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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: Tortoise Shell Thumb Picks

Please note this is an archived topic, so it is locked and unable to be replied to. You may, however, start a new topic and refer to this topic with a link:

impickin5 - Posted - 05/25/2010:  15:15:55

I understand they are banned from manufacture and sale in the USA. Is that right, or are they available anywhere?

rstieg - Posted - 05/25/2010:  15:21:39

I think you'll find the closest thing available is an artificial version made by Blue Chip. See:

Bill Rogers - Posted - 05/25/2010:  17:11:37

They're banned by international treaty, so not you can't get them--and possession, in the U.S., would be , I believe, against the law.

Cuzzin Donny - Posted - 05/25/2010:  17:16:34

Tortoise chell is just what it is.. Its the same as a snake shed its skin ,except that the - well I'll spellit like i THinknit sounds.The outside skins ,harden to the hardness of a guitar pick, then it can be processed into a prick,prik pick Catch my Drift???

Sort of with the same thickness as a bleach bottle. Take it from there.

Edited by - Cuzzin Donny on 05/25/2010 17:17:51

Paul R - Posted - 05/25/2010:  17:22:37

Banned, and you can't cross the border with 'em. If they find them, you'll lose them.

Same thing applies to various kinds of wood.

rupickin5 - Posted - 05/25/2010:  18:09:11

but if the tortoise is already deceased (god rest his/her soul) what's the difference in how their former housing/shell is dealt with? I'm certainly not in favor of seeing any creature meet it's end prematurely, but once it's died from natural causes...let's make some picks!
Please let me know where my thoughts are off-based.
Thanks, Brian

The Old Timer - Posted - 05/25/2010:  18:57:18

Brian, they're banned in international trade because letting them have any commercial value invariably leads to hunters killing them for the money. "Saying" the tortoise was dead first is easy to say. Did you know even in the days of Brazilian rosewood 40-50 years ago Brazil "supposedly" only allowed the use of dead, downed rosewood trees? Again, easy to "say" the wood came from a downed tree. It just proves too hard to check out the stories. Same with elephant ivory. To stop the trade, governments have to make the products worthless in commerce. Yeah there are always small time poachers and sneaks, but the vast bulk of the tortoise killing has been stopped for a long time by the ban on tortoise shell products, and successful substitution of plastics.

Ronnie - Posted - 05/25/2010:  19:46:31

Hopefully they won't raid my house because my 1904 Baldwin piano has ivory keys

gibson1933 - Posted - 05/26/2010:  14:49:19

New tortoise shell cannot be imported nor can you have it in your possession in this country. However, antique tortoise shell on old combs, hairbrushes, hand mirrors, etc IS legal to own and you can often find it on eBay or in antique stores. It isn't cheap but it still makes the best picks, IMHO. I make my own by epoxying a small piece of tortoise shell on a Golden Gate pick (I like the way they fit). The tonal difference is audible to my ears.......but if you can't tell the difference......stick with plastic.

Bill Rogers - Posted - 05/26/2010:  14:58:07

If you make new picks out of old, legal, shell, you'll need to have documentation of what it is. Otherwise you risk the feds assuming that it's new stuff. The burden of proof's on you.

Gomer - Posted - 05/26/2010:  19:10:54

Originally posted by Bill Rogers

They're banned by international treaty, so not you can't get them--and possession, in the U.S., would be , I believe, against the law.

CITES for the Feds, Penal code for California. I think a person could have a pretty bad day if they happened into a DFG officer with such a pick onboard.

rupickin5 - Posted - 05/26/2010:  19:20:27

who's the DFG? & how can I recognize them...a'comin'

TB-4 Guy - Posted - 05/26/2010:  22:28:13

It could be a problem if you were to ship even some old, pre-Cites tortoise shell, I guess. It would be impossible to prove when you got it. I guess there there could also be a problem with old Braziian Rosewood instruments. I have several that are all over 40 years of age, pre-Cites, and I guess you could prove the age by the serial number.

Since I never travel with them, it's sort of a moot point. I've had some real tortoise shell picks in the past but they all began to chip on the edges after many years. I actually prefer a Fender Medium pick for my guitars.

I understand that if you owned some now-banned items pre-Cites and don't sell any of it, you will be OK. Hopefully, the powers that be will have better things to do than seek a search warrant for old tortoise shell picks.

Edited by - TB-4 Guy on 05/27/2010 07:31:09

desert rose - Posted - 05/27/2010:  04:23:58

Some confussion here as usual when this subject comes up

CITES is an international organization tasked with structuring and limiting the INTERNATIONAL traffic in endangered plant and animal products

THEY ARE NOT LAW ENFORCEMENT internationally or domestically AT ALL. Countries signed on to the treaty agree to enforce the rules speled out in the treaty. This is the job of the Customs department.

You CAN buy, sell and trade tortoise shell, ivory and Brazilian rosewood products internationally ANY TIME YOU WANT, legally as long as you can supply the required paperwork. All three of these products are listed at the same rank and internationally the rules apply equally. You can possess a Brazilian rosewood bedroom dresser or guitar, a piano ivory keys or tortoise shell picks or combs or whatever and no one is going to drag you out of bed in the middle of the night for it.

IF you travel with any of these things you open yourself up for headaches that only more papers will avoid

Im quite familiar with the process as we buy instruments and wood often that requires the whole game be played

Things like ivory and the shell are EXTREMELY difficult to supply documents that will be accepted... but not impossible. Japan imports legally ivory and LOTS of tortoise shell all the time. Every music store in Japan has tortoise shell picks. And ivory is an every day thing here.


Gomer - Posted - 05/27/2010:  20:52:04

Originally posted by rupickin5

who's the DFG? & how can I recognize them...a'comin'

Department of Fish and Game, the guys in green

Helix - Posted - 05/28/2010:  05:53:14

OK, there is prehistoric Ivory and lots of it. So NOBODY has any excuse.

There is Whale drop and Turtle drop, they die while swimming, go down and get some of that.

Relics of a former era of whale oil, feather, hides, life and limb are just that, using them is shameful, and disgraceful , they carry a signal detectable by Kerlian Photos.

Notice the paperwork. The Japanese are whaling again and calling it research, like the porpoise grinding machine. It's a loss of honor and a disgrace among human people.

I see Rhino horn is also widely available in Japan, how could a foreigner living there leverage the consciousness of the mistaken general population. By gracious declination, hard ain't it.

The Japanese are some of the most resourceful, inventive and creative people because of the limitations of the islands. Isolation has its cutting edges.

They always felt cut off because they got chased off the continent, like the English.

A better thumbpick would be gluing layers of YOUR OWN thumbnail together and making your own, then the music can live and nothing is tainted with greed.

My Avatar is Old Goofyfoot, he's 125 years old, he WAS. Enjoy the Ostrich leather.

TB-4 Guy - Posted - 05/28/2010:  08:52:53

My '62 Martin D-28 came with a real ivory nut. I've decided to confess, turn myself in and let them confiscate, I'm just kidding.

When I was building and repairing guitars in the 1970's, I would often visit my favorite wood importer in the San Fernando Valley where I lived. The owner was a former Merchant Marine and had been to every port in the world during a long career. Thus he had many connections with sellers in exotic places.

I once bought an 8' length of 2 X 10" nice, almost quarter-sawn Brazilian Rosewood for $20 a board foot, whatever that came out to. But I digress.

One day in the early 1970's (pre-CITES) or so I was visiting his shop to make some purchases and he invited me to come out to his shipping area where he had just received a large crate from some African country. It was approximately 8' X 4' X 4' and was filled to the brim with elephant tusks, some full length and a number of shorter segments. It was appaently older material since he referred to it as "brown carving ivory" probably of lesser quality than ivory that was more white. I couldn't tell by looking since the outside of the tusks were very stained and scarred.

If he were still around, I don't think he would be receiving siuch items anymore. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Edited by - TB-4 Guy on 05/28/2010 08:54:43

banjodr - Posted - 05/28/2010:  10:13:37

I have an old lamp base TS hmmmmmm

Gomer - Posted - 05/28/2010:  13:57:35

Originally posted by TB-4 Guy

My '62 Martin D-28 came with a real ivory nut. I've decided to confess, turn myself in and let them confiscate, I'm just kidding.

I have a 57 Firebird (Gretsch Electric) which has a suspiciously ivory looking nut. I have been told different ways. Looks like plastic to me!

TB-4 Guy - Posted - 05/28/2010:  14:03:18

Originally posted by Gomer

Originally posted by TB-4 Guy

My '62 Martin D-28 came with a real ivory nut. I've decided to confess, turn myself in and let them confiscate, I'm just kidding.

I have a 57 Firebird (Gretsch Electric) which has a suspiciously ivory looking nut. I have been told different ways. Looks like plastic to me!

Nice guitar that Gretsch. I always liked Gretsches.

It's pretty hard to miss a real piece of ivory. It wil turn somewhat yellow with age. It has a definite grain which under magnification is easily recognized. There may be some tests I don't know about as well.

At various times depending on the manufacturer, you might get ivory and you might get ivoroid plastic - a white plastic with a grain from the layers out of which it was formed. That tends not to yellow much, although if it's finished with nitro-cellulose lacquer, it's hard to tell after a few years.

Martin uses plastic nuts and saddles on most of their guitars nowadays. Oh well.

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