Steve Clayton Blog

Ultem vs. Tortoiseshell

A loyal customer e-mailed us today asking about the difference between our Ultem pick and authentic Tortoiseshell picks. What a great question for today’s post. Most of you have probably never played with real tortoiseshell before. This is because it became illegal to produce/import tortoiseshell into the United States in 1947, which was before even I was born! A lot of guitar picks are made to have the appearance of tortoiseshell such as our cork-grip picks. However these are actually made of celluloid. Some people bring me some pretty convincing celluloid and tell me they have a true tortoiseshell pick, when almost always they don’t. Not sure if you have a real one or fake? Quickly rub the pick in-between cloth several times to create mild heat, if the picks starts to smell like camphor or vicks vabor rub, that is a celluloid plastic pick. They smell strong! Cow horn is also often passed off as tortoiseshell. If the pick is made out of cow horn then it will have a milky white appearance in parts of the pick.tort

People allude to the authentic tortoiseshell as the holy grail of picks… and are sought after. Well I have played many in my life-time and here are my thoughts on them. They sound nice, with a nice tone, but they break and sometimes even explode in your hand which is useless during a performance. Also the edges get rough. In my personal opinion, Ultem creates a much brighter, cleaner sound with better overtones, plus is much more durable. In the end when it comes to authentic tortoiseshell, I recommend saving your money and the turtles.