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Pros and cons of armrest or tone guard

Hi. I have a couple of questions. What are the pros and cons of using either a tone guard or an armrest for the mandolin. Also, when I play the mandolin, I find my right hand drifting close to the bridge of the mandolin when I concentrate on my left hand. It almost feels at times like I’m barely picking the string. I’m not sure if an armrest would help to keep my hand in a more stable position.


Ok first a disclaimer: I’ve not had the privilege of using either of these devices, so anything I say is just parroting the mandolin cafe.

The armrest seems like a good idea, mainly because it allows you to hold the mandolin more firmly without cutting off blood flow in your arm, and also some finishes don’t like sweat. That said, it may leave a couple of marks in the finish.

The tone guard is a personal preference. If you play mostly sitting upright with the instrument not touching your belly, then it’s not going to do anything. But if you usually play standing up (or reclining) then it might help a little bit. It also may dent your finish, and will add to the weight of the mandolin also changing the balance.

I hope this helps a little.
(And FWIW, I personally would run an armrest but not a toneguard)


I have one mando with a tone guard and a another with an arm rest. The armrest went on a flat top that seemed especially sharp on my forearm. I think it’s great. It is very comfy and I think it helps encourage a relaxed wrist. The tone guard is on a carved top mando. It makes a sonic difference. I was pulling the mando away from my body for fuller chops louder licks. I am not sure if it is better to learn to pull it away for those parts or make it so you don’t have to… kind of akin to ABS brakes. Anyway, like Gunnar said, it depends on how you play your mando to determine if it will be helpful. It is amazing how much a belly on the back of the mando mutes it.


I love both of them!


Thank you so much for your help. I usually sit on an exercise ball, but the mandolin is close to my body so I was thinking the tone guard would help. How much heavier does it make the mandolin. Do you think an armrest would keep my right hand from drifting toward the bridge…

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Hello @Annie_Simms !
I’ve got a tone guard and I love it. Makes a big difference in the sound I get compared to before adding the guard. It does make the mando a little heavier (not much). Seems the few xtra ounces kind of counteracts the peg head heavy nature of the mando when it’s on its strap ) I have F style, with strap looped thru the scroll) I play both sitting (at home, practicing) and standing (out picking w others). A few things: theres a disclaimer stating the guard isnt recommended for non glossy finish mandos (theres a possibility it could mar the finish). My mando is not glossy and I still went ahead with getting one. The guard is well padded where it touches the mando body. I dont intend to remove the guard, so marring is a non issue for me, plus I think the back of the mando gets somewhat protected from shirt buttons, belt buckles etc with the guard on. For me, the benefit outweighs the “possible” marring. Something else to consider is if you have a very snug fitting mandolin case that doesnt have much clearance between the bridge and the top of the case, it may not fit in there w a guard on. You definitely wouldn’t want to jam the lid on there to make it fit. I would not recommend taking guard off and on every time you case up the mando. It’d be better to get a new case w enuff clearance.

As for the arm rest I do not have one. I don’t know if it’d help the drift. Maybe someone here that has one can weigh in on that pertaining to driftage. My right hand also tends to drift down to the bridge. Lots of picking hours and correcting myself when I noticed have helped (videos of my playing have also helped me to see how much I needed to improve that, and then see some improvement slowly happen over time.) Another thing that helped the drift was playing standing up. I almost always would drift when sitting playing but not when standing. I’ve never tried sitting on an exercise ball to pick, i think I’m far too clumsy :rofl:!!!


Theres a thread in the guitar section called “Hearing my guitar at a noisy jam” (from match 27th) & theres a bunch of folks discussing mandolin tone guards there that you may care to check out…

In addition, if you go to Ben’s General Store, you can look up tone guards, and read the reviews. Hope this helps!!!

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That was very helpful. I’m not sure if the type of wood that the mandolin is made of also would make enough of a difference from the sound I get now. I have a Kentucky km-250 A style. So at this point, I’m wondering if it would be better to wait until I upgrade to a better mandolin to make that investment. Right now it would probably cost half of what I paid for the mandolin to get both the armrest and tone guard.


I personally like the armrest for comfort because otherwise I tend to press against that edge
But if it does not bother you I would see no reason to have one.

I do not use the armrest as a brace or pivot point (I use the bridge as a reference)

My wife gave me a tone guard a few years ago for christmas (I was sceptical that it would actually help the sound) but she seems to think that it does and I just kept it on ever since. It may make the sound a bit less mutted If nothing else it does protect the finish on the back.

I do not have a strong opinion about it either way.

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Well, you can get an armrest from the mandolin cafe classifieds for about $15-30 so it’s worth that just to try one.


Just an update. I got a tone gard, and It definitely made an improvement in the tone.


Cool! I just bought an armrest, I’ll let y’all know when it comes in