Tone Balls -- dust bunnies that collect in guitar bodies

I was thumbing through the Summer 2006 issue of The FretBoard Journal (Number 2), a gorgeous magazine for stringed instrument players, collectors, and builders, and came across this short piece about "tone balls." These are the "nebulous balls formed from the bits of lint, dust, hair and insect husks that fall into the soundholes of guitars and mandolins."

Steve Olson, who repairs guitars at Elderly Instruments in Michigan has been collecting tone balls for years and has "catalogued dozens of examples by make, model and year of the host instrument." He says his favorite tone balls are the "densely compressed, perfect spheres formed by rolling around under the cone of old National guitars (top left)."

The Fretboard Journal Number 2 is sold out at the publisher's website, but is available at Elderly Instruments' website for $9.95 (the same issue contains an article I wrote about a ukuele strumming robot used to break in newly-made ukuleles).


  1. I wonder whether the chemical or DNA analysis of a tone ball would yield any information about the origins of that particular guitar. Think squirrel midden analysis.

  2. Awesome! Elderly Instruments is my local guitar store. It’s pretty amazing to see them talked about in my favorite blog.

  3. Elderly goes back a generation. Used to shop there in the ’70s. Very respected in the stringed instrument world. I wonder if they still have that awesome one of a kind harp guitar that used to be on display.

  4. I had tone ball in my cello from 1966 until I had the instrument repaired in the late 90s. The one-inch ball was lost when I forgot to ask the repair shop to save it for me.

    This is the first time I ever heard any mention of tone balls.

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