Review: ToneRite For Guitars Plays In New Strings For You

Device designed to 'play in' your guitar   12-May-13

Review: ToneRite For Guitars Plays In New Strings For You

It's a bold claim, the ToneRite claims to 'play in' new strings on your guitar, or to bring the best out of an acoustic guitar that you just don't get the time to play.

The ToneRite device is placed over the strings of your instrument, as close to the bridge as possible, and then you plug it into the wall, switch it on, and it vibrates, sending a signal through your strings.

"What, like an E-Bow?" is probably what you're thinking right now. In a way, the ToneRite is like an E-Bow, but it's actually in direct contact with the strings, and it doesn't produce an audible harmonic sound like an E-Bow does.

The ToneRite was the brain child of Augi Lye, who developed the device for his cello, which he wasn't able to play as often as he liked to. He was impressed with the tonal improvements he achieved on his cello by using the ToneRite, and developed further models to send out to his musician friends.

Now a model is available for guitars, and I tested it out on four of my instruments. First of all, I want to put it out there that I am going to review this subjectively. I can't avoid it. The only way I could think of to review the ToneRite completely objectively would be to restring a guitar and leave it for three days, and then record it, and then to repeat the test, but having left the ToneRite on the strings of the guitar, and then repeat the recordings.

But doing this with an electric guitar, with so many components that affect the output signal, I don't think it could be a fair test. So I'd have to do it with an acoustic guitar, which would mean getting an almost identical microphone placement on both tests, because we know that the very slightest change in microphone position, or even the velocity at which my fingers or plectrum hit the strings, could cause a massive change in the recorded tone.

So I think the a purely objective test of the ToneRite's capabilities is almost impossible, but I can test some of the claims that the company make about the device, such as the fact that turning the level of vibration up creates more harmonic overtones in the low end frequencies of the instrument.

The ToneRite has two main uses, primarily to give a bit of TLC to those guitars in your collection which you just don't play often enough. Particularly for acoustic guitars, it's said to keep the tone wood in shape. I'm not a physicist, so I can't comment on the science behind that, but as a harmonic acoustic instrument which creates a sound by channeling vibrations through it's body and resonates them out through the sound hole, it makes sense that a device which sends vibrations through the guitar in the same way would have a good effect.

The second use is to 'play-in' the strings on new guitars, for my money, that's a much easier test to claim. I tested the claim prior to a recording session with my band earlier this year. I would usually do all of the playing in myself, but taking four guitars into the studio, and having the commitment of a 9-5 job in the days before the session, time wasn't on my side.

Like most guitarists, I leave it until the last minute to change my strings, I changed them about five days before the session. I assigned the two ToneRites I had access to to my Gibson Les Paul 1960s Tribute, and my Gretsch G5120, I then decided to manually play-in the new strings on my Taylor double cutaway solidbody electric, and my Fender Highway One Telecaster.

Why do I need to take four guitars into a recording studio? Well that's none of your business! But if you must know, I was planning on playing rhythm and lead parts on the recordings, and I had very specific parts in mind for all these guitars.

I gave the Les Paul and the Gretsch around 90 hours of ToneRite action before the session, and probably managed around 10 hours of manual playing in on both the Taylor and the Fender.

This is where it first struck me, the ToneRite can work while your sleeping, and as much as I'd like to be able to play guitar in my sleep, my girlfriend isn't so keen on me developing that skill.

So did the superior amount of time spent channeling energy through the Les Paul and the Gretsch do a better job of playing the strings in by myself on the other guitars?

I'd say it was pretty much equal. I made sure I gave the strings on the LP and the Gretsch a little bit of a stretch, as I'd always do after restringing a guitar. But when I played in the Fender and the Taylor, I was physically bending the strings, I'm a heavy player so I was battering the strings with my right hand.

I think the ToneRite did a good job on the strings, it got rid of the ultra high-end twang you can sometimes get on new strings. As for the claim that turning up the intensity of the vibration (we're getting into dodgy territory here) gives you more low-end response. I tested this on the Gretsch, compared to the Les Paul (which was set to a low vibration). Both guitar surprisingly have similar frequency responses when plugged into an amp and set to the neck pickup, and I certainly noticed a bit of extra grunt in the low end.

I think you'd have to have the ToneRite going for hundreds of hours to really test this properly, but I can see how this works in theory. Sending a more intense signal through the strings is likely to take away some of the high end, which means you will naturally notice the low end more, perhaps there isn't more low end, but just less high end.

I uploaded one of the tracks from the session so you can hear what those guitars sound like (all guitars were used on this song, the Les Paul and the Taylor were playing the rhythm parts panned left and right, and the Gretsch and Tele shared the lead parts).

So as a round up, the ToneRite doesn't do anything that you can't actually do yourself. But if you have a large guitar collection, or if you just don't have enough time to play your axe, then it's a good little tool to have handy. It works better on acoustics than it does on electrics, just because so much of the tone on an electric is locked up in the pickups and the amplifier.

A few days of testing it on my Hofner Senator, and it does make a bigger impact on the sound, particularly with new strings.

It's not cheap, at around $180, but it does something that no other device, other than your hands, can actually do!

More info - ToneRite website

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