When I stumbled upon Facebook videos of Andy McKee and Monte Montgomery digging an apparatus that mysteriously conjured effects on unamplified acoustics, I quickly requested one for a Frets test. I’ve been to the NAMM Show basement enough times to be skeptical of quirky gizmos, and few products light me up with child-like wonder anymore, but hearing the ToneWoodAmp work its magic for the first time made me feel like a kid on Christmas. Even after watching the online tutorial and installing the ToneWoodAmp into a Kevin Michael Sable guitar, I wasn’t prepared for the glory that burst forth from its offset soundhole. Holy Toledo! A shot of energy bolted through my whole being as an expansive hall reverb surrounded the instrument’s inherently deep sound. With a quick flick of the Effects knob, I discovered a slapback delay combined with a pulsating vibrato that could inspire John Fogerty to sing bayou songs. I liked it even better overloaded to the clipping point. Swampy! Then, there was an autowah that would make Jerry Garcia smile like he was strolling down “Shakedown Street.” So, what exactly is the Tone- WoodAmp (TWA), and how does it work?
The TWA is a multi-effects unit, D.I., and iOS interface. It’s not an actual amp, but it essentially transforms an acoustic guitar into its own amplifier via an ingenious design. Approximately the size of a small human hand, the TWA magnetically clamps onto the back of your guitar once you’ve installed its counterpart— the X-Brace—inside the instrument. The TWA accepts the signal from an acoustic-electric guitar’s built-in pickup. Strictly acoustic instruments will require a magnetic soundhole pickup. The ToneWoodAmp digitally processes the pickup’s signal, and vibrates the back of the guitar to generate effects that naturally emanate from the soundhole, which is wild. Or, you can send the signal out to an amplifier. I used a Rivera Sedona Lite, and the tones sounded supernatural laced with the ToneWood’s luxurious effects. Having such a heightened amplified acoustic experience without pedal hassles or cord spaghetti was a treat!
The TWA packs a lot of features into a tight package, which I didn’t find too obtrusive while playing either sitting or standing. It offers eight effects with three programmable parameters and ten memory patches each for a total of 80 programs. Five guitar settings with separate master gains and notch filters allow the user to dial in a single ToneWood for optimal use on a handful of different acoustic guitars, but since each “X-Brace” is designed to fasten inside a particular instrument, ordering additional X-Braces is required. Then you can simply pull the TWA off the back of one guitar, and slap it on the back of another. Run an MP3 player into the Insert jack to practice along with un-effected mp3s. Purchase the iDevice adaptor for about ten bucks, and the ToneWoodAmp will incorporate your favorite tone generation apps from, say, an iPad into your processed signal, greatly expanding the sonic capabilities. (A micro-USB port facilitates future updates.)
The ToneWoodAmp is the coolest acoustic guitar-oriented gadget I’ve encountered in eons. It takes but a moment to comprehend, and while owners of high-end instruments should pay close attention during installation, once you experience the ToneWoodAmp’s fantastic effects radiating organically from your favorite acoustic guitar’s soundhole, you’ll become a believer. The campfire jam will never be the same!
PRICE $249 retail
CONTROLS Volume, Parameter, Amplitude
CONNECTIONS ¼" Input, ¼" Output, ¼" Insert, 2 x micro-USB ports
POWER 3 AA batteries
WEIGHT 15 oz (3 oz X-Brace plus 12 oz main unit with batteries)
KUDOS Radically innovative design blends groovy DSP effects with natural acoustic tones. Right- or left-handed units available.
CONCERNS Strong magnets may interfere with medical implants, hard drives, etc.