Dr. Herringbone’s Tone Traveler to assist breaking in instruments

If you have been involved in the fretted stringed instrument world for any period of time, you will have surely heard stories about leaving a new guitar or mandolin in front of a speaker to help break it in. The idea is that playing music at and into a guitar would cause it to vibrate and resonate with the music, much like it does when you are actually playing it yourself, and thereby shorten the break in period before it becomes seasoned and most responsive.

Tales abound of setting a guitar or mandolin in a stand when you leave for work each day, and playing your favorite bluegrass music at them at high volume for hours on end. And in fact, a mountain of anecdotal evidence insists that it helps without fail. Collectors also swear by this same process to “wake up” a vintage instrument that has been left unplayed for many years.

A few products have been introduced over the years to expedite or streamline this process with a new, somewhat high tech system recently introduced. The Tone Traveler from Dr. Herringbone offers a new twist at a fairly reasonable price, using a small speaker that mounts directly to the bridge, and a tablet running their proprietary software to control it. They say that this allows for a simpler way to reduce the break in cycle, and to control it more effectively for less that $300.

In discussion with inventor Gerald Brown we learned a bit about the genesis of this system.

“It’s so great that you mention putting your guitar in front of a speaker and playing music into it, as so many of us have done for years. We also come from a bluegrass background, and this idea is what fueled the inspiration for the Tone Traveler. We, like most others, are trying to get our instruments to resonate as if we were playing them when we cannot. Putting your instrument in front of a speaker worked OK, but the instrument didn’t vibrate as much as when it got played. We fixed this problem by bringing the speaker in direct contact with the instrument. The Tone Traveler positions the speaker directly on the bridge of an instrument via our patented attachment system, so that the full range of frequencies produced by the Tone Traveler enter the instrument directly through an acoustic connection at the bridge. The bridge is the natural entry point for vibrations to be amplified by the body of the instrument when it is played. This acoustic connection to the bridge amplifies the effect of the Tone Traveler and makes your guitar resonate more than if it were simply set in front of a speaker.”

Gerald also mentioned studying other products that attempt this feat which they found lacking. What sets them apart, we asked.

“The difference is that the Tone Traveler uses the full audible sound spectrum to condition an instrument (the actual musical notes that you tune your instrument to). Our competitors use a mechanical vibratory system along with AC power to generate the fundamental and overtones of 60hz, which is halfway between a B and a Bb note, and lower than the lowest note of a bass. Other competitors in the past have tried to attach devices to the body of an instrument which was clearly unacceptable due to possible damage. Our patented attachment system works on all sorts of instruments without putting them at any risk of damage or wear.”

This short video shows how simply the Tone Traveler is installed and removed.

In testing the Tone Traveler, they believe that it is equivalent to roughly ten hours sitting in front of a speaker, and that instruments with one weak string or a range of feeble notes can be “dialed in” using the software to reinforce exactly those tones.

“We have spent the last three years doing extensive testing and prototyping. Many long hours of designing and redesigning our software to be able to deliver a seamless experience to our users, and get them results. We have access to a world class recording studio and we’ve spent hours analyzing the frequency response of some of the world’s most sought after vintage instruments. Several Lloyd Loar mandolins and many pre-war Martins and Gibsons were the source material for our software.

Isaac, our sole software developer, spent hours designing the algorithms to target the tones and overtones that most excite the nodes and frequencies of an instrument. One of the major breakthroughs in testing was when we realized that the Tone Traveler actually affects the instruments faster than playing does. The Tone Traveler generates notes that sustain continuously, there is no note decay, therefore the Tone Traveler is constantly conditioning your instrument at a metered and sustained level. When someone plays, they strum or pluck the strings individually, and then the volume of the string swells and then begins to decay. The Tone Traveler creates the effect of plucking each string, but continuously, never decaying, creating a constant state of resonance.”

The Tone Traveler ships with a custom Android tablet made to their specifications. The installed software allows for both simple operation of the speaker, and a range of custom options. Plus it allows the system to be updated at no charge as new features are added.

“We include the tablet as a convenience, keeping your cell phone in your pocket, and annoying updates and setup processes at a minimum. The tablet offers a huge variety of options to allow our customers to tailor to different instruments with one system. On top of that it will allow us to continually grow the system with new ideas and discoveries. For example we intend to introduce a page for banjos, bowed instruments, and a page that allows users to select any number of musical notes and overtones.”

This video shows some of the functionality of the software.

We are hoping to do some testing of our own on the Tone Traveler in the near future.

It is being offered for sale now for $269 online, the tablet and the speaker unit included. See more information online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.