ToneRite: a real thing or a placebo effect?

Edited: July 21, 2023, 12:19 PM · It was a long-standing question. Not many people I know have used or even know about ToneRite. I found it first in a stringed instruments shop (2 of them working tirelessly) and then a violin collector and very good player strongly recommended despite my scepticism. I wanted an unbiased opinion, ideally from professionals with deep understanding on the craft. Finally, I reached out to 2 violin makers - one in North America and other in Europe. Both were very favourable and this came as a surprise as they are very conservative, and have very strong opinions about “foreign” devices on instruments.

There are also reviews and strong opinions at v.com

https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/19987/
https://www.violinist.com/discussion/archive/14280/

Ok, I wanted to give a try but it was quite pricey for something I still doubt its effectiveness. Then I eventually found an used one in good a condition so why not to give it a try?

Well, the results were noticeable on my two violins. One is 2 years old and the other is >100 y/o. After a couple of days they resonate better as the woods seems to vibrate more freely and “longer”. It improved the sound projection (not the volume but the capacity of spreading the sound). I also noticed a slightly sweeter tone.

Disclaimer: there is no intention to promote any product with this post but just wanted to share my own experience after being highly skeptical.

Have you also tried it? What is your experience?

Replies (33)

July 21, 2023, 11:59 AM · Breaking in has had many discussions here before, whether natural or technologically assisted.

One hypothesis I have is that the real issue might not be what happens to the wood, but rather what vibrations will do to accessories such as bridge, soundpost, and tailpiece. Even a fraction of a millimeter can make a huge difference, and there may be an optimal spot found by locating where vibrations don't cause it to move around so much.

Edited: July 21, 2023, 2:33 PM · https://maestronet.com/forum/index.php?/topic/341609-tonerite-use/page/2/

I've had a Tonerite for more than 15 years, but I have not used it in at least 15 years. If it did any good it did it longer ago than that- which is when I thought that it might make the bridge fit better and loosen up varnish or glue to provide for increased resonance.

The fact that I bought and used a Tonerite indicates that I had at least one instrument that I thought was not delivering all I wanted it to - which was the case. It still is (not). It could also indicate my hearing was starting to fail long before I was certain of it.

July 21, 2023, 5:07 PM · I’ve tried it on a number of instruments and find that keeping it on certainly makes a difference, but not nearly as much as does playing for the same number of hours.
July 22, 2023, 7:54 AM · "...but not nearly as much as does playing for the same number of hours."

Right. That's because you're gradually training yourself to produce the best tone that your instrument is capable of. You're not training or conditioning the wooden box.

July 22, 2023, 8:03 AM · I tried one for a while on several different instruments. Couldn't perceive that it did anything beyond the sorts of changes which occur in instruments anyway when they are just sitting there under string tension, so sold it to someone who believed they did.
July 22, 2023, 10:06 AM · I wonder if the device produces a small amount of heat, and dehumidifies instruments slightly. For new instruments made of wood that is not properly dried, maybe it could have some such effect.
Edited: July 22, 2023, 8:24 PM · Paul, I don’t think that’s what I’m perceiving. You are, of course, entitled to your beliefs.
July 22, 2023, 11:57 AM · I usually season my violin over night. No need to get fancy; a judicious use of Old Bay opens it up nicely.
July 25, 2023, 5:04 AM · It will not make a miracle, but I find it helps playing in my recently built violas.
July 25, 2023, 7:33 PM · If it can't be tested using a control against objective criteria, then there can be no proof that it does anything, good or bad.
July 26, 2023, 1:59 AM · In the violin world "proof" is non-existent. That's why we produce so much inconsequential debate.
July 26, 2023, 7:13 AM · A good instrument will sound good from the very begining, that means, balance, quick response, clarity, good basses, generous dynamic range, easy to play. A bad instrument will never get good with playing or with Tonerite.
Nevery buy an instrument thinking "it will get better with time and playing".
July 26, 2023, 7:24 AM · I think its fair to say an instrument that's been sitting for 50 or 100 yrs can open up a bit from playing, I have witnessed this
Edited: July 26, 2023, 9:09 AM · Set-up can make a good violin perform poorly. String brand and string condition (new, broken-in, or dead) also change tone. Changes in temperature and humidity can also measurably change the dimensions and hence the tone of a violin.

All of these are objectively measurable.

There is no objective evidence or testing that ToneRites do anything to affect violin tone for better or worse.

July 26, 2023, 11:33 AM · What is incredibly stupid is to demand that judgments about sound be objective when by nature sound is completely subjective, obviously some people are ignorant of that fact.
Edited: July 26, 2023, 12:56 PM · I disagree Lyndon. Dynamic range is very objective, the instrument must play from ppp to fff and all between that. Volume and sound color changes are clearly noticed (and hard to find) and you just can't make music with a too-narrow dynamic range. When you draw your bow from the end of the fingerboard towards the bridge and increase the bow weight a dramatic difference in volume and sound color must be noticed, that happens only in very good instruments, and that is very very objective.

Clarity is very objective too, the notes will not mix in quick passages. Response, which is closely linked to clarity is easily assessed by the player too.

The very nature of the sound, the texture of the sound (dark X bright) is subjective but, even so, a too-dark instrument can lack sound focus, have a slow response, wolves and lack of clarity. And a too bright instrument is irritating to the player and to the audience.

To me the most subjective thing about instruments is projection, and here I am with David Burgess:

"From my conversations with Curtin and Tao, one of the things which stands out to me is that during their various tests, they haven't run across any instruments conforming to the legend of sounding soft under the ear, yet projecting well in a hall. Instead, loudness under the ear, and perceived projection in a hall seem to be highly correlated." (David Burgess).

July 26, 2023, 12:57 PM · I think there is some middle-ground between the positions taken by Luis and by Lyndon. To say that the change in a violin's tone color with the sound point of the bow is a matter of objective measurement is only partly true. Sure there will be *some* change, but each player and listener will perceive that differently. Then, what one person calls subtle another will call extreme. What is true is that everyone is taught that there *should* be a significant change, so we are all exposed to many of the same sources of bias in what we hear.

Just because there is no rational explanation for something YET, and just because we're not smart enough YET to devise an objective test, does not mean we need to reach for hocus-pocus versions of reality or magical explanations for phenomena.

Edited: July 26, 2023, 1:54 PM · Christian - I tried the Old Bay violin treatment. It worked - the violin is terrific for a hot tango - but now I have an almost irresistible urge to crack open its body and eat the white meat inside...
July 26, 2023, 2:47 PM · Make sure to butter your bow first!
Edited: July 27, 2023, 3:47 AM · Nicely put Paul. The chief reason why there have been no truly objective scientific tests of a violin's sound quality is that a violin doesn't actually make any sound without human agency and that agency isn't a fully controllable "constant".
July 27, 2023, 6:12 AM · If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

No, it makes a pressure wave.

July 27, 2023, 6:32 AM · Changes in tone can be objectively observed and measured using electronic instruments.

Whether or not a particular tone change is attractive or even observable to a human being is subjective.

July 27, 2023, 6:52 AM · George - changes in the sound envelope and frequency spectrum can certainly be objectively observed by electronic instruments. The trouble is I can produce a whole range of such changes just by slightly altering the speed/pressure/contact point of the bow. Unless and until such factors can be controlled we have no chance of obtaining objective proof of changes due to use of the Tonerite. That's not to say it isn't a "real thing"!
Edited: July 27, 2023, 7:39 AM · Steve, I don't disagree with what you wrote, but your concerns could potentially be controlled in testing.

The key would be able to objectively reproduce a sound pattern as measured via electronics while controlling for variability. To control for changes in player, bow, and variability, one needs repeated measurements by the same players and instruments, and players committed to trying to play the same music reproducibly n number of times under controlled conditions.

For example, play a piece of music n number of times and record the sound spectrums, and analyze the results to determine if there is a statistically-valid average. Then make a change in the instrument, and repeat the experiment as close to the initial conditions n times, and then compare those results with the original sound spectrums to see if they are statistically different.

Note that this does not indicate if one tone is subjectively "better" than the other; only that they are objectively and measurably different.

We also do know that the placebo effect is in fact a real phenomenon, so without some kind of control group and objective measurements, the OP's question cannot be answered. The company that makes ToneRites really has no incentive to risk running objective tests to prove whether it works or not because it is somewhat likely it would show that it does nothing.

Edited: July 27, 2023, 8:10 AM · Well yes, but that's a lot of work to obtain each data point. Then you'd need to test two groups of at least 6 instruments, one group untreated and randomized so the player doesn't know which is which.
July 27, 2023, 8:22 AM · I suspect it all boils down to what Stephen said.
July 27, 2023, 8:37 AM · Steve: Yep! :-)
July 27, 2023, 8:53 AM ·

I'm totally in the dark on this "device." I read that it attaches to the bridge. But, I've checked all the links that I could find, and I've yet to find a photo of it. The links that I've checked appear to be out of date. I'm interested, but daunted.

July 27, 2023, 9:25 AM ·

let me google that for you
July 27, 2023, 10:09 AM · As described in this thread:
http://www.violinist.com/discussion/response.cfm?ID=14280
it is quite simple to make a similar gadget: glue a wooden mute to the membrane of a small speaker. You then play any sound you like through the violin. I have used that on a number of new instruments and found that they became more responsive
July 27, 2023, 10:09 AM ·

Thanks you! That's really interesting.

July 27, 2023, 1:25 PM · Gordon Shumway wrote:
" If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"
____________________________

If a man speaks in the forest, and his wife isn't there to hear it, it he still wrong? ;-)

July 27, 2023, 5:22 PM · David: if he has to ask.

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