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TonePros System II
Locking bridge and tailpiece sets
Published in PM January 2009
Reviews : Guitar: Accessories
US company TonePros aim to provide superior sustain and enhanced harmonic qualities in classic vintage bridge and tailpiece designs by eliminating all unwanted movement. Their components lock onto their mounting points via grub screws, so they won't even fall off when you change all the strings at once!
The fact that during the last half a century or so Leo Fender, Les Paul and Paul Reed Smith have all produced classic guitars that have not only defined eras and genres, but have also become the templates by which other, less-innovative manufacturers prosper hasn't stopped every man and his several dogs from trying to improve on the originals. Now it has to be said that some present-day luthiers are building absolutely astounding guitars based on these designs dating from the middle of the last century, but most of us don't buy guitars with those kind of price tags. Instead we turn to the aftermarket and the dizzying array of parts, pickups and other gizmos that together promise to transport our guitars to the heights of perfect tone and ultimate playability.
Owners of Fender guitars have been well served by these aftermarket vendors, purely because those guitars are made up of a bunch of freely interchangeable parts. We can buy every single bit of a Strat or a Tele from a multitude of non-Fender vendors and can mix, match, replace and fettle to our heart's content. With Gibson guitars, it's been a bit of a different story. Certainly, pickups and machine heads abound, but compared to what's around for Fenders there's not been all that many attempts to give us bridge hardware that claims to actually make a difference to our tone.
TonePros Sound Labs International are a California-based company, founded in 1998 by professional luthiers and sound design with the goal of solving common problems and improving sound quality for everyone from the novice player to the top professional. The company's quest is to "simply make the world a better place for guitar players" by applying physics to vintage designs. To date, TonePros' efforts have been aimed at Gibson bridge and tailpiece parts, and they have filled a gap in the market left wide open by most other aftermarket manufacturers. So if you own a Fender, you can skip this review — unless you're tempted by a Gibson, in which case read on, dear reader.
Essentially, what TonePros do is to take standard OEM parts — exactly the same as fitted to Gibson guitars — and modify them slightly and unobtrusively by adding locking grub screws to bridge-mounting holes and stop tailpiece slots. They also manufacture original components, currently represented by a fully intonatable wraparound tailpiece and locking bridge and tailpiece studs. Their claim is that since their bridges and stop tailpieces are locked in place and better coupled to the guitar, the string vibration is better transferred to the guitar, thereby improving tone. As side benefits, this locking gives improved intonation accuracy and stability, and your bridge and stop tailpiece won't fall off when you take off all your strings to clean and oil your fingerboard and polish your frets. (You do that regularly, don't you?)
If you're like me and you love the sound of the cheaper, P90-equipped Gibsons with wraparound bridges, you'll have learned to live with the intonation limitations of a stop tailpiece as a bridge. You may even have a stop tailpiece that has had an intonated saddle cast into it, but I've personally never found these to be all that much better than a plain tailpiece. Another issue with wraparound bridges is that the bridge never fits the studs in the vertical axis, so you always get a bit of forward 'lean' on the bridge, which isn't in itself a structural problem, but means that your bridge is only sitting on the studs at four points — at either side of the front of the slot, at the back edge of the slot and the intonation grub screws. It's not exactly a satisfactory situation, not to mention that you've then got to set the grub screws to compensate for the forward lean.
The TonePros AVT-IIG-N (Advanced Version Tailpiece II — the 'G' means that it has standard-sized mounting stud heads and the 'N' means that it's nickel-plated) sets out to solve all these problems at a stroke. First off, it is apparently the only locking, piezo-pickup-loadable, standard-saddle, fully intonatable, wraparound bridge in the world. So if you want one of those, it's the only choice.
Fitting is simplicity itself. Take off the strings, pick the old wraparound bridge off the floor where it landed when you cut through the strings, unscrew the existing studs and replace them with the included SNS-1 locking versions. These TonePros studs look identical to the standard versions, but are actually in two parts: a base, which screws into the stud mounts, and a top, which screws into the base and locks the bridge in place. The bases have flats on them that fit the supplied wrench so that you can adjust the bridge height with the strings in place. Then all you have to do is put the bridge on the studs, string your guitar up, adjust bridge height and intonation as necessary, and then lock down the studs. For me, it was a very easy process to get the ideal action height and (with a capo on the first fret to remove the nut from the equation) to set virtually perfect intonation. The only minor black mark is that the installation leaflet for the AVT-IIG isn't part of the package and is only available on the web — and nothing on the packaging tells you that.
So how good is it? Well, years ago I succumbed to the siren call of an original Leo Quan Badass wraparound fully intonatable bridge, bought it, fitted it to my '58 Les Paul Junior and took it off after about all of five minutes. I've got to admit that prior to this review I didn't hold out much hope for the TonePros AVT-IIG, but I can tell you now that this bridge isn't coming off my Junior! Simply in terms of ease of action and intonation setting, it's a winner. The fact that it won't fall on the floor when I take the strings off to clean up is a welcome bonus. Acoustically, there's a bit more ring in the guitar, but it doesn't sound all that much different amplified — it's still the raunchy, raucous, hell-raising hooligan that it always was and always will be.
I'm tempted to think that the positive benefits of the locking mounting are being offset a bit by the separate saddles and their adjusting screws, but we're in a completely subjective, unscientific area here. All I can really say is that I think the AVT-IIG is a great upgrade. The guitar feels better than it did, even if only because the action and the intonation are now spot on, and I'd recommend this bridge to anyone who wants the undoubted advantages that it brings. If it makes your guitar sound significantly better to your ears, then I'd say that's a bonus.
This set is made up of two separately available components: the T3BP locking Tune-o-matic bridge and the T1ZS-N locking stop tailpiece that fit (and are occasionally fitted to) many US-made Gibsons. There are several versions of the T3 bridge available, so you should be able to find one that will fit your own guitar, be it clone or original.
The T3BP has the standard small-post, US-thread studs and the added advantage of having Phillips-head adjustment screws positioned on the pickup side of the bridge, which makes things a bit easier when setting the intonation. Like the Gibson originals, you can fit any number of aftermarket saddles — piezo, graphite or otherwise exotic. The underside of the bridge carries the logo 'TonePros by Gotoh', which tell us that it is manufactured by that well-respected hardware company, who are justifiably renowned for their exceptionally fine machine heads (amongst other things).
Fitting the T3BP is really simple. Just loosen your strings, replace your old bridge and posts, get back to pitch, set the height and intonation (don't forget that first-fret capo), tighten up the locking grub screws using the supplied Allen key, and play away. Fitting the T1ZS tailpiece only involves taking the strings off, replacing the original, tightening up the grub screws that lock it in place and restringing.
This time, as I didn't have to change strings to fit the T3BP, I recorded my '72 Les Paul Deluxe with a clean sound before and after. Listening back, there was a real qualitative difference in the amplified sound's character, with the T3BP bringing out more lower-mid tonality than the original non-locking ABR bridge and making the Deluxe actually sound quite a bit like a Standard. Acoustically, the low-mid enhancement wasn't as marked and sustain didn't seem dramatically improved, notwithstanding this bridge having a greater mass than the original. Despite the fact that we're not exactly comparing like with like (there is a TonePros ABR replacement — the TP6), there was a distinct overall change in character that was undeniably attractive. Although I've gone back to the original bridge on the Deluxe, I've ordered the TonePros T3BT variant, which has larger stud holes that'll do nicely on my semi-acoustic Les Paul Signature, where I have no doubt that it'll work a treat.
Since I'm buying the AVT-II and I've ordered a T3BT, my money is going where my mouth is on these. Should you get some? It depends on whether or not you're unhappy with the sound of your guitar, or you're an inveterate tinkerer like me. These TonePros bridges offer good value for the quality and functionality that you're getting, and they're well worth taking a good look at, especially if you're replacing an old-style wraparound bridge.
The T1ZS tailpiece I'm less sold on. Although it does exactly what it's supposed to, I couldn't see a major advantage in it other than the fact that it won't fall off. Instead, I've ordered an SNS-1 set of locking studs, and I'll be using those to prevent my LP Signature's stop tailpiece rocking and falling. As I was impressed enough to spend my own money on TonePros System II components, I'm cheerfully going to recommend that you too splurge your cash on some should you be looking to upgrade or replace the bridge bits on your old (or new) Gibson. 0
Other System II units
T3BP locking bridge £50T1ZS locking stop tailpiece £40SNS-1 locking stud set £26
All are available in chrome, gold and nickel.
Published in PM January 2009
AVT-IIG-N £93 & LPNM04-N £85
The TonePros System II components are a range of high-quality, locking-bridge hardware parts for Gibson guitars. Based on genuine OEM components, plus a couple of original designs, they are attractive alternatives if you're looking to upgrade or replace your Gibson's bridge. Well worth your careful consideration.
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