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 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™?

Preëminent mandolinists — such as David Grisman, Mike Marshall, Chris Thile, Ricky Skaggs, Andy Statman, John Reischman, Chris Hillman, Roland White, and many others — use and recommend the Tone-Gard™ to get the best possible sound. A Gard improves anything from starter instruments to Loars. See lots of user 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 DolaGards™ for Gibson mandolas, the D-Gard™ to fit Martin dreadnought guitars, and B-Gards for banjos.

As a mandolin player myself, I originally designed the Tone-Gard™ specifically for the mandolin, but I have made custom-make Gards for Rigel mandolins, guitars, banjos, ukeleles, dulcimers, and other stringed instrument players who get a similar benefit. Many examples of custom Gards are shown in the PHOTO GALLERY. 

Effective October 2018, however, custom sizes and shapes are no longer available.  Due to expansion of the Tone-Gard dealer network, the line of standard Tone-Gards, and the resultant work load, I'm suspending custom commissions. I have to be honest with myself and my customers, as the present open-ended timeline is not functional for anybody.  I am truly sorry to have to do this.

What Is a Tone-Gard™ Made Of?

Standard 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 directly from me. Prices and additional shipping costs are listed below.

Can I Get a Tone-Gard™ Anywhere else?

Yes, select RETAIL DEALERS  listed below stock Standard Tone-Gards™.

More Questions About the Tone-Gard™?

See FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS below. 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, belt buckles, and other hazards.

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 issue 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.

Custom Gards. Sorry but, as of October 2018, custom sizes and shapes are no longer available. Due to expansion of the Tone-Gard dealer network, the line of standard Tone-Gards, and the resultant work load, I'm suspending custom commissions. I have to be honest with myself and my customers, as the present open-ended timeline is not functional for anybody.  I am truly sorry to have to do this.  I have custom-made Gards for radiused Rigel mandolins, standard Gibson mandolas, Martin dreadnaught guitars, Martin mandolins, flat-back mandolins such as the Trinity College, new styles of Weber, other guitar sizes and shapes (Maccaferi/Selmer, L-5, Jumbo, 00, 000, etc.), banjo, uke, cittern, bouzouki, tres, cuatro, bajo sexto, vihuela, domra, balalaika, bandura, tambura, etc., using a TRACING of your instrument

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 the Gard may leave minor marks. Whatcha gonna do?

Is a Tone-Gard™ Hard to Install?

Not at all. Just lay the instrument top-down, and bend the arms at the waist and tail of the Gard until the arms hold it snugly centered on 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 same reason as in the next answer.

Can I Use One Tone-Gard™ 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™ for standard A or F-style mandolin — $75 list 

DolaGard-V for Gibson H1 or H2 mandola, and DolaGard-S for H4 or H5 mandola — $95 list.  Please inquire for other makers.

OM-Gard for A-shape octave mandolins such as Weber or Eastman MDO-305 — $110 list

D-Gard for Martin dreadnought guitar — $110 list

B-Gard-11, for 11" open-back banjos with multi-laminate rims. As used by Mark Johnson and Steve Martin, except redesigned laser-cut B-Gard now holds to inside instead of outside of rim  — $75 list

B-Gard-12, for 12" open-back banjos with multi-laminate rims — $85 list

Shipping Cost: ADD $5 for mandolin Gards or $15 for guitar Gards to the prices above for shipping via USPS 2-3 Day Priority Mail from central California. For special shipping needs or international orders, please email me at INFO[at]TONE-GARD.COM

Payment: You can pay by PayPal (where you can use a credit/debit card without needing a PayPal account) or by postal money order.  Otherwise no personal checks, 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

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. Sorry, I don’t take credit cards directly (but you can use one through Paypal). 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™.

Retail Dealers

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 came up with the name “Tone-Gard,” encouraged me to produce the Gard for others, and for years was the only seller. 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. These instruments require a custom Gard.