began the search for new materials for picks. Tortoiseshell was hardly available, and by 1975 would be on the endangered list and no longer used. Celluloid always was an expensive and a difficult material to handle. The lead times were tremendous and erratic. To meet the demand, he introduced a molded nylon pick with circular patterns for grip.

In 1962,Tony Sr.'s son, Tony Jr., joined the company. Coming out of the Aircraft industry and familiar with industrial plastics, he pioneered the use of some of the plastics we see today. A Dupont acetal polymer, Delrin© was introduced as the D'Andrea Delrex line. A colorful sheet plastic, it had some of the tonal qualities of celluloid, excellent endurance, but could not be colored in shell patterns. As a sheet plastic however, it could easily be produced in many shapes. Today, D'Andrea offers it in seven shapes and six gauges. The same material is also able to be molded. So Tony Jr. developed uniquely designed molds to accommodate the needs of the faster paced music of the Rock revolution. His molds had innovative sharply beveled edges to provide fast release with clearer tone. Those molds are used to produce the three Delrin lines: Jetex with a multi-leveled gripping surface, and the Brites and Pro-Grip Brites lines with Fluorescent pigmented colors. A new stronger Nylon formula was also developed and used in these sharp edged molds.

As the "standard" #351 pick emerged as the dominant pick shape, the need for 59 shapes diminished, but Tony wanted to increase its'
   
 
   
versatility. In 1974, he introduced the 4th and 5th Sound: .58mm Thin /Medium and .84mm Medium/Heavy. Today picks come in 8 gauges, up to 2.00mm Super heavy. As for shapes, 10 still remain from the early days and several of the oldest are were in 1997.

Still the professional's favorite for it's unique sound quality, the breadth of the celluloid material was necessarily reduced. Because of it's constantly increasing cost, many colors have been eliminated. To fill players need for an economical pick, Tony introduced a polymer plastic, V-Resin. It mimics most celluloid properties, but it's lower material cost, domestic availability, and familiar colors, make it widely popular. It is even available in jewel like transparent hues and stone patterns. Variations of it are used for several premium pick lines: SPECTRA-PLEC, SPECTRA SHARP-transparent jewel colors, ULTRA PLEC in burled wood, malachite and crystal patterns and PRO PLEC, a super heavy, rich shell patterned pick in vintage shapes.

Another area of innovation for Tony Jr. has been the pick imprinting processes. From the very beginning, simple hot stamping had been used to identify the picks, first with a D'Andrea logo and then simple block letter dies for a player name. These were originally imprinted in one shot, foot pedal operated machines. One of the first to make the player imprint popular was Nick Lucas. In the 30's, using the old round top #351 pick Luigi developed for him, each pick was imprinted with his logo and sold as a "Nick Lucas" pick. The 50's saw the advent of mass producing private labeled picks for guitar companies, requiring sophisticated automated printing and packaging. The 60's was the heyday of Rock and every player and store wanted their pick personalized. Tony developed some of the fastest multi-shot equipment for punching, imprinting and bagging. In the 90's he revolutionized the imprint process with the introduction of pad printing. It overcame some of the speed and design limitations of hot stamping. Now very intricate logos can be produced by computer generation and they can be multi colored. By 1996, even a photograph could be imprinted on a pick!

D'Andrea manufactures twelve D'Andrea brand pick lines, private label picks for many prominent guitar makers,
 
custom imprinted picks for thousands of music retailers world wide, and most of the veteran and contemporary artists. Among our many endorsees are Al DiMeola, Lee Ritinour, Richie Sambora, Bon Jovi, Slayer, The Ventures - a real cross section of musical styles. There are over 30,000 imprint dies in the D’Andrea archives.

After 80 years of producing, developing and innovating, picks are now made from five plastics including CLASSIC celluloid. When Luigi’s son, Anthony, took over the business in the 40’s, it was expanded into cases and other guitar accessories. Today, his grandson Tony, operates the family business, along with his brother-in-law, Charles Lusso as general Mgr. and his wife, Rosemary. In 1999, they have a world wide customer base for their hundreds of music accessories, care products, guitar and wind instrument Straps, and take great pride in making the most professionally engineered guitar picks, including, still the world’s finest pick - celluloid.
 


The Saga of
Celluloid

Plastic was actually developed as an inexpensive substitute for ivory. The plastic industry in America was born in 1868, when a serious shortage of ivory prompted a New England manufacturer of ivory billiard balls to offer a $10,000 prize for a substitute. A young printer from Albany, NY, John Wesley Hyatt, met that challenge and won with a product he named Celluloid, and registered it as a trademark in 1872.

He did not actually develop Celluloid himself, but acquired the British patent for it in 1868 from a Birmingham professor of natural science, Alexander Parkes. Around 1850, Parkes was experimenting with a laboratory chemical, nitrocellulose. Mixing it with camphor, he discovered that it formed a hard but flexible transparent material, which he called Parkesine. He teamed up with a manufacturer to produce it, but could not find a market for a thin, transparent plastic film- which would, in a short time revolutionize still photography and cinematography. Dr. Parks was only too glad to sell the rights to John Hyatt.

With his prize money, Hyatt began to manufacture ersatz-ivory billiard balls in New Jersey. By 1890, Celluloid was a household word in America. It was used for collars, combs, jewelry, hand mirrors, cuffs, shirt fronts, and corset stays. Along with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, Celluloid put a swift end to the whaling industry in America -because whalebone had filled most of those plastic uses.

It's popularity was hastened further in 1889 by George Eastman's introduction of Celluloid photographic film in his Kodak cameras. Then, Thomas Edison conceived of Celluloid strips as just the thing to make motion pictures. In any room temperature application, the world's first plastic performed admirably, but when subject to heat, it would combust dramatically.

It was, however, particularly suited to the making of guitar picks because of it's density, rigidity, thinness, and it's ability to be made in transparent colors similar to tortoise. It's molecular density and memory makes it the closest in tonal sound to real tortoise shell because, like real shell- a totally organic 'plastic', celluloid's cellulose base is organic as well. There are many players who find the sound indistinguishable from genuine shell.

In industries that used celluloid, it was eventually replaced by a similar, more stable, but less dense plastic called acetate. However, acetate makes a very poor sounding guitar pick and it tears easily in the thinner gauges.

Today, celluloid has very few uses other than guitar picks, guitar related parts and accordian shells. Large commercial sources of it have vanished except for one in Italy. It is produced from cotton cellulose and camphor, in huge vats which take months to cure. The lead time is anywhere from four to six months for production alone. It is then made into 300lb. blocks, skived into sheets and shipped from overseas - a costly and time consuming process in the era of over-night delivery.

But to professionals and aspiring guitar players all over the world, nothing can replace the sound of a Classic Celluloid Pick - only from D'Andrea!

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