The Mandolin Tone-Gard is one of the best accessories to come along for mandolins players. You might have seen your favorite mandolin player using one and wondered what it was. The Tone-Gard isolates the mandolin by suspending it away from your body. The difference is quite noticible with more volume and improved tone. Some of the top mandolin players use the Tone-Gard. David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, John Reischman, Chris Hillman, Roland White, Radim Zenkl, Andy Statman, Mike Marshall, Dana Rath, Tom Rozum, Eric Thompson, Emory Lester, and many other artists.
The Tone-Gard is made in California from "ceramic powder-coated", laser cut steel. There are rubber and leather pads to protect the finish.
Please note: The Tone Gard is not recommended for soft varnish finishes. This Mandolin Tone-Gard will fit most A and F-model mandolins. It will not fit the smaller Oval hole body styles.
How does it work?
The concept is surprisingly simple! When you are playing a mandolin, the whole instrument vibrates. Although most of this is from the top, there is a surprising amount happening with the back of the mandolin as well. When the back is free floating (not touching your body), the harmonics come alive and it is like a whole new instrument. Of course, the better and more responsive your mandolin is, the more noticeable this is. A really dead sounding laminated instrument will not benefit much. A mid range instrument actually does, but still not to the level of a highly responsive mandolin. This is something you should really try for your self. Hold your mandolin against you and play, then suspend it away from you and play. Better yet, have someone else do this while you listen. It is sometimes hard to hear what is going on when you are the one playing and the sounding is going forward. If you do not hear a difference, then you do not need a Tone Gard.
A Sunrise Tone-Gard will fit the vast majority of mandolins made. Almost all F-hole mandolins (either A or F style) have bodies that are very close in size. This will fit some oval hole mandolins, but it depends on the mandolin. The Tone Gard simple clips on to the back of the mandolin and stays in place surprisingly well. There are small leather pads at contact points to protect the finish and then tubing on the arms to grab the sides. This can react with some (not all) varnish finishes. It seems to be safe with most mandolins though. Generally, you would leave the Tone Gard on the mandolin. Taking them on and off constantly can fatigue the metal. We have not heard of one breaking, but it is not designed to be constantly removed.
How does attaching a metal apparatus to the back of your instrument not hurt the tone?
We are not physicists, and common knowledge tells us that adding weight to an instrument mutes it. It sure seems counterintuitive to buy a quality mandolin that a master maker spent countless hours perfecting it, only to install something like this, right? Wrong! The contact points for the Mandolin Tone Gard are right near the binding and on the sides. Very little is happening here acoustically. The Gard does not touch the back. This is the same principle as a violin shoulder rest. Bottom line is that it just works.
Why the high cost?
Actually, considering the quality and the nature of the small run construction, it is actually very inexpensive. That and the fact that there are only a few things you can do to improve the tone of a mandolin, and the percentage of improvement for the price is pretty outstanding in this case. It pretty much goes in this order: picks, strings, Tone Gard, Bridge. Those are the things that can dramatically improve/change your instrument’s tone.
An added side benefit is that putting a Tone Gard on your mandolin, protects the back from scratches and dings.
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