Review: Is Tonerite Everything it Claims or just an Infomercial Style Scam?
(ShackMan | Posted 2010-08-06)
It sounded like something straight out of a Home Shopping Network infomercial as soon as I heard the pitch at Summer NAMM: ďJust put the Tonerite on your guitar and 72 hours later your guitar will sound like itís been played for another year!Ē Sure, we all long for that broken-in sound when the wood opens up and begins to resonate more and more with age. Certainly a product that could give your guitar the feel and sound of a vintage version of the same instrument with just a few days of treatment would be highly sought after, so I had to try it and see for myself. The Tonerite staff were gracious enough to loan me a sample unit, and after nearly two and a half months of testing the Tonerite on my guitars and testing the results through various oscilloscopes, decibel readers, and any other way I could think of to scientifically measure any changes in the guitarís tonal qualities or overall volume (the two main promises that Tonerite claims), Iíve come to a verdict. SoÖconsidering its $149 price tag, is it a must-have for every musician out there trying to get all he can out of his instrument, or is it another infomercial-esque scam that canít hold up to its promises? Well, Tonerite prints everything theyíre promising right on every box.
Tonerite is a company that doesnít skimp on presentation, either. My test unit shipped in the classy box above, held shut with a bright red wax seal. On the inside is red velvet padding with the Tonerite nestled inside. Pretty snazzy.
To use the Tonerite, you simply set the vibrating box on the strings and the vibrating pads interlock. Dial in your desired level of harmonics once itís plugged in, and leave it on while you arenít playing. This is supposed to simulate constant playing, breaking the guitar in and loosening up the wood as it normally would with age through vibrations, except greatly accelerating the process from years to a matter of weeks. They recommend using it for at least 72 hours straight for your first use so that you can at least hear a difference. I almost found myself sitting there watching it and listening to it buzz; thereís just something that draws you in and makes you want to know exactly what itís doing to your guitar. Itís certainly near-silent while itís on, but I recommend making sure you have it set up so that light objects and the Toneriteís own cord wonít be touching the guitar, as this can turn the quiet operation into a rather noisy and annoying buzz quickly. This is no fault of Toneriteís; just a suggestion of my own.
To do this scientifically, I needed to have a ground level to compare, so I first recorded myself playing a set passage that I used throughout the testing process. I used a simple set of riffs, melody, and chords, in that order. I always used the same setup: guitar into a direct box and a microphone placed about a foot away, simultaneously, to catch any new nuances in the sound coming from the guitar. I would record myself playing the same passage after certain intervals, otherwise keeping the Tonerite on continuously.
After the first 72 hours, I took my guitar down from the wall and played the same passage. I felt like I noticed a difference in the feel of the way the guitar played, but I waited to see official results. There were differences in volume, but they were generally small enough to fall under differences in my playing, but only generally. Some passages showed an increase of one to one and a half decibels (a sizeable difference in the grand scheme of things), so I kept going. Fast forward several tests and a month or so in time and I was seeing much more noticeable differences, and a somewhat rounder, sweeter sound to go along with the newly found volume. Test results proved exactly what I thought, and recordings showed an average 2-3 dB increase in volume over the original pre-Tonerite test, and another very peculiar result that I hadnít expected.
This particular guitar I was using is one I havenít liked very much among my collection of three acoustic guitars. It has always had an odd midrange bump in its sound right around 500Hz and, after a solid month and some odd change of Tonerite ďtreatmentsĒ (Thatís what Iíve come to call them), that bump is now more of a slight slope on an oscilloscope, and it overall has a much smoother tone, as I described above. Thatís not to say that if you put it on any guitar, youíll be getting rid of midrange, but it seems to me that after further testing on two other guitars that the Tonerite can also bring out more extreme character in a guitar if itís in the guitar to begin with. For example, on a handcrafted guitar, I saw a noticeable increase in the upper mids around 800Hz-1.2kHz, adding a very bright and at times almost twangy sound to the instrument, fitting of its island heritage.
All of this tone sculpting came at no damage to any of my instruments. They are still as solid as ever. The Tonerite made my instruments easier to play and feel more responsive Ė almost more alive. The tone-sweetening ability of the Tonerite brings out your guitarís mature sound, whatever that may be. In my experience, it didnít seem to have any coloring qualities of its own, although I should make one remark about its use: higher frequency levels do NOT mean that your guitar will go through this process quicker, only that it will go through it a little differently. Turning the Tonerite to its maximum settings simulates more heavy playing and will yield more volume and brighter tones, whereas using the low settings simulates quite the opposite. This will generate sweeter, smoother tones, along with a little more volume, but not quite as much. Still, no matter what settings I chose or what guitar I used it on, I was never unhappy with the results.
So the Tonerite isnít a scam at all, and it can help any guitar, violin, cello, bass or other stringed instrument (theyíre working on new models as I write this) reach its full potential more quickly. Is it a massive difference that can turn a Playmate acoustic into a Martin Dreadnought copy? Hardly, but in my book, itís an upgrade that keeps on upgrading. Buy one and you can put it on every guitar you buy and continue to use it as long as youíre still playing. Iíd go as far as to say that itís necessary for any amateur or professional musician wanting to get a better sound out of his equipment, and who doesnít for a mere $149? This one is going in my personal collection.
For more information on Tonerite products and to order, go to http://www.tonerite.com.
James Rushin is a bassist, keyboardist, writer, and composer living and working in the Greater Pittsburgh area. He has performed with Selmer artist Tim Price, Curtis Johnson, guitarists Ken Karsh and Joe Negri, and his compositions have been featured at West Virginia University and Valley Forge Christian College. His contest winning essays and short stories have seen publication in and around the Tri-State area.
Feel free to e-mail James with comments, questions, concerns, at firstname.lastname@example.org.