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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Can A New Instrument Sound Vintage?

Everyone who's ever played or heard a vintage stringed instrument can attest to the excellent sound, but the problem is it might take 30 or 40 years (or 100's in the case of classic instruments) until the wood and metal ages. If you don't have the money to buy a fine vintage instrument, you probably have no other choice but to wait until a new instrument becomes sufficiently resonant over time. But what if there was another choice?

Now comes the ToneRite, an add-on device that claims to accelerate the aging process by simulating years of playing by bombarding the wood with carefully selected frequencies. There's a different ToneRite for every kind of wooden stringed instrument, from guitar to violin to cello, etc.

The unit connects to the bridge of the instrument and never touches the body. It gets its power from a common AC outlet. Supposedly results can be heard after an initial 72 hour break-in period. Each unit costs $150 USD.

Does it work? If you look at the site, you don't really get any enthusiastic endorsements, but everyone claims that they can detect a least a little difference. The unit is so new, however, that no one has used the unit for that long, so who's to say.

While this might seem like a lot of snake-oil that we see so often (especially the kind aimed at the audiophile industry), inventor Augi Lye is a musician and electrical engineer who had been working on systems for unmanned intelligence drones, so at least he's a guy with a scientific and music background.

It should be noted that the ToneRite is primarily intended for classical instruments and no one is yet sure if it can enhance that new Les Paul you just bought. The implications are pretty large for the vintage instrument community though.

Imagine if this thing worked, even a little. What if you could buy a fairly inexpensive 10 or 20 year old instrument that was already well on it's way to those fine resonant characteristics that we all know and love, and you could use the ToneRite to quickly take it the rest of the way? It might not affect the price of those rare 59 Les Paul's, but it could take a chunk out of the prices of everything else.

We're still a ways off from that, but keep an eye on this device to see if and how it evolves. Here's a good article on the ToneRite in the New York Times.

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