Every year, guitarists are deluged with news of the latest add-on gizmos promising tonal, operational, and/or complete mind expansion. The sheer number of products being touted is actually not much of a burden, because there’s free entertainment value in those notifications. Some are so hysterically bat-poop crazy that you’ll laugh yourself into a happy place. Others promise the moon—and reading the nattering hype on their websites and in their advertising is part of the fun here—but don’t really do much of anything at all.
Occasionally, however, some cool little tool actually offers a performance or sonic benefit with practically no hassles. The Backbone T-Bone for Telecasters ($59 street; a Stratobone is available for Stratocasters at the same price) has a bit of a long and slightly uppity name, but I soon discovered that’s exactly what it does.
I installed the device on my California Guitars T-Type, even though I’m no DIY tech, and I kind of freaked out at the requirement of removing my guitar’s neck-mount screws in order to affix the T-Bone. Happily, my guitar didn’t require any of the included neck-mount shims (and subsequent adjustments), and I had the T-Bone completely and securely installed in 20 minutes—including paranoid rechecks and restringing. Less nervous types could probably have the operation done in half that time, or less.
In preparation for this review, I recorded strummed chords, arpeggios, single-note lines, and a couple of riffs with my “unenhanced” guitar direct into Apple Logic Pro using Focusrite’s Scarlett 2i2 interface. Then, I ran separate passes with the T-Bone installed, and its brass, aluminum, and Graph Tech Tusq Tone Blocks attached. Critical listening was through KRK ROCKIT 8 G3 active monitors and Fender FXA7 in-ears.
My T-Type has an alder body, and depending on your ears and your instrument, the Backbone effect may be more subtle or more pronounced than what I experienced. The brass Tone Block produced more sustain than the tracks recorded with the unenhanced guitar. However, there was also a very nice midrange boost that added punch and clarity to complex chord voicings and arpeggios, as well as a pop and snap to riffs and solos. Compared to the “naked” guitar, the Tusq Tone Block did exhibit significantly more sustain and resonance, but the effect on single-note lines was subtle. I liked how it ever-so-slightly calmed the bark on my bridge pickup, and added a sexy little “blur” (or reduced high end) to the neck pickup that was nice for faux-jazz comping. Aluminum was my least favorite Tone Block for this particular guitar, as it sounded a touch too bright and harsh. Note definition and clarity was awesome, but I always seemed to be knocking back my Tone knob a tad during the tests with aluminum. In all cases, the T-Bone did improve, amend, or slightly alter the sound of my T-Type in some way, so I’m pleased with its powers as a tone enhancer.
For the price of an inexpensive stompbox, the T-Bone offers organic, sourced-at-the-guitar-itself sonic and resonance effects. The killer app is to mate your guitar with the Tone Block you dig the most. You get one Tone Block included with the basic T-Bone, and each one you add will cost $24.50. I’d recommend starting with the brass Tone Block, unless you know you need to warm up (try Tusq) or punch up (try aluminum) your guitar sound. Whatever Tone Block you choose, the T-Bone will absolutely give you that “little more” that all tone fiends constantly chase.
KUDOS Easy, non-invasive installation. Three Tone Block options. Enhances tone as promised..