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Turtle Shell Guitars (Are They Legal?)

We have all heard of guitars made of rare and exotic woods, but have you ever heard of a turtle shell guitar that is actually made from the shell of a turtle?

I know, it’s crazy to think that this is actually a thing.

Turtle shell guitars were a huge thing after World War II when some soldiers would bring them back home from the pacific. These guitars are capable of selling for a lot of money as they were deemed a rare commodity and collector’s item by some individuals 

The trade of turtle shells became illegal in the early 1970s as a number of turtle species were endangered. This means that in most cases it is illegal to buy, sell, or own a turtle shell guitar that was not built before this time. 

turtle shell guitar on display

Read on to find out more about this unique and mysterious guitar.

Turtle Shell Guitar Appearance on Pawn Stars

In one episode of Pawn Stars, an individual named Jon brought in a turtle shell guitar to see if he could legally sell it. 

He was looking to sell his turtle shell guitar to help fund his daughter through college.

Rick ends up calling one of his experts to get his opinion on the purchase of this rather unusual product. 

Jesse, who is the owner of Cowtown Guitars, proclaims that he “would not touch the guitar with a ten-foot pole.” He also mentions that some people have done 10 months of in-house arrest and paid $20,000 of fines for selling a product like this illegally.  

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Unfortunately, the deal does not go through and Jon is left looking at what his options are in regards to what he can and cannot do with his turtle shell guitar. 

You can watch the full segment of this Pawn Stars episode here:

Are turtle shell guitars illegal?

It is legal to buy, sell, and keep turtle shell guitars in the US if you are able to provide evidence that the item pre-dates ESA & MMPA.

Otherwise, it is illegal to trade, buy, or sell any sea turtle products within the USA and other countries. This ban was enforced by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) in 1973.

Can you sell a turtle shell guitar?

It is illegal to sell a turtle shell guitar if you are unable to provide evidence that the product pre-dates ESA & MMPA.

Turtle Shell Guitar Pick

There are a number of bluegrass musicians who prefer using a real turtle shell pick as they add a unique sound and tone to your guitar. 

As of right now, turtle shell picks are illegal.

There are many retailers online that still sell turtle shell picks, so be careful if you are looking to purchase one as they may be picked up by customs. 


Owning a turtle shell guitar is a dream of many guitar enthusiasts, but make sure you check out the legal status of owning one of these guitars before you make the purchase. 

You could end up being fined for something you didn’t know was an issue. 

Stay safe out there fellow musicians!

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What’s your opinion on turtle shell guitars?

Have you tried out one before, and if so, what did you think about it?

Let me know in the comments section below – I would love to hear what you have to say!