Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Tonesmiths Model 316

  • 2000 1 Sep
Tonesmiths Model 316
By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

Can Vintage Tone Be Captured in a New Instrument?

In the interest of a full and truthful disclosure law somewhere I need to state right out of the gate that I plan on owning the handcrafted Tonesmith 316 electric guitar. In the immortal words of Wayne from the movie Waynes World as he looked longingly at the guitar in the glass case in the music store: Oh yes, it will be mine.

I first set eyes on the Tonesmith during the GMA Week Guitar Gallery that Christian Musician hosts in Nashville. Although there were several fine electric guitars there, this one drew me in. I liked the TV green vintage color (it almost looks like a faded ivory at times) and the rounded single cutaway body. The uniquely designed f hole is almost art deco, it definitely adds to the from-a-whole-other-era look. It was vintage-love at first sight. The heavy tortoise shell pick guard also adds to the great look(before my environmentalist friends totally spaz-out, remember that they did away with real tortoise products years agothis one is made of plastic, or quite possibly California Condors, Im not sure which). This model comes with a roller bridge and a Bigsby tremolo, again adding to the vintage experience. The fretboard is a deep Rosewood (it was such a dense grain that at first I thought is was ebony) and the medium-size frets are well shaped.

When the first day of the Guitar Gallery was over, I picked up the Tonesmith, plugged it into a Vox AC-30 and decided to have myself a little quiet time on this unusual-looking boutique guitar. The more I played it, the more I fell in love. Its unlike any quitar out there. Its not a Les Paul knock-off or Strat-ish in its presentation; it is totally unique. Because of the f hole, the Tonesmith has a partially hollow body. The neck is made of a bound curly maple and is hand-shaped (it felt like home immediately). I reminded myself (searching for any excuse) that it had been quite awhile since I bought a new electric guitar.

The next morning, the first guy to walk through the Guitar Gallery doors was an enthusiastic {{Phil Keaggy}}. He said, Bruce, I want to play every guitar you have here. We had a blast running through several models and talking guitar shop. Then I handed him the Tonesmith and solemnly told him, Phil, theres something special about this guitar. Ive begun to bond with it. After plugging it into the Vox amp, Phil ran through a blues riff, looked at me and said, This guitar has the tone Bruce. You should get this. What greater confirmation does an infatuated guitarist need?

We discussed the Gretsch-like mesh pick-ups (these are Tonesmiths own Tonesmith Humbers in the neck and bridge position) and the middle position Ken Armstrong Mini Lipstick pick-up. A rotary knob lets you easily go through the five pick-up selection combinations, and the vintage-looking chrome volume and tone knobs are in close proximity. Phil mused that the guitar was a combination of the Gretsch Country Gentleman and the Fender Mustang.

The first thing I did after getting home was to call Tonesmith and request a guitar for review. But not just any guitar, I wanted the guitar we had at the Guitar Gallery. I wanted the 316. When you bond with an instrument you, well, enough said.

Two weeks later the Tonesmith showed up. I couldnt wait to show it to my local guitar-playing buddies, and much to my joy they fell for it too. We plugged it into a 59 Gibson tube amp with tremolo and got a plethora of vintage sounds. The second and fourth pick-up positions are my favorite (the neck-position humbucker mixed with the middle lipstick pick-up and the bridge-position humbucker mixed with the lipstick).

Initially I was intimidated by the Bigsby tremolomainly because when I first ventured to use it I sounded like a drunken sailorbut after some concentrated effort I got better at handling it and achieved what I thought were some nice nuances with it.

In conclusion, lets add up the ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being lowest, 10 being highest). Tone: 9. Its got the tone. Playability: 10. Ol home week. Looks: 9. Its almost so ugly that its good looking (no comments about my high school yearbook photo here). Materials/Features: 10. Quality craftsmanship and elements. Add it all up and you can see why Ive already started to sell off some of my other instruments.

Retail is $1,999.00 and includes a vintage-style hardshell case. To contact Tonesmith Guitars call Brady Fry at 615-297-5880 or email him at