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TOR-TIS™ PICKGUARDS – November 2014

The beautifully patterned shell of the sea-dwelling Atlantic Hawksbill turtle has been used by craftspeople for centuries. It was used to make inlay, jewelry, combs, eyeglasses and much more. It was used on musical instruments as well. In addition to inlay pieces, you can occasionally find small mandolin pickguards made from it and its widespread use as a guitar pick material is buoyed by the popular impression that for tone and playability, it has no peers.

Fortunately for the poor, nearly extinct Hawksbill (whose shell was often removed torturously from the living animal) high expense and later, legal protection, drove the material from common usage. Now, real tortoiseshell receives the highest level of protection from CITES and its use is strictly illegal throughout the world. Even a small tortoiseshell pick can land you in jail.

Aside from a few custom pieces, it has never been used for guitar pickguards. Celluloid imitations of tortoiseshell patterns have adorned instruments made by all the major manufacturers, but unlike the limited offerings found today, the patterns and colors of these early celluloid pickguards varied widely and exhibited unusual depth and detail.

Enter luthier John Greven who during the early 90’s developed the Tor-Tis line of pickguards to reintroduce the tortoiseshell patterns found on beloved instruments from the early 20th century. With depth, individuality (no two guards were the same) and a variety of patterns and colors to choose from, the Tor-tis pickguards became the only serious choice for builders of high-end guitars.

Recently, LMI began producing Tor-tis style pickguards in-house. In order to best present this material’s uniqueness, we now allow our customers to select a pickguard from a gallery of photos and purchase the exact piece they desire. Selling them this way allows our Tor-tis artisans to stray from the consistent aesthetic formulas that had to be adhered to when the pickguards were first sold from the old print catalog. Now they are free to incorporate more of the different patterns and colors found on vintage-era instruments.