Sponsored by ToneRite

Good Vibrations: How ToneRite Helps Instruments Reach Their Fullest Sonic Potential-lead-image-tonerite-acoustic-guitar.png
The ToneRite device is designed to accelerate an instrument’s break-in process.

For centuries, musicians and luthiers have recognized wood’s evolving tonal properties and the importance of regularly playing instruments to optimize their sound over time. Guitarists often describe new instruments as being “stiff” or needing to “open up,” and most players agree that using a stringed instrument over an extended period of time improves its tone, playability, and balance.

What if you could dramatically speed up that process from years to weeks? That’s the idea behind the ToneRite, a device designed to help your instrument achieve its fullest potential by applying vibrations that mimic continuous playing to accelerate an instrument’s “play-in.”

ToneRite was founded in 2007 by musician and engineer Agapitus “Augi” Lye. When Lye purchased a new cello, he felt it lacked the richness of his old instrument. Tapping into his background in engineering, Augi built a prototype that applied the physics of a musician playing an instrument, but with the added advantage of transferring continuous vibrations to the instrument in order to accelerate the break-in process.

Over the years, the ToneRite team has collaborated with luthiers and musicians around the world to refine its methods. Today, ToneRite offers models for guitar and banjo, mandolin, ukulele, bass guitar, cello, double bass, violin, viola, and drum, with prices starting at $149.

Good Vibrations: How ToneRite Helps Instruments Reach Their Fullest Sonic Potential-tonerite-violin.jpg
ToneRite on violin.

The ToneRite Process

The initial ToneRite treatment is simple. In the case of a guitar, place the device on the instrument’s strings, as close to the bridge as possible; the unit has rubber feet that attach to the strings. ToneRite suggests a two-week program for best results: Start with the intensity dial set to the maximum setting for seven days; and on the eighth day, lower the intensity to about 50 percent and leave the device running for another week. In the case of orchestral instruments, the unit attaches directly onto the bridge.

Guillermo (Guille) Chumpitaz, ToneRite’s Executive Director and an accomplished guitarist, sound designer, and luthier, explains the benefits of each step: “The 'max' setting targets the top of the guitar directly and therefore focuses on projection, mid-high to high-frequency content, and dynamics. The lower setting of ToneRite focuses on the low to low-mid frequency content by targeting the back and sides. This setting is also responsible for enriching the harmonic complexity of the instrument. Combining intensities during the initial treatment allows the ToneRite to affect all of the frequencies your instrument can reproduce, leaving you with a much more dynamic and balanced instrument across the board. Chumpitaz says this two-week treatment works with most guitars but he is happy to help customers determine the ideal time frame for their unique instruments. “Things like tonewood density, bracing patterns, and overall size and weight can bump up that initial treatment significantly,” he explains, adding that ToneRite is safe and cannot be overused on an instrument.

Chumpitaz says four factors determine the most effective ToneRite treatment:

• Density: The denser the wood, the more time it will need with the ToneRite. To determine density, Guille suggests referencing the Janka Hardness scale: “Mahogany from Honduras, for example, has about 1,200 points. And then if you look at something like Indian Rosewood, that reaches almost 2,400 points. The higher the number, the more time is needed under the ToneRite.”

• Mass and dimensions: “Visualize a ukulele next to an upright bass. You’ll quickly realize the same treatment wouldn’t work for both. For something like a ukulele or mandolin, we recommend our two-week initial treatment, but for a cello or double bass, we recommend a four-week treatment because it has a lot more mass.”

• Body style (hollow body, semi-hollow body, or solid body): “If it's an acoustic, we start with a two-week process. If you have a solid-body, there’s more mass, more fibers, so it's going to mean you need more time under the ToneRite for it to penetrate deep into the wood fibers. For solid bodies, we start at three weeks. The same applies to semi-hollow bodies that, even though they have less mass than their solid-body counterparts, have increased rigidity due to metal hardware attached to the instrument.”

• Bracing patterns: “With a heavier bracing-style construction, a longer treatment would be needed to open up the guitar top and help it become more lively. For that, we recommend three weeks or more.”

“A lot of people ask me if the treatment has to be non-stop, or if they can interrupt it to play the guitar,” says Chumpitaz. “You can. The problem is, most people are not really good at remembering to put the ToneRite back on right away. The secondary reason that we say don't interrupt the treatment is if you listen to it frequently, you’re not going to spot the differences as clearly.”

Good Vibrations: How ToneRite Helps Instruments Reach Their Fullest Sonic Potential-tonerite-mandolin.jpg
ToneRite on mandolin.

ToneRite in Practice

I tried ToneRite with Greg Sutton, a songwriter and guitarist based in Northern California. We used ToneRite on an Epiphone Texan 6 string acoustic-electric with an L.R. Baggs pickup system (a production-version Peter Frampton signature model). The guitar has a solid Sitka spruce top and solid mahogany back and sides, with a Pau Ferro fretboard. When we applied the ToneRite, the instrument was fairly new, with about 25 hours of playing time on it.

Following ToneRite’s suggestions, we set the device to its highest vibration setting for one week, and switched to a low setting for the second week. We made detailed notes before and after the test. At the end of the application, we restrung the guitar and allowed two hours playing time to break in the new strings. (As this article is meant to provide an introduction to ToneRite, not serve as a review, we didn’t conduct scientific tests or take objective measurements.)

Sutton initially described his guitar’s tonality as having a “tight tonal pattern consistent with Gibson/Epiphone manufactured guitars. Bass-string frequencies were tight and a little muted, with a pronounced but balanced midrange, and a little muted across G, B, and E high-string frequencies.” Post-ToneRite, we heard a richer and more pronounced frequency balance across all strings. “The muted tonality inherent in new wood and a new guitar has changed into a more rounded sound, with warmer bass and high-frequency tones,” says Sutton. “The guitar has a bit of a different feel, with more even tension across the neck for all strings. It’s definitely a bit louder in natural volume. I found a more balanced and fuller tone, closer to that of a more expensive Gibson model of similar design, or an older and more used instrument. Overall, I believe ToneRite has improved this guitar’s tone and playability. I especially noticed the change when fingerpicking, with the guitar sounding richer and ‘broken-in.’”

Chumpitaz offered a few insights about our results: “The vibrations go throughout the whole trunk of the neck, which is a solid piece of wood,” he says. “The ToneRite still reaches those fibers, so it definitely affects the way it feels and adds some liveliness to it.” As for enhanced projection, “it directly correlates with the first part of the treatment, during that first week,” he says. “That process focuses on the top of the guitar. The top is responsible for most of your high [frequency] content, but also for your projection.”

Our opinions are subjective; Chumpitaz encourages users to take extensive notes before and after treatment and to compare the spectral and dynamic content of recordings made before and after ToneRite use: “You'll be able to ‘see’ [on your DAW’s EQ screen] the change in the harmonic content; you’ll also see how much longer the instrument sustains after the treatment.”

Are ToneRite’s results permanent? Chumpitaz says to think of the process as long-term maintenance. “People ask, will the results stay forever? The answer is yes, they will stay forever as long as you continue to play the guitar. Once the ToneRite has done its thing, you take up the baton. Now you are the one introducing vibrations to the instrument.”

“If for whatever reason you stopped playing the instrument, after a few months it will start closing back up. At that point, you can apply what I call ‘touch-up’ treatments. If you have a collection of instruments, it's good to have them on rotation with a ToneRite unit to keep them all sounding their best and ready to record.”

Good Vibrations: How ToneRite Helps Instruments Reach Their Fullest Sonic Potential-tonerite-telecaster.jpg
ToneRite on a Fender Telecaster.

Let Your Ears Be The Judge

“I will be the first one to say the ToneRite is not going to work on every guitar under the sun,” says Chumpitaz. “I would honestly advise anyone to stay away from any product that promises to work on everything; there is no such a thing!” He adds: “We designed the ToneRite with wood-made instruments in mind, and therefore the ToneRite will have no effect on instruments made ‘completely’ out of carbon-fiber or fiberglass composites.”

Chumpitaz says that if an instrument is partially made of wood, the ToneRite can still have a big impact. “In a guitar like that — think of a fiberglass body guitar with a wood neck — it's not going to change the tone of it, but it's going to change its feel, and sometimes that is equally or more important than tone itself. You won’t notice the change through your ears, but you’ll feel it on your fretting hand, the hand that you're holding the neck with.”

The ToneRite is not designed to make a mahogany guitar sound like a maple one, or magically transform a $100 plywood guitar into an aged Martin. But many instrumentalists swear by the device’s ability to improve tone and playability. And with ToneRite’s 30-day return policy, there’s nothing to lose.

If you’d like to learn more about applying a ToneRite treatment to your instrument, email [email protected].