TuskBuffer Mammoth Ivory Guitar Pick Review
As I’m sure you can imagine, a basic job requirement here at Maury’s Music is liking to talk about guitars... a lot. On a weekly basis I’ll have dozens of conversations with players from across the country about nearly every aspect of the guitars.
While comfort and looks are popular topics, the majority of the conversations revolve around one question: “How does it sound?”. It’s not hard for me to see where they’re coming from. Tone is always that ellusive, subjective factor, hard to describe or quantify but we know it when we hear it. If something offers even a minor chance of improvement in the sound of their instrument players want to know about it, whether that be strings, pickups, saddles or bridge pins. Every musician is in a constant search of a balance for their instrument where all the variables come together and it just seems right. It’s in this pursuit that many of us are willing to spend hundreds of dollars trying to achieve that “perfect” tone, taking the instrument we already love and bringing it to the next level.
But for some reason picks are often overlooked in this equation. There is no other accessory that can have such immediate and wide ranging impact on the tone of an instrument than the pick and, more specifically, the material it’s made from. The right pick can take a guitar from average to phenomenal. It’s in this spirit that TuskBuffer picks are made. Straying from the norm of plastic or faux-tortoise picks, TuskBuffer produces hand-crafted Fossilized Mammoth Ivory (FMI) picks in a number of different shapes and sizes. While I was excited by the variety of shapes offered, for this review I felt it was best to not stray too far from my comfort zone. My main concern was the material of the picks and not the shape so it was with this in mind that my two test picks were “Standard Semi-Rounded Triangle” picks, sized at 1.0mm and 1.2mm.
Tone and Playability
While I do enjoy experimenting with pick materials, the one thing that kept bringing me back to my tried and true plastic picks the majority of the time has always been their feel on the instrument. I prefer a pick that creates a bit of friction on the strings as I’ve always felt that this little bit of feedback helps with accuracy. My pick choices have always been a balancing act between not feeling slippery and erratic when cross-picking while at the same time not feeling “slow”. TuskBuffer picks may be one of the picks to get closest to this ideal I have in my head and definitely my favorite when compared to other alternate material picks. They seem to sit in a comfortable place where they’re just smooth enough to glide easily across the string while still maintaining enough friction to give me the tactile feedback I find myself needing. It should be noted that even at their thinnest (1mm is about the limit for how thin a Mammoth Ivory pick can be for durability reasons) there is not much flex to speak of when using a Tusk Buffer. This may lead to a period of adjustment, especially for players who tend to play .7mm or below.
The FMI of a TuskBuffer pick provides a warm, “rounded” tone on an acoustic guitar, in sharp contrast to many other exotic pick materials aimed at the instrument. I have found picks made out of stag bone or buffalo horn to have a brittle, jarring tone, while Mammoth Ivory has the opposite effect. When using a TuskBuffer pick I noticed a reigning in of sorts on my high end without over-emphasizing the lows. This balanced, pianistic quality, along with the decrease in pick noise TuskBuffers provide, has improved my melodic flat picking tone considerably.
The TuskBuffer pick really excels in lead and melodic playing, whether that be solos or more delicate arpeggio playing. The only instance where I still find myself preferring the tone of a plastic pick is for songs that are primarily uptempo rhythmic strumming where the flexibility and high end are welcome. These tonal benefits become more pronounced when plugging in. The TuskBuffer pick I’ve tried has become my go to pick for any live performances, whether I’m playing my Martin acoustic, my Stratocaster or even my electric bass. Unless I’m specifically looking for a Birds-esque jangle, the TuskBuffer has become a constant companion. Without sacrificing too much of the treble you need to cut through a heavy mix, the Mammoth Ivory helps to give your tone a fuller, more authoritative quality.
Like most pick materials, a Mammoth Ivory is softer than the strings it’s designed to come in contact with and will eventually wear. Fortunately, I can’t speak of this from personal experience. This review has been a long time coming. Both review picks have been with me for over two months at this point with dozens of hours of playing hours between them. To date I’ve noticed no wear on the pick beyond slight surface scratches. With a modicum of care taken, a TuskBuffer pick can easily last you years. Just remember that while this material is extremely durable and harder than the plastic picks most of us are used to, forcefully flexing them will cause them to break. Also, leaving them in your pockets when your clothes go through the wash should be avoided as this will cause warping.
*While I have not personally had the need to do so yet, Tusk Buffer picks can be reshaped when the edge bevel start to wear. Many reviewers recommend using a crystal file to refine the edges of the pick, which can be purchased in nearly any cosmetics department for less than five dollars.
But wait, there’s more!
Mammoth Ivory is a porous material, absorbing small amounts of moisture it comes in contact with. Coupled with the natural moisture found on human fingers this causes the pick to create surface tension, effectively adhering to the player’s fingers. The longer the pick is held the stronger this grip gets, meaning that while a normal pick may be harder to hold steady without slipping during extended playing time due to sweat, a TuskBuffer pick becomes easier. It seems counterintuitive and to be honest I was was skeptical myself, but it really is a feature that you need to see and feel in person to appreciate. To put it simply, the days of keeping a large reserve of picks on stage for fear of them slipping from my hand are long gone.
So is it for you?
Whether you find you can use this as your daily “go-to” pick or you keep it around just for another sonic color on a handful of songs, a TuskBuffer pick is one of those accessories that I don’t hesitate in recommending to a majority of players. For those of you used to using a variety of pick materials, Mammoth Ivory can be a nice addition to a collection because while it is similar to other materials it possesses enough unique characteristics to earn it a place in your guitar case. For those of you who primarily play with a plastic pick but are interested in experimenting with new materials, TuskBuffer picks make for a nice, versatile place to start.