AboutTortoiseTone TM
  guitar picks : 
(please scroll down for FAQ section)
In the realm of guitar picks, "tortoise shell" has usually meant the shell of the Hawksbill turtle... until now.

Located about 10 miles from San Francisco in Oakland, CaliforniaTortoise ToneTM offers hand made traditional plectra for guitar, mandolin, bouzouki and other stringed instruments, crafted from legally and ethically sourced, farm raised Red Eared Slider turtle shell.  WE DO NOT USE shells from marine turtles or any other wild turtle to make Tortoise ToneTM  flat picks.


                      We ONLY use Red Eared Slider shell.

Every pick we sell is a small conservation victory! 

Instead of buying a Hawksbill shell pick and feeling like you could be buying a poacher lunch (you really could be buying poached shell), buy a Tortoise ToneTM
guitar pick and help to reduce illegal trade in marine turtle parts.


But, what's wrong with traditional "tortoise shell"? 

The term "tortoise shell" traditionally refers to items made from the shell of the Hawksbill sea turtle.    Plectra made from this shell produce sound with a magical sparkle that is legendary.  However,  the Hawksbill is an endangered species protected by International law (see the CITES treaty, adopted in 1975, which forbids all trade in marine turtle shell, with the exception of documented antiques).
We support the conservation of wild species and ecosystems, and we feel it is almost impossible to sell something as small as a guitar pick and prove conclusively that it is made from antique material.  We want to be certain that we never contribute to current (that's right, current!) poaching activities, so we simply will not work with Hawksbill shell, or any other wild turtle shell, to make Tortoise ToneTM  flat picks.


Tortoise, or turtle? 
Turtles and tortoises are very similar creatures. The main distinction is that turtles are at least semi aquatic and tortoises live on dry land.   Why the shell of the Hawksbill sea turtle is called "tortoise shell" is something of a puzzle, but we continue to honor tradition with our business name.  The truth is that land tortoise shell is no good for guitar picks.  You really need a TURTLE shell pick...  like a Tortoise ToneTM  guitar pick.



Q:  Why do turtle shell picks sound different?
A:  Real turtle shell is made of keratinized protein, a material with a FRICTION coefficient that gets the string vibrating BEFORE the pick releases, similar to the way a violin bow works (hair is also keratinized protien)... or a fingernail, which is a fact that classical and Flamenco guitarists are already familiar with.  That creates truly awesome sonic performance and plentiful harmonic overtones with both electric and acoustic instruments.  This friction component remains a part of the action of the pick even if it is polished until it looks glassy.  Some players say the notes almost POP out of the guitar.  Other materials, even horn (keratinized protein, again), simply don't sound the same.  We've tried many other products: bone, ivory, seashell, Ironwood, glass, polished agate, shark tooth, silver, brass, copper... but nothing sounds quite like turtle shell.  Nothing.


  Q:  How do I reshape the tip of my pick?
A:  Very common question from new  buyers.  Use the sandpaper provided (#600 and #1500)  to shape and polish.  Work very slowly, using curved strokes to achieve gradual transitions from edge to face and from tip to shoulder.  A felted board is ideal.  Use light pressure to begin with; the sandpaper will take down the shell very quickly, especially the #600, which you would use if the edge of the pick is visibly ragged from heavy use.  I usually use #1000 or #1500 to reshape my picks; I go through a little more sandpaper that way, but then my pick requires no further polishing.


  Q:  Do you make picks in custom shapes for other instruments?
A:  Yes, we do.  Email a picture of almost any shape next to a millimeter ruler and state desired thickness, up to 1.2 mm at the tip.  Thicker is definitely a good idea for larger plectra.  We have made plectra for mandolin, electric bass, biwa, shamisen, oud, and lyre

(We also make truss rod covers and pick guards.)
Q: Are Tortoise Tone TM guitar picks really made from legally sourced material?
A:  Yes.  The shells we use are from red eared slider turtles that are farm raised for their meat.   This meets our desire to source material for our picks in an ethically sound manner.

Tortoise Tone TM
 flat picks don't look at all like Hawksbill sea turtle shell.  Are your picks really the same type of material?  
Yes, they are not exactly the same, but they are made from the same type of material.  We use the same hard, "keratinacious" outer part of the shell, and the resulting pick is HIGHLY SIMILAR IN FUNCTION TO A PICK MADE FROM HAWKSBILL SHELL.  The main difference is that a Red Slider pick will wear a little faster than a Hawksbill pick.  The tone production is almost identical.
Q:  How did you come to be making this product?
A:  Sea
 turtle shell picks sound better than anything we have ever played.  This material has been popular for hundreds of years at the very least, and plectra were manufactured commercially until the 1970s.  Sea turtles are now all protected species (CITES treaty, 1975, and the US Endangered Species Act, require documentation of antiquity for legal sale of sea turtle parts), .... so, over several years, we devised a method for using farmed Red Eared Slider shell to make a high quality plectrum.

It is very rare to see raw pieces of Hawksbill shell for sale.  Mostly antique boxes, pins, and buttons, very expensive.  But we wouldn't sell you picks made from those materials either, because something as small as a pick is impossible to provide solid documentation for.  You would need radiocarbon dating, or something.  Therefore, a person cannot be absolutely sure they are buying a pick made from shell that predates 1975, even with "documentation".   It might have been killed last year... so we don't work with Hawksbill shell, or any other wild turtle shell.  

 to make Tortoise Tone TM  guitar picks.