Various plastic material picks for mandolin have appeared on the market, but I believe there are many mandolinists (of course, mandola and mandoloncello players, as well) who prefer tortoiseshell picks. I, personally, am one of them.
Tortoiseshell picks have distinctive features setting them apart from other plastic picks as shown below.
- You can get warmer, clearer sounds.
- They fit snugly in your fingers preventing slippage.
However, there are some demerits as well, as shown below.
- They are expensive as they are made from precious natural materials.
- There are individual differences in size and thickness, making it difficult to find the best one for your tastes.
So, I would like to recommend Ultem Picks! Ultem is an artificial resin, but the material is very similar to the tortoiseshell. In fact, it's difficult to distinguish between them just by the snug feeling in the fingers, the degree of bending, and the tone.
Unfortunately, I've never seen Ultem picks being sold for mandolin. However, even if they are not being sold, we can make our own! I will show you how to make mandolin picks using the Ultem guitar picks.
■ Materials and Tools
● Model mandolin pick
I chose to use the pick below this time.
● Ultem pick
I recommend the triangle type, as it is large and the shape of the model mandolin pick can be easily traced onto it. If you’re making a pick for the mandolin (not for mandola or mandoloncello), the teardrop type will be fine, too. I recommend a thickness of 1.0 mm or less as a thicker pick may be more difficult to cut.
→ List of the Ultem picks
Most of them are yellowish and transparent, but there are some cute, colorful ones as well.
● Felt tip marker
I recommend using a thin marker so that you can accurately trace the shape.
General stationery scissors will be fine. The thickest pick I used this time was 0.94mm, but I was able to cut it without any problems.
It’s better to prepare a few grades of sandpaper. This time, I used #120 (medium grade), and a fine grade sandpaper, which is for finishing (grade unknown, but I believe it is classified as #280 to #800).
■ Making your pick
1. Trace the shape of the model pick to the ultem pick
Place the model pick on the ultem pick and copy the shape using the permanent marker. Since it is more difficult to cut out the tip with scissors, I recommend aligning the tips of the picks.
2. Cut out with scissors
Cut out along the line. Be careful that the scissors are perpendicular to the surface of the pick, and cut little by little. A rough cut cross-section and remaining outline will not be a problem. The pick on the left in the photo is the tortoiseshell pick I used as the model.
3. Polish with sandpaper
I recommend you follow the steps below in order.
- Place the rough sandpaper on the desk and gently rub the cross section of the pick vertically to smooth the shape.
- Next, hold the pick at a slight angle, and rub the edge until the corner of the cross section is curved.
- Smooth out the cross section using the fine sandpaper.
And you’re done! I started out making with the intention of making only 2 picks, but I got absorbed in it and ended up making 5 picks. It took about 1 hour to make the 5 picks.
There are three merits to making your own mandolin pick using Ultem guitar picks.
Merit 1: Good cost performance!
A tortoiseshell pick is generally about 700 to 1,000 yen a piece, but Ultem picks are around 100 yen a piece. They’re overwhelmingly cheap.
Merit 2: Easy to make and fun!
You can make your own without requiring special tools. It is a simple task, and you can easily get immersed in it. Plus, you will cherish the pick even more because you made it yourself!
Merit 3: You can make the copies of your favorite picks!
Because Ultem is an artificial resin, there will be no individual differences between the picks you make, and you’ll feel a sense of security because you can continue to use stable quality picks of your own making. If you chose Ultem picks that are as thick as the picks you usually use and model them after your favorite picks, you can mass-produce picks that are as close as possible to your favorite picks.
Have you become interested in making Ultem mandolin picks? I’d like to see people who like the tortoiseshell picks try this out. Even if you still prefer tortoiseshell picks in the end, the Ultem picks you made will be convenient to use when you’ve just replaced the strings, which causes the pick to wear out more easily.
→ List of mandolin picks
These can be found on the mandolin accessories page. We also sell tortoiseshell picks for mandolin, mandola and mandoloncello!