The history of guitar picks

First ever (guitar) picks

This blog is about the history of plectrums and it explains how D’Andrea guitar picks became the standard. With their 351 pick shape they changed the world in the early 1920’s.
Plectrums were typically made of materials like tortoiseshell, bone, or ivory.
These early picks were often shaped like a small, rounded triangle or teardrop and were used primarily for plucking the strings of various stringed instruments. The guitar wasn’t very popular back then by the way.

As synthetic materials became more widely available in the 1800’s, picks began to be produced from materials like celluloid, nylon, and various plastics. These materials offered greater durability and consistency compared to natural materials like tortoiseshell. From this time on they already started to make larger- and smaller picks for the different instruments.

Celluloid material

In the year 1870, John Wesley Hyatt stumbled upon the formula for Nitrocellulose, which is the main ingredient for Celluloid.
This material is a combustible material and the first billiard balls would sometimes explode when striking each other.
Nitrocellulose is very similar to the civil war era explosive, guncotton.
After the failure with billiard balls, Hyatt tried unsuccessfully to use the material to make teeth.

Luigi D’Andrea: the inventor of modern guitar picks

A very important man in the history of picks was Mr. Luigi D’Andrea, Neapolitan from Italy.
In 1902, at the age of 17 he emigrated to the U.S. and became vacuum cleaner salesman.
In 1920, he became fascinated with some celluloid powder box that he saw.
He bought some, along with a mallet and ‘dies’, for stamping out decorations for the boxes.

In fact, these first guitar picks may have been called boutique guitar picks.
We wrote an interesting article about boutique guitar picks in general. Read more here.

It all started in New York City in 1922

Luigi D’Andrea, happened upon a sidewalk sale. He bought some sheets of tortoise shell colored cellulose nitrate plastic. He also bought mallet dies to make little heart shaped decorations. Used for the tops of powder puff boxes. He punched out a few hundred of the little 1-inch 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. A few days later, he sold a cigar box of the little hearts to the G. Schirmer & Son Company, a New York based music store, for the amazing sum of $10. D’Andrea guitar picks brand was born.

The Henry Ford of guitar picks

Luigi D’Andrea knew he had something to build on here so he started a small factory on 27th street in NYC.

By 1928, Luigi D’Andrea was the Henry Ford of guitar picks.

Numbering the picks

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.
He tried to please 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 1920s!

He had semi-automated equipment to punch, tumble and imprint as many as 59 different shaped picks in both celluloid and real tortoise shell. He produced flat picks, thumb and fingerpicks, pickguards as well as drum bags and cases for guitar, bass, saxophone and accordion.

model 351 pick

Best guitar picks for acoustic guitar

Although acoustic guitars are different to electric guitar at some point, there is no specific guitar pick for acoustic guitars.
Finding out what the best guitar picks for acoustic are for you, means that you have to check out different models, thicknesses and materials.
In another Guitar Essentials we wrote some useful guidelines for choosing the best picks for acoustic.

Customized- and personalized picks

In the 1930’s, Luigi’s son Anthony joined the business and he began many innovations of his own. Not only the production, but the marketing of picks became his forte. The 50’s and 60’s saw the advent of mass-producing private label picks for guitar companies requiring sophisticated automated printing and packaging also for custom picks.
Everyone from the local music store to the Beatles wanted personalized picks.

How to correctly hold a guitar pick

Place the guitar pick on top of your index finger with a little less than let’s say 6mm sticking out past the fingertip.
The pick is sandwiched between the thumb and the side of the index finger.
Your index finger should be behind read more…

1970’s: more accessories for guitarists

In the 70’s, Tony D’Andrea Jr., Luigi’s grandson, took over and expanded the business into more guitar accessories, straps and care products. Tony also gave the players the fourth and fifth sound by developing gauges between thin, medium and heavy. For that time these definitely were unique guitar picks.


In British English, guitar picks are referred to as plectra, reserving the term pick to identify the difference between this and finger picks.

Start of ChickenPicks guitar picks

Although there were several different models of guitar picks available, I could not find the right pick for myself. So, I went experimenting with different materials, thicknesses and shapes.
Finally, I found my pick of choice. Along the years, friends came over and asked me to make a pick for them. The product I made had impact and in 2010 my wife Jolanda and I started the company as a joke. Just to see if the product really was that good. Read more about our journey.

Regular 2.6 guitar picks or plectrum

Want to know more about ChickenPicks guitar picks?

Nowadays you can choose out of a dozen cool picks and they’re all different in playability and tone. But what are the coolest guitar picks? And what is the best guitar pick online?

That is totally up to your preferences and playing style. But guitar picks definitely make a difference to your guitar playing.

8 reasons to choose ChickenPicks guitar picks

  1. Pick noise is reduced to a minimum with guitar picks for great tone
  2. – Pronounced solid loud-, clear- and bright tone with lots of bottom-end
  3. – Thermoset is very hard and rigid (not bending at all), eliminating unwanted pick drag
  4. – The edges won’t chip, so there’s absolutely no pick chirp sound.
  5. – Playing fast and picked accurately never was that easy
  6. – Very easy to hold due the thickness of the body
  7. – You don’t have to grip too firmly, which does avoid hand fatigue
  8. – These plectrums ensure you months and maybe years of utmost playing pleasure

For many people ChickenPicks guitar picks are the highest quality picks in terms of material and shape.
The beveled edges ensure you easy- and precise picking with less effort as well as avoiding pick noise.

Check some of our other articles about guitar picks or check reviews on other channels.

If you have any further questions, please let us know; we’re always happy to talk to you.

What others say about ChickenPicks guitar picks

Musikhaus Thomann
Chicago Music Exchange
Musicstore Germany and UK

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