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Bakelite/Catalin guitar picks?

Discussion in '"Vintage" Instruments' started by Mr Shades, Aug 1, 2020.

  1. Mr Shades

    Mr Shades Member

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    Hi,

    I was wondering if any of you ever played with Bakelite/Catalin made guitar picks.

    Bakelite or Catalin is one of the first successful plastics ever designed in the beginning of the 20th century and in use til the 50's.

    Nowadays this stuff is pretty uncommon but would it still make a good guitar pick?
     
  2. kafka

    kafka Member

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    Bakelite is highly carcinogenic. You don't the dust anywhere near your lungs. It would make a horrible guitar pick.
     
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  3. silverhawk

    silverhawk Member

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    I call ******** on that.
     
  4. sws1

    sws1 Member

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    Much of the old bakelite was manufactured with asbestos, thanks to Union Carbide.
     
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  5. silverhawk

    silverhawk Member

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    The problem with asbestos is the big fluffy insulation stuff that gets in your lungs (it's a mineral). But the media has spun up this ******** that makes people think it's ALL carcinogenic in any form. My aunt had asbestos siding on her 100 year old house. It was covered in layers of paint, and was no threat to anyone. And yet her neighbor lost her freaking mind because she thought my aunt's house was killing people in the neighborhood. Thank goodness she died in a car wreck before she could proceed with her lawsuit against my aunt that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars.
     
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  6. kafka

    kafka Member

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    Asbestos pick dust is a bad thing to breathe. It's not a use or form that's safe.
     
  7. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Silver Supporting Member

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    You shouldn't the dust near lungs from anything.

    Bakelite is not "highly" or any other level of carcinogenic that I can find. The phenolic resin is usually molded or filled with some kind of fiber or product like paper, wood flour, cotton, nylon, linen, and yes, in the olden times or certain industrial applications, asbestos. The nature of the material keeps asbestos or other fillers sealed and unreactive. Are you going to be grinding out picks every day from asbestos filled Bakelite sheets with a CNC and hand sanding them? My guess is, no.

    I'll make a Bakelite pick if someone really HAS to know. My sense is that it will be a very stiff pick, not fun for what I do.

    If you read a lot of scary crap on teh interwebz and need to get Bakelite out of your life because the cancer is killing you, have fun replacing all your light switches and wall outlets. Gotta remove stove handles and knobs, most of the handles on all your black handled cookware. Have fun violating your warranty and codes by removing electrical terminal blocks and other parts in your stove, clothes dryer, water heaters, etc.
    Don't forget to have ALL your tube amp sockets ripped out and replaced with ceramic sockets. I don't know what to tell you about your tubes, though. The bases on power tubes... yep. Bakelite.
    Old Tele switch tips? Dakaware knobs? All gotta go. Goodbye, 70s Electro Harmonix knobs!
    While you're having your tech tear out those tube sockets, might as well have them replace every toggle switch in the amps as well, and drop off your pedals for new footswitches while you're there.
    Vintage Harmony banjos. Don't even LOOK at it, let alone be in a room alone with one!
    Of course, if you own an early 50s Telecaster or Esquire, take that black pickguard off, pack it up well, and send it to me. I will take every precaution to see that it is disposed of safely and properly.

    Do you own anything electronic? Like with a printed circuit board? Yeah, gonna have to get rid of those, too. You may have to sell your car.
     
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  8. Artie Fisk

    Artie Fisk Member

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    I think the issue is that you’re going to be grinding the pick against metal strings, wearing it down. Inevitably, you’ll breathe some. Is it enough to be a hazard? I don’t know. But what I do know is I had an uncle die from mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in the Navy, and it was horrific. Better safe than sorry?
     
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  9. kafka

    kafka Member

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    I honestly don't care if the doubters want to breathe bakelite or asbestos and get lung cancer. It would be no tragedy, and it wouldn't bother me one bit if it happened. The warning is there, the link to cancer is clear. If someone wants to ignore it, they can go for it.
     
  10. smiert spionam

    smiert spionam Supporting Member

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    Formaldehyde, phenol, and (sometimes) asbestos... regardless of what the EPA currently has to say about it, I don't think I'd want to be the guy who ground up old radio cases into guitar picks.
     
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  11. hogy

    hogy Supporting Member

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    You must live in California.
     
  12. BadgerDave

    BadgerDave Gold Supporting Member

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    Bakelite dust is probably as dangerous to your health as celluloid dust, nylon dust and wood dust.

    I generally don't generate dust while picking, nor do I hold my guitar under my nose so I'm not too worried.

    Those with different playing styles may have cause for greater concern.
     
  13. zombiwoof

    zombiwoof Supporting Member

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    I don't know about Bakelite, but exposure to asbestos in any amount is very dangerous. Actor Steve McQueen died from Mesothelioma, it was traced back to ONE DAY'S exposure from unloading asbestos from a ship when he was in the Navy. That's pretty toxic, I would rather err on the side of cautiousness myself.
    Al
     
  14. Atmospheric

    Atmospheric Member

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    Hardly one day’s exposure

    A few months later, McQueen gave a medical interview in which he blamed his condition on asbestos exposure.[100] McQueen believed that asbestos used in movie sound stage insulation and race-drivers' protective suits and helmets could have been involved, but he thought it more likely that his illness was a direct result of massive exposure while removing asbestos lagging (insulation) from pipes aboard a troop ship while he was in the Marines.[101][102]
     
  15. walterw

    walterw Gold Supporting Member

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    aaanyway, to get us back on track, assuming bakelite made with something other than asbestos, i think i'd totally like it!

    i want picks that are around 1mm thick but have zero flex, and bakelite would do it. i dunno about wear or brittleness though, they might be prone to snap.

    my current fave is the bluechip, it seems to have that kind of hardness while being extremely wear-resistant.
     
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  16. Sweetfinger

    Sweetfinger Silver Supporting Member

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    Formaldehyde and phenol are the precursor chemicals used in making the resin. They're in Bakelite in the same way a 1 carat diamond is inside a stick of white chalk.
    Your own body produces more formaldehyde naturally than you're going to get from Bakelite. Again, unless your Bakelite is a specific industrial product made for an application that absolutely requires it, it will not have asbestos. I would bet money that old radio cases were not the type of item that required asbestos in the formula, which would have been more expensive than other fillers, even in the old days and I'll guaran-frickin'-TEE that today, you will have to walk a long mile to find asbestos reinforced phenolic unless you're buying some industrial part that couldn't be made with fiberglass, cellulose, synthetic fiber, or some other inert material that doesn't require hazmat suits to handle and mountains of regulatory requirements.
    Fender's parts come with a warning about the poly bag. If the Bakelite Tele guards had asbestos, I think there'd be quite a warning on those, and more likely, they wouldn't have them available at all.
     
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  17. smiert spionam

    smiert spionam Supporting Member

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    To clarify, I don't have any particular anxiety about bakelite, and I'm sure there are plenty of worse things that I use all the time. I just wouldn't want to be pulverizing it all day long in a shop. Only free range, organic, grain-fed lacquer thinner for my precious lungs.
     
  18. bigsby'd

    bigsby'd Member

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    Wouldn't they chip, as opposed to wear down?
     
  19. billyguitar

    billyguitar Member

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    Asbestos isn't a problem if it's not friable, technical word for crumbling into powder. If it's intact like house siding you can leave it alone. My house was built in 1928 and has asbestos paper on the ducts from the gravity furnace. I'll probably just coat it in mastic if I ever decide to get central air because all of the ducts would have to be changed out.
    As far as bakelite for picks, I think it would wear very fast and to be thin enough for a pick it would just snap. It's not very flexible. Consider the prewar Rickenbacher 'spanish' guitar. The body was thick bakelite with large cavities for weight relief. The necks that came with it were solid bakelite and the frets were just molded with the neck. They wore out so fast that Rick offered a wooden replacement neck with normal frets when the bakelite frets wore out. I've played those with worn bakelite frets and they are terrible to play, way too much friction because the steel strings are much harder and wear quickly. I have a prewar Rick with the wooden replacement neck. It's a killer sounding guitar but hard to play with the horseshoe pickup always in the way. Nothing sounds like a horseshoe pickup!
     
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