Interview – Eppo Franken, CEO of ChickenPicks
Instantly recognisable from their ultra-white, matte-finishes, ChickenPicks are a Dutch sensation, currently sold in more than 300 stores in 75 countries worldwide. Full-bodied and genial with a present and composed top end, I’d have been off my nut not to try and get a chat with the company’s founder and CEO, Eppo Franken. Here, then, is our pleasant discourse.
HR: Hallo en goede morgen Eppo, and thanks for talking to Heavy Repping! For those readers who don’t know, can you give me a little insight into the history of ChickenPicks?
EF: Yes sure; somewhere around 1984 I wanted to study at the Rotterdam Conservatory of music and in those years I played a thin Red Scotty’s Nylon guitar pick. They said I needed to go thicker. Since I really couldn’t get used to the thicker picks like Gibson, Dunlop and Fender etc, I decided to make my own pick. I used many different materials and came up with the thermosetting plastic. A layer of 2.6mm thick worked perfect for me. So from 1984 until 2010 I made my own picks (just for my own). It was my wife Jolanda that stated: “If it’s good for you, it must be good for anyone”, so that was the start of ChickenPicks guitar picks. I made about 1,400 of them by hand and we had a simple website with a Paypal account.
Sales were moving forward and in 2013 we decided that fully making them by hand was impossible. So we designed a mold. And the Shredder 3.5mm, Regular 2.6mm and Light 2.2mm were born in May 2013.
In January 2015 (NAMM Anaheim) we launched the BADAZZ III 2.0 & 2.5mm and the BERMUDA III 2.1 & 2.7mm as well. In January 2019 (NAMM Anaheim) we will introduce 2 new models: BERMUDA IIIP 2.1 & 2.7mm. P stands for “Pointy”, so this is a Hot Pick! ☺ ☺
HR: What was it that made you choose the distinctive white matte finish that characterises the range?
EF: Well it’s the material. I didn’t got the chance to choose, but finally I’m glad with the result and they’re unique ☺
HR: Of all the materials available, what made you settle on the thermoset you’re using?
EF: The hardness of the material, which has more mass. “More Mass is More Tone”.
It doesn’t wear too much because it is so extremely hard and above all, they will be polished by the strings to a glossy surface.
HR: As you’ve previously stated, the early picks were handmade, but increasing demand has changed the process. What is that process now?
HR: ChickenPicks is a family company, but it’s grown significantly in scope since you started. How many people work at the firm now?
EF: Well, it’s still my wife Jolanda and I ☺ And when we’re at NAMM in Anaheim we have some great people from California helping us during the show.
HR: The website states proudly in a number of places that all the workers involved are properly cared for and treated correctly, and that the material involved is kinder to the environment than other plastics. Was this a conscious decision on your part from the beginning?
EF: Well in the beginning we didn’t have the number of sales like now, so we did all the work by ourselves. It feels good to be part of the process where people in sheltered employment have a chance to work and earn some money. Most important for these people is the fact that they matter.
HR: Your range doesn’t go any thinner than 2.2mm – have you ever considered doing a thinner range?
EF: Well, we have the BERMUDA III 2.1mm and BADAZZ III 2.0mm, but fact is that picks need a certain thickness to have more mass. The mass/thicknes makes them sound better and they feel like they’re better balanced.
HR: The website details that your personal favourite is the Regular 2.6mm, but which of your models are you the most proud of? Has your favourite changed at all over time?
EF: I am proud about all of them, although I am totally unable to use the BADAZZ III picks ☺
HR: When you started in 1984, what was the landscape like for boutique pick makers? Did you think that you’d still be making these plectrums 34 years later?
EF: I had no idea, because I only made them for myself. I wasn’t thinking of mass produce them then ☺ I studied Economy and worked for several companies like Price Waterhouse Accountants and Rabobank (23 years) here in the Netherlands. We started ChickenPicks guitar picks besides our work for the bank.
HR: What was it that was lacking in picks at the time that made you seek out an alternative?
EF: They were totally unbalanced and I was not able (and still) to use them.
HR: There’s a pretty comprehensive spread of players on your roster, from guttural 8-stringers to terrifying swing players – did you think your picks would inspire such a diverse roster of musicians?
EF: No not really ☺ but it’s so great to talk to so many different people. We are very grateful that such a simple product allows us to do what we do now. We travel a lot and meet a lot of people.
HR: Who were the players that inspired you back then? Do you still find time to play out?
EF: In the early days there was just 1 guitar player for me and that was Ace Frehley. I was a huge KISS fan back in the days. And later on I discovered more bands that I loved: Deep Purple, UFO, Quiet Riot, AC/DC and many more.
HR: What’s the story behind the ChickenPicks logo?
EF: A friend of mine had a tattoo of 2 boxing gloves, but the looked more like 2 lighting bulbs. So I tried to draw a boxing glove, gave it eyes and a mouth and a cigarette.
BTW: we changed the cigarette in a straw, because we find sigarettes is not done.
I never smoked 1 cigarette btw ☺
HR: Thanks a million for the interview!