View Full Version : Extreme pick closeups

Feb-13-2004, 12:26pm
For no good reason, I laid a few picks on a scanner and scanned them at 1200 dpi. Thought I'd post some images of the tips. Here's a pre-war Gibson pick, probably hawksbill tortoise shell? The Gibson logo is faintly visible, but it's been reshaped so many times before I got it that only the "IBSON" part remains and the whole pick is smaller than a penny. Still sounds good, though.

Feb-13-2004, 12:28pm
Here's a mammoth ivory pick I got in a trade. The edges weren't shaped or polished very well and it was a big thick Dawg shape - the worst thing for getting a lot of sound out of my bowlback. Fortunately, the ivory proved very easy to work so I reshaped it into a thinner and pointier plectrum.

Feb-13-2004, 12:31pm
Deer antler. This is an early prototype made from a fairly porous piece about two inches away from the rosette. The porous part isn't very durable, and after snapping a few other porous antler picks I've decided to semi-retire this one. Nice bright sound with ridiculous clarity.

Feb-13-2004, 12:36pm
Here's a snapping turtle shell one. I got the shell thanks to a fellow Cafe member who mailed me two whole shells. Steaming the scales off and peeling them was quite possibly the smelliest thing I've ever done in my life. The material is pretty thin so I didn't sand it except from the edges. It's got all the pits and bits of algae. Didn't realize just how much algae till I did these scans... They add character and make it easier to hold, though.

Feb-13-2004, 12:40pm
Here's the other side of the same pick - back when it was on the turtle this was the bottom of the scale. No algae here. I might have been able to laminate these pieces into thicker picks if I hadn't scraped all the sticky proteins off the interior side of the scales with some overzealous cleaning. Oh well. I was still able to get a half-dozen picks of bowlback-friendly thickness.

Feb-13-2004, 12:42pm
Finally, here's a BIG clump of algae from another snapping turtle pick. This originally grew in Lake Erie, I think.

Feb-13-2004, 12:45pm
Greetings, Peter. #You remain amongst the coolest. #Lake Erie indeed! I've passed my snapper plectra on to a friend who was looking for something better than factory-generated plastic with which she could attack her balalaika. I'm jonesin' for some a little thicker. Are you keen to go at it again next time I do some collecitng in the bush of northern Ohio?

Feb-13-2004, 12:48pm
This may well be the most pointless thread ever... but I'd love to see more if anyone else cares to contribute.

Feb-13-2004, 12:52pm
Sure, Eugene - if you happen across more shells, I'd like to try to get the laminating right. Peeling the scales is worth it just for the horrifed look on peoples' faces when I explain what I spent Saturday morning doing...

John Flynn
Feb-13-2004, 2:02pm
I tried a genuine tortise shell pick once. It was too big and heavy for my tastes. Also, the turtle bit me, so I let him go! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Feb-13-2004, 2:20pm
Hmm, you guys just gave me an idea. I've always wanted to cook up a batch of real snapper soup. The recipe calls for cooking the shell in there when the broth is being made. Therefore, good fish stores or restaurant supply stores sell snappers, cleaned, and the meat comes inside the shell.

Feb-13-2004, 2:38pm
This may well be the most pointless thread ever...

Au contraire, I find it to be quite pointful so far! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

And of course, I will include one of my own elephant ivory closeups...

Feb-13-2004, 3:04pm
That grain is aesthetically yummy, Bratsche.

Feb-13-2004, 3:52pm
Well, it's not a close up, but I thought maybe these pre-historic "river" picks might fit here. I'm told that Fred Monroe used to use 'em......

Feb-13-2004, 4:29pm
I have three picks that were in my grandfather's Loar f5 case. They have been there since 1952. How can I tell what hey are made of

Chris Baird
Feb-13-2004, 10:05pm
Post a pic and we'll have a look.

Feb-13-2004, 11:03pm
Let me squash three replies into one post.

That is some nice-looking ivory. A great match for a flame-maple-backed mando.

I've heard of river stone picks but never seen one before... how functional are they?

And the surest way to tell whether something is tortoise shell or plastic is to burn a piece of it and sniff the fumes. With a little experience, you can even tell TS from cow horn (an early TS imitator, but one highly unlikely to be found in vintage picks). But if you're not one to set your grandfather's picks on fire, post a picture and we'll hazard a guess.

Feb-14-2004, 2:49pm
Darn, my scanner only goes to 600 DPI... but here's one of my personal tortoise shell picks from my stash. Wish I could get more resolution.

Michael Lewis
Feb-15-2004, 1:11am
One method that is not too destructive is to heat a pin or needle in a flame and immediately touch it to the item in question. If it smells like burning hair it is probably TS, if it smells like camphor it is celluloid. This method is commonly used in the antique trade.

Bob DeVellis
Feb-15-2004, 5:18pm
Here's tortoise on the left and tor-tis on the right. Although the texture looks similar when they're not magnified, the more progressive graduation from dark to light in the real shell is evident at magnification.

Scotti Adams
Feb-17-2004, 7:25am
..heres my fav tortoise-shell pic

Scotti Adams
Feb-17-2004, 10:52am
,,and another..this is my second fav..I came across this one at SPBGMA...its a little smaller than the other but I like it.. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

Feb-17-2004, 11:13am
A curious question I've never seen addressed: What's the minimum thickness a TS pick must be, in order to be completely inflexible?


Feb-17-2004, 12:12pm
Depends a little of the turtle, but basically 0.042" (1.05mm) has a tiny flex, and 0.048" (1.2mm) has none.

Feb-19-2004, 6:39am
Out of curiosity, where do y'all pick up these picks? Only places I've ever been just had regular plastic etc. Not that I'm looking to start an argument here, but I thought CITES prevented the trade in that kind of thing? Suggesting all the examples must be pretty old.

Additionally (from MCSUK.ORG); "Hunted for the beautiful scales on their carapaces (misleadingly known as 'tortoiseshell') hawksbill turtles are critically endangered. The hawksbill turtle has a narrow head and a long, tapered beak shaped like a hawk's bill. International trade in 'tortoiseshell' is currently banned but some illegal trade continues to endanger the species. Please don't buy 'tortoiseshell' items at home or abroad."

So I'm confused about how one of you guys managed to get a hawksbill pick...trade shows presumably?

Feb-19-2004, 8:26am
May I buy a tortoise shell pick , please ?

calace shape, pettine shape is enough spare is around.

Feb-19-2004, 1:07pm
Taipan, see the huge thread on Tortoise Shell Picks. It will tell you more than you would ever want to know... the thread was active up to a week or two ago. You can do a search; it was at least 5 pages long. The short answer is that antique items over 100 years old are exempt from CITES, and is a legal way to procure material for making picks for yourself. Reselling the picks is a legal gray area (interstate commerce vs transactions person to person) and a matter of much debate.

jeffshuniak, I would like to increase my vocabulary -- what is calace and pettine?

Feb-19-2004, 1:58pm
"Reselling the picks is a legal gray area...."

Is it really?

It's my understanding that if you show up at a festival with a folder-full of TS picks for sale (a common occurrance, taipan--they go for 40 bucks apiece or so), you are violating the EPA...

Why else would the dealers be talking in hushed voices and looking over their shoulder like there was a drug deal going down? #http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/blues.gif

Feb-19-2004, 2:17pm
I believe that if the tortoiseshell was made into a pick in antiquity, it can be resold as an antique pick (assuming you have evidence of its antique status). #The "gray area" arises when somebody reworks an antique piece of tortoiseshell into a new pick. #An individual is allowed to rework antique material from endangered animals, but the resale of reworked antique material is "gray" at best and illegal across jurisdictional boundaries. #I'm not sure I have this entirely straight, but this impression was gleaned from a recent conversation with friends in the US Fish & Wildlife Service. #Antique wood (e.g., Brazilian rosewood), on the other hand, is the domain of the US Ag. Service and can be reworked and moved from country to country with proper CITES documentation.

Flowerpot, Calace and Pettine were ca. 1900 mandolin virtuosi who preferred slightly differing pick shapes. #If you want to see something really wacky, look into the kind of plectrum favored by Ranieri!

Feb-19-2004, 6:59pm
From the 1973 Endangered Species Act:

Sec. 1538. - Prohibited acts

(a) Generally

(1) Except as provided in sections 1535(g)(2) and 1539 of this title, with respect to any endangered species of fish or wildlife listed pursuant to section 1533 of this title it is unlawful for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to -

(A) import any such species into, or export any such species from the United States;

(B) take any such species within the United States or the territorial sea of the United States;

© take any such species upon the high seas;

(D) possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship, by any means whatsoever, any such species taken in violation of subparagraphs (B) and ©;

(E) deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce, by any means whatsoever and in the course of commercial activity, any such species;

(F) sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any such species; or

(G) violate any regulation pertaining to such species or to any threatened species of fish or wildlife listed pursuant to section 1533 of this title and promulgated by the Secretary pursuant to authority provided by this chapter.

Under the section "Exemptions":

f) Pre-Act endangered species parts exemption; application and certification; regulation; validity of sales contract; separability; renewal of exemption; expiration of renewal certification


As used in this subsection -


The term ''pre-Act endangered species part'' means -

........text deleted.....

(ii) any finished scrimshaw product, if such product or the raw material for such product was lawfully held within the United States on December 28, 1973, in the course of a commercial activity.

(B) The term ''scrimshaw product'' means any art form which involves the substantial etching or engraving of designs upon, or the substantial carving of figures, patterns, or designs from, any bone or tooth of any marine mammal of the order Cetacea. For purposes of this subsection, polishing or the adding of minor superficial markings does not constitute substantial etching, engraving, or carving. [I]

My interpretation, which may or may not hold any water, as applied to Tortoise Shell:

It is illegal to (A) bring TS into or out of the US, (B) kill a hawksbills within US borders or © in the ocean off the borders, (D) transport or deliver any TS killed within the US borders or on coastal waters, or (E, F) participate in INTERSTATE commerce of TS. Exemptions include legally obtained TS items which were in the US before 1973, and (I didn't quote the text for this) 100-year old antiques if they are brought into the US through approved ports of trade.

Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act has been limited to poachers and smugglers, mostly from Japan, bringing raw shells into the US.

I cannot find reference in the statutes to non-interstate commerce -- thus the gray area. But in this day of judicial activism, the plain English interpretation of the law seldom means squat, as judges and prosecutors define law as they see fit -- thus the dark sunglasses and hushed voices.

Feb-19-2004, 7:05pm
Eugene, thanks for the info.

Sorry if this thread is being hijacked...

Feb-20-2004, 10:12am
Yeah, I guess the hijacking might be my fault! Apologies for causing the confusion. I actually mis-read the part where the original poster said the pick was pre-war anyway, and probably before the conventions and treaties were signed. I just wanted to make a point for some people who maybe weren't aware of the issue who might want to get *new* 'shell picks, and let them know the illegalities and immorality of that.

Uh, anyway! Back to the pics!

Feb-20-2004, 1:59pm
the essence of the turtle lives on forever in the pick.

Feb-20-2004, 2:16pm
Jeff, this one is for you.
Right : an old TS pick, after a washing machine trip!
left : the "right" pick for us, a Wegen M150, and yes, it's a lefty (beveled)one!

Feb-24-2004, 12:08am
The following are EXTREME close ups. Santa brought my son a digital microscope that hooks to the computer. 200 X the material is just a blob. Here is a Grisman at 60 times.

Feb-24-2004, 12:11am
Here is a Dunlop Rhino

Feb-24-2004, 12:12am
Of course a J-75 G sting

Feb-24-2004, 12:14am
Don't think the folk at Weber are good craftsmen? Take a look at the back crease of flamed maple of my Custom Bitteroot, 60 times.

Feb-24-2004, 12:21am
Also, fun with the microscope, we found this incredibly small mite on our bamboo tree. #The tree mind you, is FAR FAR away from my stringed instrument collection. #The dreaded mando eater (200 X)-

Feb-24-2004, 2:55pm
I recent bought a 1923 Gibson A2-Z. This was a one-owner instrument. It had been un-played for at least 30 years. In the accessory compartment were these two picks:
Has anyone see these before? Do you think they were used like fingerpicks or flatpicks?

Mar-04-2004, 10:39am
Did that mite come from a rattlesnake rattle?