Picks For Acoustic Guitars. A Vital Part of a Great Sound

The Hawksbill Sea Tortoise, and Tortoise Shell Picks.


Picks for Acoustic Guitars, The Right One MATTERS

The acoustic guitar is traditionally an un amplified instrument, and even if one features a pre - amp and pickup for amplification, the importance of using the right sort of plectrum or pick can not be overstated. I write a lot here about high end, high quality acoustic guitars; but spending a thousand dollars or more for a great acoustic guitar, and then playing it with a .10 cent Fender thin pick or plectrum completely defeats the purpose of having purchased such a great instrument. If you're going to play an acoustic steel string guitar with a Fender thin pick or plectrum, then you shouldn't have wasted your money on a great sounding guitar because you will get no great sound out of the instrument with such a pick.

Originally, the guitar was thought of as a rhythm or backup instrument, and chords were strummed on it behind a soloist playing the violin or the mandolin; and this was all well and good and made for some wonderful music. The guitar, however, always had the capabilities and possibilities that today are well known to be limitless. I think most everyone can agree that melodies either fingerpicked or played with a plectrum are altogether some of the most beautiful sounds that one can hear. But the acoustic guitar is not a loud instrument on it's own, it pales in comparison to a fiddle or violin's ability to produce loud, clear, soaring notes. It doesn't compare to the mandolin or the banjo, or any other stringed instrument in ability to be both loud and clear either. Playing solos or melodies on the acoustic guitar without amplification takes some real work, skill, and effort; and the right kind of pick.

This guy has a new Martin, and he's playing with a real tortoise shell pick - you can hear the difference.

Tortoise Shell Picks.

In the mid-to-late 19th century there was a high demand for items made from the shell of the sea-going Hawksbill Turtle. It's shell had proerties that made it very desirable to the touch. It was warm and comfortable. It just plain "felt good" to the touch. It was immune to static charge. That's why so many items made from it were items that were held close to the body. Ladies' hair combs, knitting needles and fountain pens were but a few of these items made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle. The problem was that the shell material was difficult to come by and therefore very expensive. An alternative was sought out.

Now, I shouldn't have to say this, but killing a beautiful sea tortoise for me to have an awesome guitar pick isn't really cool, and it never was cool. At the same time, I do have to admit that I have more than one of them, that they are simply outstanding, and have physical characteristics unlike any synthetic material that seeks to imitate them. I believe that it has to do with the density of the material, and if I were to hold up one of my tortoise shell picks, and drop it onto a hard surface, it makes a peculiar sound, and you'll not find another pick or material that makes the same sort of sound. You'll also never find another material that produces such a beautiful sound when played on a steel string acoustic guitar. It is what it is, and it's illegal to sell these things. I have some, they are not for sale. I've even had one of my tortoise shell picks STOLEN before. Why? They sell for around $50.00 to $100.00 a piece, but as I said, that's an item that is legal to own, but illegal to sell. If you want to buy one, you have to get it for free, and leave a nice large tip towards the giver's health and happiness; it's just that easy.

If you look at the picks in the picture above, those ARE NOT tortoise shell picks, they only look like them. Fake tortoise material is everywhere, and is practically universal on acoustic guitars as the pickguard under the soundhole. That's just plastic unless you've found a really old Martin or Gibson; and you'd be a damned fool to take the pickguard off of one of those to make it into picks. What the picture up above IS is a synthetic material that not only looks like tortoise shell, but is supposed to sound like tortoise shell as well. I've got LOTS of guitar picks, and I've got a lot of picks made from "tortex," and though those don't really sound like tortoise shell to me, they are very, very good picks.

Great Picks Sound like THIS on Great Guitars

What Else?

The point of this whole article is to stress that you can't get a good tone from an acoustic guitar with a thin, or even a medium pick; you've got to have a stiff, or heavy pick to get a good, loud, clear tone from an un amplified acoustic. Thin guitar picks are for electric guitars, and even with an amplified acoustic guitar, they make a pretty awful sound. Besides tortex, or tortoise shell picks, any good stiff plastic or synthetic material will do. I've got picks made out of elephant ivory, again; such things can not be sold legally; and it was never cool to kill an elephant for picks, nuts, saddles, or bridge pins - I have that stuff, and it's great for what it does, produce an amazing tone; but I don't advocate buying or selling it. There's lots of other bone material that is used nowadays, and it's just as good as ivory. So if you play acoustic guitar, get a stiff pick!

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Comments 10 comments

justom profile image

justom 5 years ago from 41042

Todd if I use a tortoise comb on my hare will it run faster or just make it lay flatter?

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

LOL! Maybe it will make it thin slower? Hey, if that's the case, Tom, I'll give you a hundred bucks for it right now, ur, I mean; as soon as I make my first $100.00 on hubpages!

justom profile image

justom 5 years ago from 41042

Can't tell I'm gettin' my pre-Christmas buzz on? Are you sure you don't advocate for killing turtles for their shells or elephants for their tusks? Those sea turtles are cool. When I was in the Navy I got to see them in the ocean and it was amazing to see a turtle that big!

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

But see, if we kill them all, there won't be none for next generation corporate fascist American navy people to enjoy, Tom; and the value of my ivory and tortoise picks will drop!

bazonics 5 years ago

You want a good pick for acoustic or semi (or electric come to that)? Jim dunlop jazz 111 in my opinion.

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Thanks Bazonics, I've got a few of those too!

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 5 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain

I respect anyone who has the gumption to get past the bruised callouses aspect of learning to play guitar. As for me, my fingers are too short to reach the chords (trans. I'm too lazy to keep going). But maybe if I ever decide to learn again, I'll do the high end pick and low end for a real guitar. Who knows?

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Hey, you could always learn to play the mandolin??? Little bitty, thin necks on those things, I always wanted to have one.

I keep on writing about guitars and music hoping that that will inspire me to play more. . . so far, not much luck.

Jim 4 years ago

The material is Hawksbill Sea Turtle. A Tortoise is a land dwelling animal, Turtles live in the oceans. Also it is not legal to modify old antiques like hair pins, and pick gaurds to make picks. If the material crosses a state line in the production of picks from antique's it is then a Federal crime, both shipping the antique, and for shipping the picks after the modification.

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas Author

Well how would someone prove that a pick was made from something else, and why the hell would there be such a stupid law ?

But yes, I realized it was a ridiculous federal crime to move guitar picks around the country when they are made from the Hawksbill, but this sort of tom foolery is not the way to protect the Hawksbill.

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