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How to Get the Tone You Want

Sometimes you want a mild tone. Sometimes you want a strong tone. Sometimes you want tones that fall in-between. So how do you find bones that produce the tone you want?

It helps to understand that tonality is just the relative difference between thickness, width, texture, moisture, specific gravity, density and the hardness of your instruments. Of course, your personal playing technique is another important factor.

Tone Variables
Thin bones enable you to produce a greater dynamic tonal range than thick bones composed of the same material. Also, thin bones generate higher, sharper tones. Thick bones generate relatively lower, duller tones.

Wide bones produce a greater tonal range than narrow bones composed of the same material. Kind of the same principle with a keyboard. A wide keyboard with more keys lets you play more notes than a narrow keyboard with less keys.

Smooth textured bones produce a sharper tone. Rough textured bones produce a duller tone.

Bones with a greater moister content produce a lower tone. Instruments with less moister content (them dry bones) produce a higher tone.

Playing Technique
Your playing technique is another factor that affects tonality. Various ways to alter the tone are demonstrated in most of the Bones Demo Videos below on YouTube.

Bones Demo Videos
View complete playlist

Want Dull Mild Tones?
If you want mild tones that won't overpower other instruments, then choose thick bones made of soft lightweight material that floats in water.

Want Strong Powerful Tones?
If you want the strongest most solid tones that help you stand out from the rest of the band, then choose thin bones made of hard, heavy, dense material that sink in water.

Want to Vary the Tone?
Choose wide bones. Wide bones enable you to generate a greater dynamic tonal range than narrow bones. (The optimal width for most wooden bones is around 1-1/4". However, the optimal width for especially heavy bones such as aluminum and slate is 1".)

Want Bones that are Easier to Play?
Heavy dense bones carry additional mass which provides the kinetic energy you need to make the instruments rattle easier. On the other hand, lightweight bones might lack the mass you need to make them bounce off each other easily. That's why, at least with my experience, lightweight bones require more effort to make them rattle, thus making them harder to play.

So if you want bones that are easier to rattle, then choose medium to heavy bones instead of lightweight bones such as cedar or pine. Then again, the legendary Percy Danforth preferred pine. So try out different weights and decide for yourself. And as Percy once said, "The most important thing of all...have fun with your bones!"

Can't Decide Which Bones to Choose?
Check out this handy guide: Bone FAQs

Find the Tone you Want by Specific Gravity, Density or Hardness:

Specific Gravity
Buoyant bones produce mild tones. Less buoyant bones produce strong tones.
Tone by Specific Gravity shows you which is which.

Tone Quality/Specific Gravity
Mildest Tone 0-.49 SG
Milder Tone .50-.59 SG
Mild Tone .60-.69 SG
Medium Tone .70-.79 SG
Strong Tone .80-.89 SG
Stronger Tone .90-.99 SG
Strongest Tone 1.0+ SG (sinks in water)


Dense bones produce strong tones. Less dense bones produce mild tones.
Tone by Density shows you which is which.

Tone Quality/Density (pounds per cubic foot)
Mildest Tone 0-29 pcf
Milder Tone 30-39 pcf
Mild Tone 40-49 pcf
Medium Tone 50-59 pcf
Strong Tone 60-69 pcf
Stronger Tone 70-79 pcf
Strongest Tone 80+ pcf

Hard bones produce sharp tones. Soft bones produce dull tones.
Tone by Hardness shows you which is which.

Tone Quality/Hardness (Janka Scale)
Sharpest Tone 3000+
Sharper Tone 2500 - 2999
Sharp Tone 2000 - 2499
Medium Tone 1500 - 1999
Dull Tone 1000 - 1499
Duller Tone 500 - 999
Dullest Tone 300 - 499

Click a sub category above to view bones by specific gravity, hardness or density.

How can this tone guide be improved?
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