What's a Tone-Gard™ For?

The Tone-Gard™ is designed to isolate the back of a mandolin (or any similar instrument) from the player's body, producing more volume and enhancing the tone.

You can test the concept right now without a Tone-Gard™. Play your instrument normally, while facing a wall about a foot or two away, allowing the sound to bounce back directly so you can hear how your instrument projects. After you are used to the sound, hold the mandolin by the neck so that the back of the instrument is a couple of inches away from your body. Now try playing some chop chords. Go back and forth, against and away from your body, and you will notice a difference. You will hear a difference just hitting one chop and letting it ring while holding against you, then away. (If you don't hear the difference, it's time to visit an audiologist — no kidding.)

An extra benefit is protecting the back of your instrument from wear, dings, and scratches. You can and should leave the Gard on the instrument all the time, not take it on and off. It fits in almost all cases. See FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Who The Heck Needs a Tone-Gard™?

Preeminent mandolinists — such as David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, Chris Thile, Andy Statman, Mike Marshall, John Reischman, Chris Hillman, Roland White, Radim Zenkl, Dana Rath, Tom Rozum, Eric Thompson, Emory Lester, and many others — use and recommend the Tone-Gard™ to get the best possible sound. A Tone-Gard™ improves anything from starter instruments to Loars. See lots of endorsements and photos in the GALLERY


What Models and Designs of Tone-Gard™ Are Available?

The Gards pictured at the top are the two Standard designs: the DecoGard™ (left) and original SunriseGard™ (right). Because of the spring arms at the waist and tail, they adjust to fit any Gibson™ style mandolin that fits a standard A or F-style case. The VintageGard™ fits mandolins that are slightly larger, particularly older Gibson A's. I also make special Gards adapted for the rounded sides and particular body shape of Rigels™ and for Gibson  mandolas. 

As a mandolin player myself, I originally designed the Tone-Gard™ specifically for the mandolin, but I custom-make Gards for guitar, banjo, ukelele, dulcimer, and other stringed instrument players who get a similar benefit. The D-Gard™ is for standard-size dreadnought guitars. Custom sizes and shapes are also available.  You'll need to ask me and send me a TRACING. I can custom-make a Gard to incorporate special designs. Many examples are shown in the PHOTO GALLERY. For size info, see FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What Is a Tone-Gard™ Made Of?

Standard Tone-Gards™ are now made of laser-cut steel with a ceramic powder-coat. They have more pads, which are directly glued on to prevent loss. Vintage, Rigel, and custom Gards are hand-made from mild steel, sprayed with a durable high-gloss paint, and have older-style pads. All surfaces that come in contact with the instrument have rubber and leather pads where needed to protect the instrument’s finish. The only maintenance is occasionally to apply a little instrument wax or Pledge™ or similar product on the rubber-pads to protect from deterioration. The rubber pads can also be easily replaced if necessary.

How Much, and How Do I Order a Tone-Gard™?

ORDER Standard Gards, Custom Gards, and Special Orders directly from me.

Can I Get a Tone-Gard™ Anywhere else?

Yes, Standard Tone-Gards™ are available from select RETAILERS

More Questions About the Tone-Gard™?

See FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS and the rest of this page. If that doesn't do it, write me at INFO[at]TONE-GARD.COM


Will a Tone-Gard™ help my Mandolin?

I have yet to hear a mandolin that doesn’t benefit from the Gard. Plus the added benefits of quicker “wake-up” of the instrument, and the protection of the back from zippers, buttons, and belt buckles.

How did you come up with the Tone-Gard™?

My first “good” mandolin was a Japanese F-5 copy, which I thought was OK until I played a real hand-made instrument. Then I realized mine didn’t cut it in volume and tone. But I did notice that when I sat down it didn’t sound so bad. With some experimentation, I realized that, just like a fiddle, the vibration of the back of the mandolin helps produce sound. I also noticed that in all the old pictures of Mr. Lloyd Loar, who was a classical mandolinist, he is sitting. I don’t think he anticipated that people would stand and play, so he never addressed the problem of the back being muffled against the body. The Tone-Gard is my solution to the deadening of the sound caused by contact with the human abdomen.

Will a Tone-Gard™ Fit my Instrument?

  • SunriseGards (7-ray design) and DecoGards fit almost any mandolin based on the classic Gibson carved-back mandolins, such as F5s and A5s, approx. 9-7/8″ across the back (+/- 1/16″). Most independent luthiers’ designs are based upon those body dimensions, including Gilchrist, Stiver, Givens, Summit, Lewis, Woods, and all the Japanese and Korean mandolins.
  • VintageGards (6-ray design) are for mandolins that are 10-3/16″ across the back, such as old round-hole Gibsons, Weber Absarokas, some of the other Webers (including some F models) some Hillburns, Newsons, etc. If you have one of these instruments, please get the Vintage, and don’t try to bend out the arms of a Sunrise or Deco to force a fit.  It won't work.
  • I have designs for radiused Rigel mandolins, standard Gibson mandolas, Martin dreadnaught guitars, and some other standard-shaped instruments. 
  • Martin mandolins, flatback mandolins like the Trinity College, and some of the new styles of Weber may require Custom Gards, for which you'll need to send me a TRACING.
  • Gards for other instruments are custom-made to fit the specs of your instrument for which you'll need to send me a TRACING.
  • Will a Tone-Gard™ Mar the Finish?

    As a mandolin player and user #1, I’ve tried to make the Gard as mando-friendly as possible, but I’m not a millionaire or an idiot. I don’t “guarantee” the Gard for anything except workmanship, and that’s why it’s very affordable. It is the cheapest and quickest way to improve the sound, as well as protect the back. As long as the pads are maintained, you can expect your mandolin back to look like the day you bought it, possibly with some very minor scuffing where the upper pads are, which is easily rubbed out. I can say this because I’ve had a Gard on my mandolin since 1987. It’s had lots of hours, gigs, and miles on it since then.

    The exception is French-polished mandolins. I have yet to come up with something that won’t mark an instrument that, when the owner played it without a Gard, left a perfect imprint of his shirt on the back of the mandolin. In these instances, Gards should decrease the damage to the back, compared to no protection at all, but there may be minor marks left by the Gard. Whatcha gonna do?

    Is a Tone-Gard™ Hard to Install?

    Not at all. Just lay the instrument on its top, and bend the arms at the waist and tail of the Gard until the arms hold it snugly in the center of the instrument. Ready to go!

    Can a Tone-Gard™ Stay on All the Time, even in the Case?

    Yes, in almost all cases, including Calton cases. The Gard only adds about 3/8″ to 1/2″ to the overall depth of the instrument. You should leave the Gard on all the time, for the reason explained in the next paragraph.

    Can One Tone-Gard™ be Used on Several Different Instruments?

    I really do NOT recommend it. I’m not trying to sell more Gards; it’s a matter of metal fatigue. If you keep taking the Gard on and off, over time the spring arms will fatigue and eventually break. I do not warranty such use. There are Gards that have been in service since 1986 with no problem, but they stayed on one instrument.

    Prices, Ordering & Tracings

    What Does a Tone-Gard™ Cost?

  • Standard SunriseGards™, DecoGards™, and VintageGards™ — $75
  • Rigel™ Gards — $80
  • DolaGards™ for Gibson™ Mandolas — Please inquire
  • Custom Gards for mandolas, octave mandolins, mandocellos, etc. — $95
  • Dreadnought guitar D-Gards — $110 (less than previously!)
  • Guitar sizes 00 and 000 — Please inquire
  • Banjards™  — Please inquire
  • Custom Design Gards and Custom Gards for other guitar sizes (Maccaferi/Selmer, L-5, Jumbo, 00, 000, etc.), banjo, uke, cittern, bouzouki, tres, cuatro, bajo sexto, vihuela, domra, balalaika, bandura, tambura,etc. — Please inquire, send me the design, and I'll give you an estimate. 
  • Shipping Cost: For USPS 2-3 Day Priority Mail, ADD $5 for mandolin Gards, or ADD $15 for guitar Gards, to the prices above. For special shipping needs or for international orders, please email me at INFO[at]TONE-GARD.COM

    Payment: I accept personal checks, postal money orders, and PayPal (where you can use a credit card, without needing a PayPal account).  Otherwise NO credit cards or CODs.

    How Do I Order a Tone-Gard™?

    For all orders, questions, address, and availability, please email me at INFO[at]TONE-GARD.COM

    How Do I Make a Tracing for a Custom Order?

    If you're ordering a Custom Gard for any non-standard-shaped instrument, please FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS

    Why Isn’t Your Address Here So I Can Order Right Now?

    I don’t put my postal address out here because I want to have contact with you beforehand. This way I can address any concerns you might have, and also be aware that you want to order. I take pride in handling each order as promptly as possible, and I can’t do this if someone just fires off an order and I don’t know about it. This way I can keep track of whom I’m making a Gard for, how long the order has been in the mail, how long the Gard has been in the return mail, and whether the order or the Gard are lost. I don’t do credit cards, sorry. After we have exchanged emails, I feel like we have a virtual handshake. I’ll trust your check, and you trust me to deliver a Gard. Trust, service, and word-of-mouth recommendations have been always mainstays of the Tone-Gard™.

    Retailers for Standard Gards

    Who Sells Standard Tone-Gards™ in U.S. & CANADA?

    And Elsewhere?

    What Else Do I Like?

    • Michael Lewis (Grass Valley, CA) Want a beautiful mandolin, guitar or archtop guitar? Go see this guy, in Grass Valley. Without a doubt, he makes some of the finest instruments and inlay work around. Michael encouraged me to produce the Gard for others, and was the only seller of them for years. He even came up with the name “Tone-Gard.” What a guy!
    • Mandolin Cafe (online) is the central link in the mando world, for me anyway, always changing and inspiring. My favorite spot for tab! You’ll find discussion of the Tone-Gard there too.
    • Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse (Berkeley, CA) is a music venue operated by the Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to promoting public awareness and understanding of traditional music. Too bad I live several hours’ drive away.
    • Players Vintage Instruments (Inverness, CA) sells new and used instruments. This guy’s got everything, and good prices besides.
    • Rigel Mandolins (Cambridge, VT) Looking for something different? Don’t want to be part of the herd? These guys have come up with a mandolin that is truly original looking, but without sacrificing tone and volume. I make a special Gard to fit these instruments.