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  1. #1

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    I recently bought a new Eastman 604 acoustic archtop cutaway guitar without a pickup. It was manufactured in 2010.

    The guitar was very tight sounding and I decided to try a Tonerite device to see if it would help break in the guitar. For those not familiar with the device, it is placed on the strings and it gently vibrates the guitar. Tonerite’s web page states the device will release inherent stress in the instrument by de-dampening the wood.

    I’m aware of the controversy surrounding this device. I think it is due in large part because the evidence of its effectiveness is mostly anecdotal. Anecdotal evidence can be helpful and informative, but because it is individual and subjective, it is not considered definitive. (Check out the long tread on the device at Collings Guitar.com for an interesting read.)

    I decided that the easiest and most objective way to asses the device’s effect on this new guitar would be to measure the one parameter of the sound that is easy to quantify, the length of sustain of the open strings before and after Tonerite treatment.

    For those who don’t want to read the details, I’ll summarize my findings: Sustain on the open low E string after Tonerite treatment of 12 days: there was essentially no change. Open A string = 38% increase. Open D string: no change. Open G string = 57% increase. Open B string = 35.5% increase. Open hi E string = 59% increase.

    Test details are below.

    In order for the test to be valid in my mind I had to be as consistent as possible in testing the device. I used a Dunlop green pick and attempted to pluck the strings with the same intensity each time. I plucked each string with 4 strikes and timed the sustain from start to silence with a stop watch. The total was then averaged for each string. The butt of the guitar was supported on the armrest of my chair and the headstock was rested on a guitar support to keep it free of my belly so the back could resonate. This placed the guitar so that my ear was about 6 inches from the sound hole.

    I conditioned the guitar for the recommended time of 72 hours. Then I removed the device and timed the sustain with the strings that were on the guitar during the treatment. They were D’Addario 12s. I then changed the original strings and replaced them with a new set of D’Addairo 12s. After the new strings stabilized, (when they stayed in tune) I measured the sustain again on this new set. There was virtually no difference in the length of sustain between the old and new strings.

    Just to be as clear as I can, the guitar’s sustain increased during treatment on the original strings. New strings confirmed essentially the same increase in sustain. In other words, the new strings were not responsible for the increase in sustain.

    To keep this description from going on longer that any of us want, I’ll not give every number I recorded; I’ll just say that there was a progressive increase on some strings after each treatment. The sustain of all strings was measured on four different occasions. The guitar was tuned carefully with a Turbo Tuner before each timing. There were three string changes (All D’Addario 12s) and three treatment periods. The guitar was on the device for a total of 12 days and I played it only briefly between sessions on the new strings to access its development subjectively and then the Tonerite was again placed on the guitar.

    Would the guitar have the same results if it had been played by Tommy Emmanuel over the 12 day period? I can’t answer that question because I didn’t have a duplicate Eastman 604 and Tommy hasn’t checked in lately. What I can say with a great deal of confidence is that the Tonerite device increased sustain on this guitar, although not equally on all strings and not in ways one might have predicted. I have that confidence because I think I was successful in eliminating other variables that could have contributed another influence.

    I don’t know why some strings were affected and others were not. The low E string resonates at 82.4 Hz and the D string at 146.8 Hz. Apparently the wood is happy or stubborn at those frequencies on this guitar at this time. I should point out that the sustain of the Low E string lasted 20 seconds at the beginning and 20 seconds at the end of the test. The hi E string changed from 12 seconds to 19.4 seconds at the end of the test and it gained most of that increase in the last 90 hours of the test. I expected the higher mass of the low E string to keep its sustain longer that the other strings, but it was a surprise when the hi E string caught up with it by end of the test.

    There may be more changes at a later date. I’ll try to keep you posted. That’s what I have found at this time. Any comments or conjectures are welcome and encouraged.

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  3. #2

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    Humidity during each test? Temperature? String age? How did you pluck each string with the exact same intensity / angle? Did you try any recordings to compare? How did you feel about the overall sound after, just going by ears?

    I'm a skeptic for sure but would love to know i could move the sound of a new archtop forward about 40 years without any of the downsides of a vintage instrument.

  4. #3

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    I hope you don't put too much time into trying to measure the before and after sound. I've had instruments that I feel "broke in" after playing a while and there was more to it than sustain but there are very credible people who don't believe instruments can break in. (I do but can't prove it)

    Better use of your time would be to practice.

  5. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dpardoe
    The guitar was very tight sounding and I decided to try a Tonerite device to see if it would help break in the guitar. For those not familiar with the device, it is placed on the strings and it gently vibrates the guitar. Tonerite’s web page states the device will release inherent stress in the instrument by de-dampening the wood.
    Dear Sir,

    I was rummaging around in my wife's sock drawer because I was missing a tube sock when I found a box holding a device whose label indicates that its gentle but penetrating vibrations relieve stress. Do you think this could be used on my archtop?

    <signed>
    Perplexed
    Last edited by BigDaddyLoveHandles; 08-02-2013 at 05:45 PM.

  6. #5
    Spiral,

    I live in the Bay area and the humidity and temperature were fairly constant during the test. I had the impression the strings on the guitar still had life in them as they came to me. Presumably the guitar was under tension in the shop before it was sold. I found in the test that string age didn’t have much effect on the sustain.

    Without a mechanical plucker, I couldn’t produce exactly the same intensity strike each time. That’s why I used the time on four separate strikes and averaged the result. If the differences in time of the various strikes had been radically different each time, I would not have continued the test, because the results would have had no meaning.

    I’m not set up to do the quality of recording that I think would tell me anything about the sound before and after. Besides, I wanted the test to be objective and not subjective.

    I am going to hold off awhile about giving any opinions about the sound before and after. The test was as quantitative as I could make it and the results are there in the numbers.

    Cheers. That's the kind of question I was hoping to get.

  7. #6
    BigDaddy,

    Yes you should put it on your "Archtop" and any other part of your body that feels good. With affection, that's the kind of question from you I was hoping to get.
    Last edited by Dpardoe; 08-02-2013 at 07:43 PM.

  8. #7

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    I too believe that guitars open up though my experience has been with sitka spruce over rosewood on flat tops. To me, a more three dimensional sound is generated over time with a lot of playing. This is as opposed to more sustain so it has more to do with the harmonics being generated for me. It's not something I think of as moving the guitar up a category, but I think it's real.

    As for your experiment OP, thanks for taking the time. It may be controversial and someone might even note that uneven results (some strings being changed more than others) might be a bad thing for the guitars sound, but I appreciate the effort to present something rational (scientific or not, this is not a science forum) for consideration.

  9. #8

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    Actually, I have a ToneRite and it very much works - sometimes a little and sometimes a lot. I don't care to test it with science; my musical ear and sensitivity to instruments is enough for me.

  10. #9
    Yes, Roger, I have my own feelings about that too, but guys are going to argue on about this forever without a little hard evidence. Besides, I had fun doing the test.

  11. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dpardoe
    I live in the Bay area and the humidity and temperature were fairly constant during the test.

    [...]

    I’m not set up to do the quality of recording that I think would tell me anything about the sound before and after. Besides, I wanted the test to be objective and not subjective.
    I only care if it sounds better. I do want to know eventually what you think, subjectively.

    Recording is the only way i can really compare. For me when i get a pickup (or change strings, speakers, tubes, etc.), i will do a recording before and after the swap then A/B them to see if it was truly an upgrade or the $$$ i just spent was clouding my judgement. Recently i had the uncomfortable realization that a $150 boutique pickup i installed was indistinguishable from a $35 Guitar Fetish pickup ... and i'm very critical about listening. I know i'm veering off topic but this kind of thing is of interest to me. I do understand you might not have the gear for a good test. Maybe a $100 field recorder would be a good investment? They can sound really nice. Then you have a way to capture your musical performances ... as well as tests.

    I asked about humidity because i find that to have the most effect on the sound over a year period. I'm a believer in guitars opening up as well. I've had 2 new guitars change dramatically ... one i couldn't even play because it sounded dead and the neck was sticky ... after a year of barely playing it, it was a whole other instrument.

    I look forward to when you are ready to share your "gut" thoughts about your experiment ... even if it's not right now. Thanks!

  12. #11

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    I'm curious that some would rather compare things by recording them rather than just playing and listening in real time. I hear (and feel) far more subtle differences when I'm playing vs. when I listen to myself on a recording.

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpguitar
    I'm curious that some would rather compare things by recording them rather than just playing and listening in real time. I hear (and feel) far more subtle differences when I'm playing vs. when I listen to myself on a recording.
    A few reasons. How else would you compare a sound that you heard a week ago, or how a pickup sounds in the same guitar? Echoic memory is only a few seconds. After that you have a feeling about what it sounded like. Don't get me wrong, we (i think) are talking about how to evaluate subtle nuance on the same guitar, not the difference between different strings or different guitars you can play side by side. In this case we are talking about the change to a guitar that happens over a week period.

    I do both play and record, but actually A/B-ing a recording removes the bias / power of suggestion. You'll think something sounds better because you want it to, because you just paid $100 for an upgrade, or your hearing is different that day, or you ate a hot dog, or whatever. Hearing is actually one of the lowest priority senses highly susceptible to the power of suggestion.

    By recording it, or having someone A/B two guitars, or whatever, back to back, you can actually truly use your ears to make a judgement. It's actually stopped me from re-buying stuff because over time i think something was better or worse than it was, but i listened back and think "Oh right. I sold that for a reason".

  14. #13

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    Our very own Mythbuster.

    So it is confirmed, busted, or plausible?

  15. #14
    Jabberwocky

    Yes, I’m a recovering audiophile too. We were all sold a bill of goods in those days and I for one, wasted far too much money. In my opinion that’s all the more reason to check something out and try to see if it really does what it claims.

    I’m not in search of the perfect sound. When the guitar arrived the sound was tight and pinched. Now it is a pleasure to listen to it. That’s enough for me.
    Last edited by Dpardoe; 08-03-2013 at 03:28 PM.

  16. #15

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    Jab, I'm telling you without a trace of snake oil stains on my three piece suit that the ToneRite is a useful gadget. I have put it on guitars overnight and seen immediately obvious results the next morning. It's not going to turn a turd into a gem, but it can get things moving along quicker than nature usually allows.

  17. #16

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    What Roger says +1000.
    I've given up posting positive stuff about the tonerite on other forums, as so many get unnecessarily aggressive and negative, usually never having tried the thing.
    Two points not always mentioned.
    1) Like pickups, boutique amps, etc., if you can hear a difference, (and I can,) go for it. If you can't save your money.
    2) I'm old (69) and don't (realistically) have 30 playing years left to 'open up' a guitar by playing it. So I figure anything that helps open it up in less time is a plus for me.
    I find the gadget significantly helps open up newer or 'sleeping' acoustics, although with a good, regularly played older box, it makes little difference (as I'd expect.)

    Just my two cents worth.

  18. #17
    I expected some negativity. It always happens when the ToneRite subject comes up, but some guys will change their minds especially if they get a chance to try it on a new guitar.

    I have a Recording King flattop that sounds wonderful and I used it as a foil to assess the 604 as it developed. The two guitars are completely different of course, but that dissimilarity helped me remember what the 604 was like at different stages and how it was progressing.

    For instance, out of the box and after tuning, I placed the new guitar on a stand next to the RK and lightly brushed the back of my nails across the strings of both guitars. Even with that light touch the RK came to life with tone coming from the sound hole.

    What I got out of the Eastman was an unpleasant jangle with no air movement from the sound hole. I was also beginning to feel I had wasted a lot of cash.

    After the first 72 hours, the same experiment produced a still restrained, but pleasant chorus from inside the Eastman. From the beginning the sound was sophisticated and exact, but distant…sort of Julie Andrews vs. the RK’s Nora Jones.

    The guitar has warmed up a great deal over the short time and it is a pleasure to play.

  19. #18

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    Fine, fine.. someone loan me one for the next new guitar.

  20. #19

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    I have not used the device so you may ignore my comments right away; however, I agree completely with the theory. In my experience, guitars change pretty dramatically over the course of a few years and generally improve with greater age given quality product and production. I think it can't be just the wood changing, but also the glue and the finish.

    There were some interesting vibration studies done to the sound boards (fronts and back) of old violins, published in the journal Science in the early 1980's. It's not exactly relevant, but not completely irrelevant that vibration quality changes as the material vibrating changes. And, of course, a whole host of interrelated details come into play.

    So, if in fact, this device does change properties of the wood, glue, finish, etc. There is no reason to think it won't have some impact on the vibrational qualities. I am inclined to believe it is possible, but welcome a heavy dose of skepticism. Do players here remember when guitar bodies/soundboards would be subjected to high volume speakers to vibrate the tops? Never tried that either, but some people used to swear by it.

    I bought a Larrivee dread maybe ten, eleven years ago. It has a very hard finish. Sounds great, but is still opening up. My 30 plus year old beater, laminate yamaha rings like a bell by contrast.

  21. #20

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    Sorry, meant to add that my experience leads me to consider old guitars when I buy. New instruments don't interest me nearly as much. For me, this doesn't apply to solid body electrics of course.

  22. #21

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    Dpardoe,

    I'm very interested in all manner of geeky stuff. So I started reading your OP with much enthusiasm. I didn't make it through the 2nd paragraph before I found something that looked totally bogus.

    Forgive my reaction but this statement does not add up: "Tonerite’s web page states the device will release inherent stress in the instrument by de-dampening the wood."

    I checked the Tonerite website, and sure enough, it does not say that. It says "de-damping the wood".

    De-dampening sounds like dehumidifying. That's what stopped me. It's just a typo, but it changes everything.

    Let me go back and read the rest of your post and the research on the website, then I have some more questions.

    KB

  23. #22
    De-damping is the word I meant. I got the spelling wrong...sorry. To me damping means, you put your finger on a string to stop it ringing. Presumably de-damping the wood will let it resonate with the strings instead of repressing the ring. One definition of "to damp" is to restrict or limit a thing.
    Last edited by Dpardoe; 08-08-2013 at 11:48 PM.

  24. #23

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    Damping of the wood is one thing. That's plain ole stiffness. The structure of the assembled guitar can have stresses too. In building, if 2 parts fit not quite perfectly and clamps are used to close the joint during gluing, then a stress is built into the structure. Some subtle stresses are built into the some guitars intentionally. Both kinds of stresses, in the wood and in the structure, contribute to the damping of the whole guitar.

    The guitar naturally resonates more with certain frequencies. The resonance that coincides with the frequency of a string causes that string to be louder. In your experiment, it may be the thing that's giving certain strings a longer sustain.

    The damping of the guitar inhibits certain resonances. As the damping resides, some or all of the inhibited resonances increase. This may happen in different degrees depending on the degree of damping and the degree of excitation during de-damping. That could explain why some strings reacted more than others to the Tonerite.

    For a given string, if there were no stresses corresponding to resonances that would effect that string, then it won't change much. New instruments may have one string that sounds better or louder the others. The de-damping brings every string closer to that one.

    The Tonerite de-dampens the guitar in a similar way as play-in. But an argument in the back of my mind that says two things. Playing in does it better. And playing in does more than just de-damping.

    The argument for why playing in de-dampens better is easy. Since you play more notes than just the open strings, more frequencies are produced, therefore more trapped resonances are directly effected. Playing in enlivens and balances the open strings as the Tonerite does. Additionally it has the potential to enliven dead spots on the fretboard. I haven't totally thought this through yet, so debunk if desired.

    The other thing that playing in does has to do with touching the fretboard and neck, a smoothing and lubricating effect. So playability as well as tone are improved by manual play-in.

    Since your experiment involved at lot of exposure to the Tonerite and very little playing, it seems to prove that it works. Or it works with a caveat if any caveat is valid.

  25. #24

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    Actually, the ToneRite does not excite the strings at any particular pitch. You place the ToneRite on the strings immediately next to the bridge, touching it if possible. The strings are entirely muted by the pressure of the ToneRite. So there are no open OR fretted notes to be excited.

    The ToneRite vibrates, and the energy moves into the bridge, which excites the top and other components much in the way that playing does. I suppose you could analyze the frequency spectrum of the ToneRite's oscillation, but at some point we are getting into esoterica that doesn't matter much. Bottom line, it does physically excite (vibrate) the instrument, and if one believes that such vibration "opens" the tone, then the ToneRite is an effective means of doing so.

    Yes, you should also play the guitar!

  26. #25

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    Sorry for the mistake. I wouldn't try to analyze the spectrum. Their engineers probably did it right.

  27. #26

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    I remember back in the day being told guitara "age" via musical vibration and the common suggestion was to place acoustic guitar on stand in front of or close to your stereo speaker so when playing music the guitar would get the musical vibration. I did that for years my acoustic was in front of my subwoofer and I could hear the sympathetic vibrations of the guitar. To it seem to work and many people would rent or borrow my acoustic for sessions because it recorded so well.

    So to me don't need no special device just keep your acoustics near your stereo speakers, don't cost nothing to try.

  28. #27

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    ^^^Hm, I wonder if placing a capo on the first fret, leaving it for a while and moving it up gradually would also help out. You know, so all the notes get a chance to ring.

  29. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    Sorry for the mistake. I wouldn't try to analyze the spectrum. Their engineers probably did it right.

    I’m not so sure the engineers did anything but make a motor that vibrates at 60 cycles per second. I held the ToneRite at full power next to the mic on my Turbo Tuner and got a reading of B1. The frequency of B1 is 61.7 Hz.

    At maximum intensity the device seems to be shaking the guitar at 60 Hz. I can’t measure the lower intensitites because the Turbo Tuner can't hear them.
    Last edited by Dpardoe; 08-09-2013 at 08:40 PM.

  30. #29

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    I see. Well, it seems to be working. There's a thread on the Collings forum where 122 members rated a Tonrite on their own guitar. 77% reported moderate or dramatic improvement.

  31. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by kenbennett
    Damping of the wood is one thing. That's plain ole stiffness.
    Regarding the entire concept of "playing in" and any device that claims to assist in this process - the issue would not be stiffness per se, but hysteresis in the wood.

    The presumption is that vibrations can reduce hysteresis and thus damping. This can have nothing at all to do with stiffness.

    The sometimes-mentioned principle that one must play certain frequencies to have certain effects seems to me to be completely unsubstantiated, yet seemingly satisfying to many.

  32. #31

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    Leaving your guitar on the stand in front of a stereo system playing music has a similar effect. I do, however, think that the reason the 6th string made less progress was because of the use of the green pick.

  33. #32

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    Will this work on a laminate guitar?
    What happens if I leave it on for too long, will I lose my tone?
    Also, how many treatments will my guitar need to take it into vintage aged territory?
    I want to believe.