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Old 08-10-2012, 04:24 PM
turner28 turner28 is offline
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Default Tortoise shell

First off, I am NOT a proponent of using such a material for the obvious ethical/moral/legal/etc reasons...I am not trying to start a debate, argument, nor upset anyone regarding this 'material'

...however, that said, to someone who has never touched tortoise shell anything, what makes it 'desirable'? I've seen picks made of this 'material', the pick guard on my Martin is PLASTIC, though made to look look like tortoise shell...is this all just for looks? Are there other reasons than look that people used to desire picks, etc made from the shell of a tortoise?

Where did this tradition begin?

Turner.
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Old 08-10-2012, 04:32 PM
SuperB23 SuperB23 is online now
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Most people who love them think they sound best. They have a great sound and feel and they have a natural grip when wet. My TS Picks are the only ones I like better than Blue Chip. I'm not sure where the tradition began but I can tell you Tortoise shell makes great sounding picks. They are illegal to buy and sell.
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Old 08-10-2012, 04:44 PM
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The dilemma here is that some will weigh in and say, perhaps rightly so, that it is a excellent pick material. As much as we would like to think we are just trading in "old" shell products, the mystique surrounding it simply encourages poaching today. Some day, the subject will just not come up anymore and that will be fine.
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Old 08-10-2012, 04:48 PM
J Patrick J Patrick is offline
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tortoise shell was traditionally used for its beauty and practical application...easily shaped and durable it was used for lots of stuff....victorian era combs and jewely boxes...frames for spectacles and of course plectrums....when cellulose (a wood based product)was developed and became popular in the early 20th century they discovered that it could be made to look remarkably close to tortoise shell in appearance and faux tortoise shell became very popular and common...that trend continues until present day....
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Old 08-10-2012, 05:19 PM
Misty44 Misty44 is offline
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Originally Posted by J Patrick View Post
tortoise shell was traditionally used for its beauty and practical application...easily shaped and durable it was used for lots of stuff....victorian era combs and jewely boxes...frames for spectacles and of course plectrums....when cellulose (a wood based product)was developed and became popular in the early 20th century they discovered that it could be made to look remarkably close to tortoise shell in appearance and faux tortoise shell became very popular and common...that trend continues until present day....
And it made guitars sound really good. Until the Endangered Species Act of 1973, tortoise shell (Hawksbill) was readily available.



After that, the quest for the Holy Grail of faux TS commenced and - imo -rose every closer to the real thing with Red Bear and more recently Blue Chip. The only downside to TS is its need to be polished to keep a smooth bevel. Blue Chips don't, they're practically indestructible.

The only TS pickguard I ever saw was one Tony Rice had made from a shell given to him in Japan decades ago by an admirer. It's on the old Martin 58597, pre-CITES:



He might have significant trouble taking it out of the country (not that he plans to of course).
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Old 08-10-2012, 05:48 PM
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Tortoise shell was one of a few precursors to plastic. Whale bone, horn, ivory, and other organic materials are some others that come to mind. We're talking about an era when whale oil was filling the role that petroleum largely does today, by comparison. These proto-plastics (at least shell and horn) could be processed into flexible, versatile forms that could then be cut and used in a variety of ways (kind of like plastics). The disappearance of these materials in favor of plastics was not abrupt. For years as a kid, I heard people talking about horn-rim glasses and I had no idea what they were. Well, (I eventually learned) they were plastic faux-tortoise eyeglass frames but I guess they looked like earlier designs that were made from buffalo horn or other similar materials. Use of horn, tortoise shell, and other materials for the uses that were eventually taken over by plastics was so common that it had become durably engrained in the language even though its use had greatly abated. So, tortoise shell as a precursor to plastic had its origins long ago and persisted to some degree until relatively recently.

Tortoise shell picks have an excellent feel in the hand and also a warm but clear tone. But these days, there are a slew of synthetic picks that come very close to tortoise and that, in some cases, players may well prefer. I really see no reason to lust after a tortoise shell pick on its merits. I have one (or, at least I did; not sure if I still do) and it was nice and all that, but I actually prefer a good synthetic pick. So, on merit, I don't see any strong case for tortoise shell. On top of that, take into consideration the legal hassles and potential poaching of endangered critters as a means of supplying these picks, and I really see no reason at all to covet tortoise shell. Sure, folks who have used them for years may continue to do so. But if you've never used one, truly, you're not missing all that much in my judgment.
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:07 PM
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This is the 2nd thread I’ve seen today on tortoise shell. Makes me wonder.

I have four tortoise shells sitting on my outside window sills on the deck. I find them in the woods behind my house. By the time I find them, they’re all washed and bleached out from the sun. I assume they’re of no use now for guitar picks. The material is becoming quite soft and brittle
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Macco View Post
This is the 2nd thread I’ve seen today on tortoise shell. Makes me wonder.

I have four tortoise shells sitting on my outside window sills on the deck. I find them in the woods behind my house. By the time I find them, they’re all washed and bleached out from the sun. I assume they’re of no use now for guitar picks. The material is becoming quite soft and brittle
I believe they were never of any use for guitar picks. It's the hawksbill turtle whose shell has the necessary properties for making stuff. The shell material has to be compressed under heat and moisture to form workable sheets. Not every turtle/tortoise shell will bond to itself in a way that forms continuous sheets of material with the properties we associate with "tortoise shell."
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:40 PM
Macco Macco is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by devellis View Post
I believe they were never of any use for guitar picks. It's the hawksbill turtle whose shell has the necessary properties for making stuff. The shell material has to be compressed under heat and moisture to form workable sheets. Not every turtle/tortoise shell will bond to itself in a way that forms continuous sheets of material with the properties we associate with "tortoise shell."
Man, I read this just in time. I was about to go out on the deck and grab one of those 6" X 8" shells and start strumming on the HD-28. I was even envisioning taking my trusty tabby hunting cat down the hill, looking for some live ones to scare out of their shelters.

Seriously though, I didn't know that. Please excuse the new guy ignorance on this stuff. I guess I'll stay with that Wedgie I've been using.
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:42 PM
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Here in Japan tortoise shell is still sold freely on line and in shops...I`ve seen all kings of goods make from it...cigarette cases, mirrors...you name it...never bought any nor will I. Hey, you can buy elephant tusks on line here and one hanko shop...the name stamps they use...has them displayed in their window. Things are different here but not my place to chastise them as a guest in the country...simply an observer.
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:43 PM
Zigeuner Zigeuner is offline
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As far as I know, I don't think that tortoise shell can be sold legally anymore. I have four or five tortoise shell picks in various guitar cases that are more than 40 years old. I bought a few of them at various guitar shops around that time. I notice that they chip very easily but maybe it's because they are so old.

For what it's worth, I don't think they are any better than a plastic pick. I use mostly Fender Mediums and they work fine for me. They are fake tortoise shell, by the way.

I wouldn't want to buy any real tortoise shell picks anyway. When it comes to picks, I agree totally with the conservationists.
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Old 08-10-2012, 06:58 PM
Tony Burns Tony Burns is offline
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I can remember back in the early seventies in college , a Plastic teacher was discussing the first substitute for tortise shell -Cellulose nitrate . at that time it wasnt used that much any more , but i had one in my pocket ( i liked those older picks better ) My teacher knew i played guitar and asked me if i had any old picks on me - he put it in an ash tray and lite it -it blew up right in front of us . He later told us that cellulose nitrate was used as an exsplosive .
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Old 08-10-2012, 07:06 PM
Wade Hampton Wade Hampton is offline
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. He later told us that cellulose nitrate was used as an exsplosive .
Yep. It's the same material, in a slightly different configuration, as dynamite.

As is the nitro-cellulose lacquer finish used on so many brands of guitars, including Martin and Gibson.

If you ever get lost in the woods, celluloid guitar picks make an excellent firestarter - they light right up and burn hard like a road flare. There was one discussion about this on this forum some time ago, where one of the participants mentioned how during his college years, he and his buddies shared a house and had two big ash trays on the living room coffee table: one for marijuana, the other one filled with celluloid flatpicks.

One day the inevitable happened, and someone in a "altered" state stubbed out a cigarette or joint in the flatpick ashtray, and the whole thing went off like a Roman candle...

Pretty cool story. Glad I wasn't there to see it....


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Old 08-11-2012, 06:06 AM
zabdart zabdart is offline
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Very informative thread.
I think the situation with tortoise shell is similar to growing up without grandparents, though. If you never had any, you don't miss 'em. When I was just starting out playing guitar, I knew a guy with a 12-string who swore by his tortoise-shell pick. But since they were scarce even back in 1968, I never had one -- therefore, I never missed them.
There are all kinds of alternatives out there, and you go with what produces the best response and is the easiest to use for you.
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Old 08-11-2012, 08:16 AM
J Patrick J Patrick is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Misty44 View Post
And it made guitars sound really good. Until the Endangered Species Act of 1973, tortoise shell (Hawksbill) was readily available.



After that, the quest for the Holy Grail of faux TS commenced and - imo -rose every closer to the real thing with Red Bear and more recently Blue Chip. The only downside to TS is its need to be polished to keep a smooth bevel. Blue Chips don't, they're practically indestructible.

The only TS pickguard I ever saw was one Tony Rice had made from a shell given to him in Japan decades ago by an admirer. It's on the old Martin 58597, pre-CITES:



He might have significant trouble taking it out of the country (not that he plans to of course).
...heres a tortoise shell guard that is on a guitar i got from a woman in St Augustine Florida...she said that her elderly neighbor was throwing out a box of old stuff from his garage and she rescued the very old shell from the garbage can ...she had a well known Martin repair expert shape it and install it on this stellar Santa Cruz 000...rather than smooth the face they decided to leave the natural swirl on it....its beautiful and unique but surely adds nothing to the tone of the guitar

http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b8...D720/ry%3D480/

http://im1.shutterfly.com/media/47b8...D720/ry%3D480/
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