After reading an article about the humble pick, the history, various materials used, shapes, etc, and the predicted affect on tone, I decided to use a piano key top I’d found on the ground near the site of a piano demolition many years ago, and give it a whirl. The piece in question was of course too narrow to make the most common shape, but lent itself to making two teardrop shaped picks on the theme of the fender 358. A bit of shaping, sanding and polishing later, one is done. Photographed next to a common fender pick for scale. Sounds pretty good, bringing out a bit of a sharp bite at the start of a note compared to plastic, it’s also more sensitive, requiring less effort than a fender medium, and far less than a fender thin. 

Anyone else made their own?

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Hi Bruce, yes I have always grown my own, just have to trim them back now and again. Always grow a spare  but it's too small so gets cut back. No, to be serious I buy my flat picks, finger picks and thumb picks.

A mate of mine has a punch he uses to cut them out of credit cards.


It came from an upright piano from 1890. Its the real deal.  I came upon a crew that gutted a piano,  and used the shell as a prop in a saloon set for a cowboy themed shooting venue. I gathered up a few loose key tops left behind. I’d originally intended them for revolver sight inlay material.  I misplaced all but one of them, which I found again recently and made myself two picks. Just FYI, antique ivory is legal to own. It’s not legal to sell. I respect the reasons for the current laws, but also feel a kind of duty to act as steward to that which was taken in another time, rather than disrespect the treasure by tossing it out. 

You’re always gonna get those results from non acrylic picks, they’re more dense & have less give/flex than acrylic? That flex takes away some sustain? I’m guessing that’s simulated ivory, which is a polymer composition? I’ve seen really old picks made of real ivory, they’re pretty thick & have an interesting sound? I’m a finger picker, I occasionally wear metal finger picks on all 5 fingers, but have made picks from various metal, wood & plastic materials. As for wood- you need something hard like iron woods? Plastics- I like any thats not brittle & doesn’t flex? As for metal- I’ve used stainless, aluminum,bronze & copper. I liked hardness of bronze the best, if you wanna hear copper in action, listen to anything by Steve Albini- he’s known for them? My only thing about making them is that my hands are big n fat, so hard to hold onto while shaping, sander usually throws them across the room :) cheers

See my last. The material is genuine, and exactly the same as tooth enamel. Pretty hard. Holding them in good sized locking hemostats while sanding, etc works well. Padded the jaws with doubled paper towel.  

Awesome Bruce. My thing is slicing hardwood as thin as possible. have to use a zero clearance insert. scary, but i have some nice very thin hardwood picks. ebony, zincronite, rosewood. zebra wood is way to grainy. bacote is good, as is sandal wood. kind of scarce and bland, but very hard, it's all about the blade. 

Yep. I don’t have any appropriate wood at the moment. Thoughts run to Purple Heart or cocobolo perhaps. I’ve got a slitting saw and arbor for the little milling machine. I’ve thought about cutting blanks, milling to desired thickness, then laminating two layers at a 45 degree angle. Just something to play with when I’m bored. 

Brian, unless you've tried it, you can't judge it. Jimi Hendrix played with his teeth. It's more about talent than material. If you've never cut a piece of ebony less than a 1/16, you can't know what it feels like. Simulated Ivory? I offer that you know not of what you speak. Be positive. cheers. Oh, can you play a piano with your feet? I cannot either. Kudos Bruce.

C’mon it’s a friendly forum, I don’t think I said anything negative, sorry if I did Bruce? And yes simulated ivory, that’s what they use to replace key tops on broken piano keys?

Hmmm, anything unfriendly went right over my head, didn't see it.

However, I do notice that certain pick materials and thicknesses work better with some guitars than others. When I have a customer pick up a newly built guitar I've already sorted out the best pick for that guitar, first impressions count, so thats what they are offered. At least that's what I demo the guitar with.

Also, if you want to cut thin slices of timber on the table saw, I don't put the thin slice between the blade and the fence. I put the bulk of the board against the fence and slice off what I need on the other side of the sawblade. As it come out past the blade I grab it and guide it away from the saw.


I also use gift card material and just cut them out with scissors. Works fine and folks like them when they buy or I give a guitar.  I also like making my own wine bottle slides, again, works fine and make for a nice freebie when selling or giving guitars and canjos away.

I agree, the bulk against the fence. And thank you, I didn't mean to be unfriendly. Sorry if it seemed to be so.

Simulated ivory is a dense hard resin plastic. Probably poly urethane today. But that has no bearing on what I did. I used a key top from 1890, which I can assure you is all natural. Even if I didn’t know it’s age, two tests would identify it. One is to scrape it with my teeth. As any denture wearer can attest, ain’t nothin feels like the real thing. The second is the smell when sanded. It’s that smell of a dentist drill or when you singe your hair. So I’m not taking issue with anything said about any form of plastic. If I wanted plastic, like everyone, I’ve got loads of varieties all around me. What I wanted was to experience what was possible with ivory, a relatively expensive, yet not that hard to come by material back in the days before conservation efforts and the replacement of all sorts of natural materials with petrochemical crap we use today. 


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