Like long hair and a bad attitude, Tortex Picks are part of the fabric of rock ’n’ roll. Musicians worldwide have come to rely on their snappy attack, textured surface, and superior durability, and the turtle logo is an instantly recognizable icon to just about anyone who plays guitar. But Tortex Picks wouldn’t exist without the principle and persistence of the man who created them.

In the 1960s, Scottish immigrant Jim Dunlop brought his family to the United States from Canada and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area. He worked as a machinist by day, but during off-hours, he pursued his true calling. Inspired by his love for playing guitar—he’s been known been to strap on a Les Paul and belt out a mean version of “Kansas City”—Jim was determined to use his machinist know-how to create guitar accessories that make playing music more enjoyable. He had a knack for finding the little details that kept good products from being great, the snags that guitar players just put up with because there wasn’t anything else on the market. Jim wanted to improve on those details.

With some initial success selling his own handmade capos, Jim decided to take on the pick, one of the guitar player’s most essential tools. He rewrote the book on pick-making with his Nylon Pick line, giving players more options and more confidence when choosing their picks. Up to that point, players pretty much had three options when choosing a gauge: Light, Medium, or Heavy. What exactly those words even meant depended on the company making the picks.

Never a fan of limitations, Jim created six gauges instead of three, and he labeled them by thickness, from 38mm to 1mm. Each gauge was a different shade of gray so that they were easy to tell apart. This gave players twice as many gauges to choose from, along with the peace of mind about what they were getting, no guesswork required. Jim was making a promise to guitar players: when you buy a pack of Dunlop Picks, you’re getting what you need as a musician.

At this point, Jim started to think about tortoiseshell, the holy grail of all pick materials. It had been outlawed in the ’70s, and no pick-maker had come up with a suitable replacement. Jim dared to create one himself. Experimenting with more modern materials, he chose to work with Delrin and then spent more than a year coming up with a way to draw out its full potential.

As he formulated his mojo-enhancing process, he sent prototypes to professional musicians on the road who could provide real-world feedback. One version didn’t have enough grip. The next version, too much grip. Another version, not enough bite to its attack, and so on. Jim reworked his process each time, and in the end, his project became less about mimicking tortoiseshell and more about creating a guitar pick that was great in its own right, one that any player would love to use.

Jim named his new creation Tortex Picks. Two things set these picks apart from all others, and they’re both a direct result of Jim’s carefully honed treatment process. The first thing is an aggressive, crunchy attack thanks to the unique shape of its edge. The second thing is the grip-enhancing matte surface. It’s a grip in function but not in form, with just enough texture to keep the pick in your hand while leaving the surface flat and unobtrusive.

Tortex Picks also feature a fully color-coded gauge system with a bright and timeless palette that has become an industry standard. This palette has become a visual shorthand for guitar players. All you have to do is go into any music store and ask for green picks—chances are, you’ll be shown a pack of Tortex .88mm Picks.

With these qualities and the natural durability, memory, and snappy flexibility of Delrin, Tortex Picks appealed to strummers, shredders, and bass players alike. First released in 1981, they soon matched the popularity of our Nylon Picks, and the world’s top musicians adopted Tortex Picks at a pace faster than James Hetfield’s “Battery” riff from Master of Puppets. By the end of the ’90s, Tortex Picks had become our most beloved line of picks.

Today, Tortex Picks come in 13 different shapes and a ton of different gauges. There’s a Tortex Pick to complement the playing style of just about every player. It’s pretty reflective of what we do as a company, and what Jim Dunlop set out to do with guitar accessories in the first place. We want to give players the reliable options they need for a better playing experience.