Setting a New Tone

05 Dec 2012, Posted by admin in Packages,Stories,Two Bank, No Comments. Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Setting a New Tone


At Tone House Music in Northside, musicians can not only buy equipment but hone their skills – judgment free. 

Story and photos by Jack Ellenberger 

Two guitarists, a bassist and drummer pause slightly, then take the stage. They are the Womack Family Band from Cleveland, and they are playing in Northside, Cincinnati, for the first time. The audience is wide-eyed, eager for a taste of what the musicians have to offer. As the first song ends, all prior hesitation melts away, as whistles and exuberant applause envelope the band. Bottles are raised. With each song, the audience and band feed off each other’s excitement.

No, this scene did not take place at any of the bars that line the bustling main business district of the Northside. It was, in fact, at Tone House Music, a full-service instrument and gear repair shop that opened about a year ago at 4040 Hamilton Ave.

Tim Seiwert, the owner of Tone House, has stocked the store with a selection of quality instruments and amps, as well guitar gear and cables, all on consignment. A musician himself (he is a drummer, vocalist and songwriter for Cincinnati band the Newbees), Seiwert knew that consignment would keep prices low, a must for cash-strapped customers.

He also knew that a stage was crucial to the store. “It’s a music store, and I wanted everyone to feel like they have a stage here to get up and perform on,” Seiwert said. He started booking shows a few weeks after opening, and over the months, the shows as well as the product selection grew.

You can find quite an assortment of strings at Tone House.

Tone House now boasts a wall full of commercial guitars and bass, banjos, mandolins and ukuleles. Along with these, an assortment of local luthier’s guitars – handmade acoustic guitars – from Ike Wilhelm of Wilhelm Guitars, Jason Harshbarger of Highland Strings, and Ethan James Burns Guitars — grace the walls of Tone House. Locally made hand percussion, new and used keyboards and recording equipment line the floor, along with vintage amps of every stripe.

Seiwert stocks an assortment of strings, straps, cables and musical accessories, as well as refurbished electric guitars, amps and equipment. Seiwert can repair nearly any type of guitar or amp, important for those who have equipment that they love and that needs to be brought back to life. He supplies new and used guitar pedals, even carrying a local pedal maker’s custom wares.

Liz Burkhardt, a Northside musician and Tone House supporter, has seen the shop grow since it opened in January 2012. But to Burkhardt, the “store” is only one aspect of why Tone House is quintessential to not only Northside, but to the city as a whole.

“The reason he (Seiwert) opened the store was not just to sell stuff to people, but also to be involved with music, and that’s what people who come to the store are looking for… You can come in and play anything you want and feel comfortable,” Burkhardt said.

Tone House, with the help of local musician Andyman Hopkins, also plays host to a writer’s round held most every Thursday. Hopkins had been conceptualizing a way to have a listening audience in a setting that was about music. He wanted an experience unlike that of bars, where he felt frustrated competing with one-touch jukeboxes and drunken raucousness. Then he stumbled upon Tone House.

Andyman Hopkins is happy to show patrons both standard and exotic instruments.

“I saw the door that was open, and I walked in and saw Tim. And it just hit me real quick. Wow, look! There is a stage. There is this cool guy who runs this music store ­– this is where I need to have the writers round,” Hopkins said.

Individual artists from bands around the Cincinnati area take the stage and get a unique opportunity to explain the history of their songs and their lives.

“It’s a great way to swap songs and to hear their stories,” Hopkins said.

“It’s like an MTV Unplugged sort of thing,” Seiwert said.

Seiwert and Hopkins see the stage as an intimate showcase, but the shop has had nearly every genre of music float, or blare, out of its doors. Artists from the Seedy Seeds, Magnolia Mountain, Bruce Menefield’s Omnibeat, Shiny Old Soul, Dinosaurs and Thunder, among many others, have been featured.

From the beginning, Seiwert has wanted to foster an environment that is supportive of the artistic community, by keeping prices competitive and allowing free flow of artistic and musical inspiration. The interior walls are bordered by a rotating selection of artwork by local artists.

“I’m trying to make life easier for the musicians, because God knows we need it,” Seiwert said.

Soon to be included in Tone House’s repertoire will be music lessons, particularly in guitar, piano, and percussion. The shop hopes to establish private lessons rooms in the near future.

Such a spot seems so integral to life in Northside, it’s no wonder people have taken notice.

Tone House boasts a new sign, thanks to the CoSign project.

Tone House was chosen to receive a new artist-made hanging sign from the CoSign project, a collaboration between the American Sign Museum, and the Haile/US Bank Foundation. The sign swings in the wind above the shop’s door. It is one of nine other custom signs placed above businesses along Hamilton’s main drag.

Hopkins saw the sign as a sort of milestone for the shop. “Since the sign has been put up, so many people have been coming in that it has already paid for itself,” Hopkins said.

Tone House does indeed sell musical instruments of all kinds. It will repair your broken guitar. But this is a place where they also will let you play your music, remember you, accept you for who you are… and encourage you for it.

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