Working in a restoration shop where many fine old instruments pass through on a daily basis has inspired me to start a collection of toneballs- varying in size, shape, colour and consistency- to me they are a more than just an accumulation of dust, personally I worship them as a collectors item.
My passion for them is immense and their uniqueness made me think I should include them here on my blog to sharpen the public awareness of their presence and their beauty.
I would like to show you how my toneballs are kept.
They are organised in a butterfly-collecting box with small printed labels displaying some information about their orinigs. This is what a small section of it looks like
violin toneball collection
This tightly woven example was taken from Guadagnini violin. 13mm in diameter and mainly grey in colour. It seems to have been played a lot being rolled over regularily.
Guadagnini tone ball

Sometimes I find toneballs in instruments of unknown origin.
In the trade it is very common not to be able to name the maker of a certain violin, viola or cello if there is no original label or a signature inside.
For the better known luthiers of the past there´s a high chance that a good expert can put a name and/or a school to the mystery instrument by comparing style, details of the construction method, the model and the varnish.
Occasionally however even the best experts in the trade can only guess the creator.
This toneball is one of my faevorite. The shape is nothing special, with it´s 10mm diameter it is not the biggest guy in the collection.
But look at the colour, what a fantastic orange! Guess the colour of the players faevorite woolen sweater!

toneball unknown violin

toneball unknown violin

This toneball was found by a colleague of mine working in Amsterdam in a violin made by Domenico Busan in Venice. Domenico Busan was born in Treviso around 1720 and moved to Venice around 1743 where he worked until his death in 1783.

Venice attracted a lot of violin and lute makers seeking places where the money was. Due to its location close to the sea- enabling the trading of goods in and out of Italy Venice was a flourishing city with an active music scene.
Several luthiers had their workshops making new instruments as well as offering repair services. Martinus Kaiser, Matteo Gofriller, Domenico Montagnana, Francesco Gobetti, Petrus Guarneri (brother of Guarneri del Gesu), Carlo Tononi and Sanctus Serafin only to name the most famous makers.

Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder- though far away from perfection this toneball is still worth to be presented here. Slightly rough in appearance it consists of mainly fine grey particles with one large piece of colophony stuck to it (which cannot be seen on the photo). It is 2,2cm at the widest point, rather large for a violin-ball. You never know it might just have needed some more time within the instrument to be made into a perfect sphere, rolled around by a moving player.


This week I have chosen a Toneball I took out of a Carlo Giovanni Testore Cello made in Milan, Italy.
The prolific makers of the Testore family produced a large number of instruments at times “cheapjacks” compared to violins, violas and cellos made in Cremona- the making a little less refined and therefore affordable for musicians- cremonese instruments e.g of the Amati or Stradivari workshop were already expensive in those days and mainly made for the nobility and upper class.
Carlo Giuseppe Testore (born c. 1660-1716) was the first known luthier in the long family tradition which was to be continued by his two sons Carlo Antonio and Paolo Antonio. Now this toneballs host-cello was made in the third generation of the Testore makers, by Carlo Giovanni who was the son of Carlo Antonio.

This somewhat oddly shaped creation has been nicely wrapped up by long blond hair.
Compared to violin balls, cello toneballs often are not only larger but also less dense and less round in shape- this commodity has an easy explanation: the natural playing position and handling of the instrument. Violinists and violists give their toneballs a hard time and rarely the chance to sit still while a Cello-ball would spend most of its life relaxing in the lower bout of the instrument enjoying a tickling sensation of the vibrating ribs but not really rolling around very much.
The dimensions of this hairy beauty are 2,7cm in width and approximately 4,5cm in height- it was difficult to measure this one.

Carlo Giovanni Testore Vcl









Violin-toneball found in a G.B Guadagnini violin made in Parma, 1770. It came to me via London, as a donation from a kind colleague who has supported my toneball passion with a few more balls so far.

This toneball is 14mm in diameter, I´d call it size L for a violin ball, it´s just small enough to squeeze it through an f-hole. The density is good, roundness is excellent. The main coloration is grey with a few red, white and blue particles. One long hair is wound around the whole ball a few times like the rings of Saturn.
Personal rating: 8 out of 10.


2 thoughts on “Toneballs

  1. Wonderful collection! Could you add sound clips of your examples in action? Am particularly interested in the Venetian: I suspect it lacks the harshness that so many people find objectionable in toneballs. (If you can’t post sound clips, spectrum analysis graphs would be almost as good).


    • Thanks for sharing your interest on the subject of toneballs. I´m working on a toneball recording in a chamber music set
      up as they are best audible in a larger group- on their own it is hard to pick up and analyse their output.
      best wishes!


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