View Full Version : My tenor guitar arrived

Nov-10-2005, 12:51am
I am not sure whether it is good news or bad. I played my usual "Wednesday night with neighbors" jam and played the tenor far more than my mando and generally sounded better doing it.

A little while back I posted about the Emperador I was getting on eBay. I got it and it needed a bit more work than I had hoped. I knew the bridge was lifting; I popped it the rest of the way off and glued it down properly. There was also a little bottom seam separation at the tail that turned out to be more serious. It looks like the guitar was dropped or somehow took a pretty solid blow on the tail. The tailpiece block was slightly loose internally and there was a small crack in the top right at the tailpiece block in addition to the seam separation on the bottom. It lacked some structural integrity at the tail. After some agonizing over possible solutions, I took the easy way out. I mixed up a small batch of marine epoxy and used a paint brush through the sound hole to coat the tail block and the side next to it as well as the nearby seams top and bottom, then I clamped it holding the proper shape with masking tape on the bottom seam so epoxy would not drip out. It is rock solid now. I was worried it might affect the sound, but when I played blues with my neighbors tonight it sounded pretty good. My neighbors are better guitarists than me and they both played it to see what a tenor was like and played it well; it won't be holding me back.

I have it tuned Irish - GDAE an octve below mandolin. The LaBella heavy mandolin strings I got (the math on that set was nearly perfect on the tension calculator and I figured they would have enough extra to be long enough) did not completely work out - the D string is actually slightly too short even though the rest are fine. But I had some Vinci strings that had the same size D that was long enough, though it is 80/20 Bronze and the G from the LaBella set is PB. The intonation is slightly off with this tuning. Everything is slightly sharp at the 12th fret, but I only know that from using the tuner; it was fine jamming blues.

So I am a reasonably happy camper; this will be a good "intro" tenor for now and if I get a nicer one (hmmm - resonator?) someday it will be a good beach guitar. It will not replace my mando, but it will definitely be sharing time with it.

steve V. johnson
Nov-10-2005, 10:28am
Congrats on the new tenor, and on the successful 'triage' repairs!

I think about tenor guitars (tuned as a mando) a lot. I do occaisional searches for new ones, and I find that the most accessible is a Gold Tone that lists for just under $500. There are old Silvertones and Harmonys and the occaisional fabulous decades-old archtop on auction. I guess that Martin still makes one, but it isn't stocked in many places. The best place to see good examples are places like Bernunzio and Phila Vintage Instr., where one can find fine oldies.

I'm surprised that your mandolin strings worked!

What would other tunings will you try? CGDA?



Nov-10-2005, 11:08am
So, to the unitiated, explain the tenor guitar....Strung more or less like a mando...four strings or eight? And you tune an octave lower than mando...so do you then basically play it like a guitar, using mandolin chording? That is, in the blues jam are you basically a rhythm guitar with occasional mando-like solos, or what?

Nov-10-2005, 11:34am
tenorguitar.com (http://www.tenorguitar.com)

Four strings, tuned like the tenor banjo (which same as mandola: CGDA). This was a transition instrument meant to help tenor banjo players move on to guitar, when the guitar started surpassing the banjo in popularity. Many people tune tenor banjos and tenor guitars in "Irish" tuning, which is same as octave mandolin: GDAE one octave lower than mando.

I believe it's meant to be a rhythm/strumming instrument, but people have been ressurrecting it as a melody instrument.

Nov-10-2005, 11:35am
If you look on http://www.tenorguitar.com, you will find a lot of general info, including a link to a Yahoo group where you will find more and discussions.

The way I have it now, it is basically a single course octave mandolin. So, yes, I was playing mandolin style chords and (primarily) double stops as rhythm guitar and occasionally soloing (when pressed to; I am not all that good at it yet). The more standard tuning is CGDA, like a mandola. In that tuning, it's still the same shapes but the keys are different.

At the Yahoo site, there is a text file of suggested strings for different tunings. I chose to go slightly lighter than what it listed so I could do some blues bending. I looked at various string sets and that LaBella set at 40/26/17/12 came out just about perfect for a 23" scale tuned like an OM. The tensions were all high teens (lbs) and well balanced. OM string sets I found all had significantly higher tension and were surprising unbalanced (over a 7# swing!).

I want to learn fingerstyle on it. I have played with that a little already. For strumming, you use your thumb (no picks) to play double stops on the bass strings and your index and/or middle finger to play lead on the treble strings. It is as much a brain exercise as a manual challenge. I found that it is often easier (not that it is easy, just that it could be even harder) to use the middle and ring finger of the left hand to fret the bass double stops and the index and pinky to do the lead. Major pinky workout!

Oh yeah, I am not sure I will try CGDA, but I probably should. I have read that the open chords will typically sound better in that tuning because that is really what the sound board shape/size/thickness/bracing/etc were designed for and the intonation is likely to be dead on. But the low double stops in the OM tuning sound good and allow me to provide a wider range of accompaniment.

Jim M.
Nov-10-2005, 11:37am
Being a fiddler first, I keep my tenor tuned in fifths, but I've also seen guitarists tune it DGBE.

Nov-10-2005, 11:52am
Congrats on your new guitar but I just wanted to say thank you to you arbarnhart. You have no idea how many times a day i say "give dad an earful, give dad an earful" just to get these strings turned around on my mandolin. You are a life saver!

Nov-10-2005, 1:32pm
I love my tenor(s) and find myself hooked playing them for a few days and then my mando a few days...or sometimes both. #I find i have improved my mandolin technique by the time spent on tenor and finally gotten my pinky involed in more than a chop chord on the mandolin. #i have all but a few tuned in GDAE and A few in CGDA...I prefer the mandocentric tuning tho, as Peter Mix put it "way less thinking". #BTW Peter hows the Vita-plectrum coming along?

Nov-10-2005, 3:40pm

I have a (fairly-new-to-me) '27 Martin 5-17T - 1st year of production! So far, I've only tuned it CGDA (Octave Mandola) And only used D'Addario J66 Tenor guitar strings (basicallly, just the same string diameter as 4 top guitar strings from a light set).

I'd really like to try tuning it like an Octave Mandolin - i.e. GDAE but 1 octave down. And so I am VERY interested in your post re: LaBella Heavy strings.

When you wrote: "the math on that set was nearly perfect on the tension calculator" what do you mean?? My scale length is just slightly less than 23 inches.

How can I "do the math" to figure out which strings I should be using? I REALLY want to avoid over tensioning this guitar!!

Thanks for any help.

steve V. johnson
Nov-10-2005, 3:40pm
Brilliant Irish tenor banjoist and fiddler John Carty plays a little bit of tenor guitar on a couple of his CDs, and it's a wonderful sound.
I don't know which tuning he uses on the tenor, but he uses GDAE on his tenor banjo.

He plays melodies, so it's like a -deep- and woody tenor banjo or single course octave mandolin.


Nov-10-2005, 3:54pm
How can I "do the math" to figure out which strings I should be using? #I REALLY want to avoid over tensioning this guitar!!

Here's my favorite calculator:

string tension (http://www.greenmanhumming.com/html/StringCalc/Multistringcalc.html#the%20applet)

You want the "expert applet". Using one of the Zouk templates gets you started and then you plug in string diameters and type.

I think that right around 20# per string is best, but I went a little lower so I could bend them easier (besides the action on my tenor is okay but not awesome).

Another set of strings that I almost went for:
banjo guitar strings (http://www.bigcitystring.com/banjog.htm)

I read somewhere that those were silk and steel, but now I am not finding that description, so maybe not. But it has a wound A, which some folks prefer.

The middle 4 strings of that set of 6 are pretty much dead on as an OM set for a tenor. They are loop end, but I found that the wraps on the larger strings hold on the pins well and you can "fold" the loop on the smaller ones almost like a barb on a hook and they hold in the pin slot also.

Nov-10-2005, 4:10pm
I got mine too. It was listed as a 1930 Martin 0-17T, but it is actually a 5-17T.

Mine also needs more work than the ebay seller said. The bridge is lifting (no big deal), and although it is quite playable due to the low tension, I think it needs a neck reset. The action is 9/64" at the 12th. How does that compare to yours, scgc.om?

The good news is that it has no scratches, dings or fret wear. I think it's been in a closet most of it's life. It sounds fantastic and is really a blast to play fiddle tunes on. I have only tuned it CGDA.

Avi Ziv
Nov-10-2005, 4:11pm
stv - I love John Carty's stuff !! I just learned Eleanor Neary off of the latest CD, where he plays tenor guitar and Alec Finn plays the zouk. Really beautiful. However - DeDannan recorded that set in A and the Carty recording is in....Bb... Now is this just a case of tuning up a half step - a-la-Dervish or is he really playing it out of more "standard" tuning? I am playing it on mandolin, and Bb would be an interesting challenge - not to mention the looks I would get at my session ;)

Sorry folks - didn't mean to hijack tha thread but this sparked my interest

And now - back to string tension


Mar-29-2008, 10:55pm
Being a fiddler first, I keep my tenor tuned in fifths, but I've also seen guitarists tune it DGBE.
The beauty of the tenor guitar, over the mandolin, is that you can try an alternate tuning quickly. No double strings to wrestle with.