Tortoise Shell guitar picks

I Find No Good Reason to Play Tortoise Shell Guitar Picks

During my past 45 years of being a guitar player I have met many folks that tell me “I only play with real tortoise shell guitar picks.  That’s all I use”.  One fellow at a big guitar show said “I make all my own mandolin picks from Hawksbill Tortoise shell”.  Every time I hear this I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut.  Please know this, I am not a “save the planet” type guy and I am not going to go all Chef Ramsey on anyone that plays or owns real tortoise shell picks.  However, I do want to voice my opinion on the subject and maybe shed a little light on some things you may not be aware of.


First off let me say it is illegal to buy or sell these items in the US unless you can prove they have come from old hair brushes or jewelry boxes, etc.  You can google this issue and find plenty of information about the laws on the subject.  Also, please note that both tortoises and turtles are the victims of this product.   So, even though folks say they play Tortoise Shell picks, they are most likely using Turtle Shell. Example, the Hawkbill is a turtle, not a tortoise.   Also note here, a tortoise lives on the land and a turtle lives in the water.

tortoise shell

Now, this statement is only my opinion.  Tortoise Shell guitar picks do not sound any better than any well made guitar or mandolin pick on the market today.  There are many companies that make picks far superior to them, again in my opinion.  I have had many folks hand me TS picks and quite frankly, I do not like the sound or feel at all.  No matter what the thickness or size.  They do not have much midrange punch, the bottom is just not there, and you cannot hold onto those things when you get sweaty.  They will literally squirt out of your fingers with any moisture at all.  But the biggest downfall of TS picks is that they constantly wear with every stroke on your guitar strings.  Players that use them are constantly cleaning them up and filing them down to be smooth again.  Therefore the picks get smaller and smaller as time goes by.  The many different materials guitar pick companies are using these days last much longer, feel better to the touch and are louder with a wider tonal range than any TS pick I have ever come in contact with.  I honestly think most players that use them do it for the novelty of it all.  It is a natural substance, not man-made, and they have in their minds it is better.  I cannot disagree more.  Again, these are just my findings and opinions.

This part of this article actually makes me a bit angry to write it.  I have seen vendors at guitar shows sell TS picks.  I have seen them display a comb or brush with a jewelry box next to it, as if to say they make them from these old items.  I have learned from some pretty good sources that in reality they buy them from foreign countries for $.60 and then sell them for $40 at the shows!  I am not going to name names or point fingers any more than just to say, I have seen this personally, and I think it stinks.


Now on a good note.  I have played so many good picks on the market that claim to sound and feel like real TS and to me they sound and feel much better!  I own quite a few of these products myself.  Not to blow my own horn, and I am not writing this article to sell you picks, but V-PICKS has converted many hardcore TS players to our picks.  Both guitar and mandolin.  I am sure there are a lot of other companies out there that can make the same claim.

Tortoise Shell

In closing I would like to say the next time you see anyone peddling anything called real Tortoise Shell Guitar Picks or Mandolin Picks, please just walk on by and don’t bother.  Those tortoises and turtles were here long before you and I and they will hopefully be here long after we are gone.  Let’s give them their own space and respect.  Let’s just Let The Turtles Live.


Facts Wildlife Laws