View Full Version : Tenor Guitar

Steve Cantrell
Oct-25-2005, 9:17pm
Anyone play or have any experience with these? I like the idea of being able to tune GDAE, and like the mando, the sound has character. Any suggestions/thoughts?

Oct-25-2005, 9:21pm
Go check out this Yahoo group:


I am also looking hard at them. I have been told that they sound better tuned CGDA in the same range as a mandola, but that GDAE an octave below the mando will sound good on some models (ones with good bass response).

Bob DeVellis
Oct-25-2005, 9:37pm
I have one that I used to tune GDAE but now tune CGDA. The issue wasn't bass response -- this one has plenty. I find that the intonation is better with a string gauge closer to what the instrument was originally designed for. Without a moveable bridge, I wasn't able to get intonation close enough to satisfy me with the heavier strings. There may be other strings that would intonate better in GDAE, so I'm not suggesting that this is a universal experience. But I find that I really like the CGDA tuning, although it's obviously trickier if you're playing with others (which I tend not to do with this particular instrument). The scale length is certainly a big change from mandolin and the tonal range and fullness of the instrument lends it self to a different treatment than an mandolin does, but they can be great fun.

Oct-25-2005, 10:28pm
I have been looking at an arch top mostly because of your comment about the fixed bridge. I assume you have a flat top; most of the flat tops I have seen are fixed and I had someone else warn me that many common arch tops didn't have good bass response. To be honest, I am not sure that will bother me much even if it is the case. It would be for porch picking and practice only (well initially; you know how those things go).

I almost never play my guitar anymore but sort of want to sometimes without having to remember all the different chords and scales and stepping over the goofy string. A 5ths tuned 4 string seems like the ticket. Cello tuning would be nice to give it full guitar low end and then some, but GDAE would have the advantage of shared chord shapes (that aren't transposed) with the mando. I know that doesn't buy you as much as you might hope as some of the mando variety are unreachable at that scale, but most of the shapes I use are only 2 or 3 frets long.

The post on the Yahoo group about the Soarsby tenor resonator guitar really picqued my interes, BTW...

Oct-26-2005, 5:25am
I'm a fan. Single-stringing makes a lot of left hand tricks very easy. I play a resonator-tenor currently. I have borrowed a number of old ones.. a Martin and a Gibson archtop stood out among them as superior. Stringing is tricky, but there is a lot of latitude to get the tone right. They are very nice sounding instruments, you can cross into that grey area between buitar/banjo/mandolin/bouzouki on them and it's quite lovely both for lead and backing.

jim simpson
Oct-26-2005, 6:14am
I just won one off of an Ebay auction. It is a Harmony archtop in pretty good shape. I wonder how it would be to install mandolin gears and string it up in double course strings?

Oct-26-2005, 8:32am
I've seen some of these guitar->bouzouki conversions.. Usually they sound better as tenor guitars! Try it single strung, I bet you'll grow to like it! Strung fairly heavy to GDAE they sound pretty good.. you can usually string a tenor fairly heavy as they have 4 strings and not 6, but check with someone smarter than me first!

Oct-26-2005, 9:13am
I've got a watch on an "archtop project" that looks like it might have some restorable mojo; I might jump into that auction near the end if it stays reasonable. Round hole and painted black; it matches my mando (or would after being sanded and getting a better lacquer coat).

Jim M.
Oct-26-2005, 10:05am
It is a Harmony archtop in pretty good shape. I wonder how it would be to install mandolin gears and string it up in double course strings?

I had a Harmony archtop tenor for awhile. A very fun instrument, jazzy and bluesy, and sounded very nice with a pick-up. I don't think the neck would hold if you double-strung it, though. If you want to convert, start with a 6-string.

Chip Booth
Oct-26-2005, 10:56am
A friend has a prewar all mahogany Martin tenor laying around, and doesn't play. I was thinking of borrowing it for a while. I don't know anything about the guitar other than that. I would probably go with the mandola tuning, can anyone suggest a set of strings for that thing?


Oct-26-2005, 10:59am
There is a set of tenor guitar gauges you can get.. D'Addario makes them I think

Oct-26-2005, 11:00am
Here is info I got on the Yahoo group:

Typical String Gauges

'Standard' CGDA 23" Scale length Short Scale 20" 17 Fret
C=130.8 Hz. .034 PB .036 PB
G=196 .022 PB .024 PB
D=293.7 .014 PL .016 PL
A=440 .0095 (or .010) PL .0105 PL

Octave mandolin/Irish 23" Scale
G=98 Hz. .042 PB
D=146.8 .029 PB
A=220 .020 PB
E=329.6 (D=293.7 Ir. Bouzouki) .012 PL (.014 PL)

Guitar 23" Scale
D=146.8 Hz .029 PB
G=196 .020 PB
B=246.9 .016 PL
E=329.6 .012 PL

Oct-26-2005, 11:05am
There isn't too much you can't find at Juststrings.com (http://www.juststrings.com/tenorguitar.html)

Chip Booth
Oct-26-2005, 11:11am
Thanks http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif


Oct-26-2005, 11:14am
Talk about timing... Peter (Rigel) Mix is selling a beautiful old Gibson tenor right now in the classifieds. It even comes with invisible strings (really)!

Oct-26-2005, 11:18am
It's more of a stretch to solo with a tenor guitar or banjo than with a mandolin or mandola. Definitely. That little finger gets a lot of use (as it should, of course). The nice thing about them is that you already know the chords. The bad thing is that they're too low to stick out the way a mandolin does but too high for those strong bass string runs. It's possible to tune them DGBE, like the top four strings on a guitar, and that range is a lot easier to work with, but the chords sound different. I have tenor banjos tuned both in C and G. For my taste, the G is too low to be interesting, but of course that is Celtic tuning, so some people must like it. I wouldn't recommend trying eight strings on an old tenor guitar. That's a lot more tension on a neck that may not even have a truss rod. But you could try. Soares, who is selling a mandocello on eBay right now, imports a couple dozen tenor guitars every year for selling on line. The quality of finish is lousy, from what he says, but I hear they sound pretty good and the price is right. Find his ad, then send him a message. He may have what you want.

Oct-26-2005, 11:41am

I've had a 1927 Martin 5-17T (1st year of production!) for a few months now - never touched one before but it just "fell into my lap" at a shop and I couldn't leave without it! #It's small (Martin's "5" body size is their smallest ever), all mahogany (style "17"), has bar frets AND banjo tuners (WAY KEWL!).

I play it in mandola tuning (CGDA) - wouldn't risk mandolin tuning - too much neck tension! #Musical friends have retuned it to guitar tuning (DGBE) and banjo tuning (?http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/rock.gif - banjos are "terra incognita" to me) and made AMAZING musical sounds come forth from it!

I string this tenor with D'Addario Tenor Guitar strings (J66 I'm pretty sure) - basically, these are exactly the same as a set of Light Guitar strings ( i.e. EJ 16s - just the 4 highest pitch strings, of course). #

Pete Martin (who lurks here from time to time) plays and recommends Tenors - he wrote me a great response to my early queries when I 1st got my Martin.

So far, I've only used this guitar as a "porch/couch solo pickin'" instrument - when I'm playing fiddle tunes (a 5th below std key), I find the extra stretch required really helps my learning process. #Chop chords are, of course, not possible BUT the challenge of trying to come up with good sounding 2 &/or 3 string chop chords is an excellent exercise. #

It should be possible to play BlueGrass music with a tenor guitar - one of the Delmore Bros used one. #And there's always the Kingston Trio catalogue!!

Summary - get a tenor! #You'll have a blast AND it could teach you a LOT of useful mandolin stuff.

Oct-26-2005, 12:07pm
buzz levine had a baby dread tenor guitar listed on his "just listed" page. it was custom made for someone. www.larkstreetmusic.com

Oct-26-2005, 12:18pm
Yep, get a tenor - they're fun. You don't have to pay too much, either. I have a '41 Harmony flattop I've kept as a four string, and a 60s Harmony archtop tenor I got for an 8-string OM conversion. I filled the old machine holes and one of these days will install mando tuners and bridge and complete the job. Combined cost was ~$200.

I've asked a few tenor-related questions here before, and talked to a couple of players about their strings and tunings. Most tenor enthusiasts seem to believe the instrument sounds better and is designed to be tuned high, to "true" tenor tuning (CGDA). That range of pitch seems right to me, too, though there are several other possibilities. Because my doesn't have a truss rod, I tune it to Bb then capo up 2 or more frets, which shortens the scale a little and makes it easier to play. I think the string guages I have now are 10-14-22-34. For the OM, I would probably also tune it to F, and capo up 2.

Oct-26-2005, 2:50pm
I have a thirties Harmony flattop tenor and have had a 1928 Gibson in the past. My current instrument is tuned CGDA and capoed up two to DAEB (which is the same as a piccolo mandolin) so I can play Irish music in the same range as a whistle. I need to run the numbers but I don't think that changing to the proper strings and tuning GDAE puts more tension on the neck, in fact it might put less on but wait until I find a string tension calculator before believing me <G>
Tenors are a blast to play and very addicting. The best ITM tenor player is John Carty on his new album "I Will If I Can"

Steve Cantrell
Oct-26-2005, 6:18pm
As usual, the Cafe comes through. Thanks for the advice and recommendations.

Oct-27-2005, 4:15pm
Go for it. I got a '50s Harmony flat-top tenor at a garage sale a while back (way cheap), and I just love it.

The seller had it set up in the "top four guitar" tuning. I retuned to standard (for a tenor--CGDA) with the same strings, no problem. It just sang so beautifully.... I've restrung it into G, and I have to admit that it doesn't sound quite as wonderful there--still very nice, so I'll leave it there for now (I play more Irish music than anything else).

I have found that the extensive little-finger use has helped me on the mandolin, as well.

Oct-27-2005, 9:02pm
My 1930's Gibson TG2 is a great deal of fun to play in standard GCDA tuning. The sound is really awesome but those frets are far apart for rapid runs. The script "Gibson" has a nice patina with a presumed locked-in history of many years of great music. A tenor is fun; you can't go wrong as long as the action is low. Have fun. Doug

Oct-27-2005, 10:24pm
Man, am I ever one confused puppy...

I have been looking hard at tenor guitars and pretty much decided that my next instrument purchase should be one. I joined the Yahoo group and got a bunch of info there (BTW - you really do want to join and post to get the most info; I have no public responses to my post but numerous private reponses). I looked at sales on eBay over the last month and started watching current ones. Something popped up that seemed like the right instrument and I bid...

on a cello! No, not a mandocello, a "cello cello". I have a reason or two for having that as a "someday" sort of thing. And a rather unique one came up starting cheap. My bid probably won't hold up. I am the high bidder with less than 2 days left, but that means nothing since so many people (myself included usually) bid very late. But it still blows my mind that I don't know what I will do next...

jim simpson
Oct-28-2005, 6:58am
There's always room for cello!

Oct-28-2005, 7:27am
The cello should be easy, it uses tenor-guitar tuning! http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

(octave lower)

Oct-28-2005, 8:53am
I just lowballed a tenor guitar also; if my cello bid doesn't hold up I will probably jack up that bid some. Best case is I get both with low bids (my wife may have a different opinion http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif )

I actually plan to pluck the cello as a miniature bass of sorts, just for porch picking and for the kids to try. I may try getting a heavier string, shifting the others and doing GDAE two octaves below mando. But I will play it in normal tuning first and I do plan to learn to bow also. But all my plans may be just a daydream since the auction isn't over...

Oct-28-2005, 10:33am
I know a guy who bought a child-size cello and turned it into an "octave fiddle (http://home.earthlink.net/~life2all/dougswebspace/id3.html)" (there used to be pictures there, but they're gone - but the description is still there).

Ted Eschliman
Oct-28-2005, 11:27am
G, at my music stores, we've hazed new employees by calling in and pretending to ask for a cello chinrest; with this information now, the joke isn't as funny...
We also ask them for left-handed drumsticks, 2/3 size violins, and trombone cork grease (everything short of "Prince Albert in the can...").

Oct-29-2005, 12:37pm
I got sniped on the cello; not suprprised as I would have been getting a good deal acoording to my limited research. It was an oddball "practice cello" made in England around 1960 with a rectangular body, but according to the seller and some other info I found elsewhere, these things are made of carved solid wood and sound great. But they look weird and can sell low. Would have been a nice "porch bass". Oh well...

But I am back in the running for a tenor; I bid on an Emperador that is playable but still needs a little TLC (minor seam issue and bridge lifting at one end). Elderly had one for $125 a while back, which is the closest thing I have faound as a comp for pricing (plus they had a little info about materials that sounded reasonable). Anyone have any experience with an Emperador?

Oh, for the curious:
Here is the cello (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7360070563) I didn't get.
Here is the tenor (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7361539723) I am trying to get now. I figure anyone who wants to bid against me would find it without my help.

Oct-29-2005, 2:36pm
<EDIT - the auction referenced below was ended by a BIN>

It figures - I decide to chase the Emperador again and this shows up:

Harmony archtop on eBay (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7361489577)

It's kind of a project (broken bridge, no strings) and he makes no promises about playability other than saying it just has age stress. I bet it disppears within the day (BIN $95 and the shipping calculator said $7 for me).

jim simpson
Oct-29-2005, 4:27pm
I'm pretty sure the Emperador's are laminate tops. I think the Harmony's archtops are generally pressed into shape but are solid. I would think intonation correction would be more easily adjusted with the floating bridge. I've only had my Harmony tenor for about a week. It came with a guitar bridge that should work but it needs to be thinned down to lower action. I think I need to do a little fret dressing too.
It's funny to see the Emperador name as my first acoustic guitar was that brand. I didn't keep it too long. I more recently picked up a triple o sized one that I didn't realize had a laminate top. It sounds good as long as the strings are fairly fresh.

Oct-29-2005, 4:40pm
The pics are gone at Elderly, but here is the description of one they had:

VG-EC except neck slightly under-set and truss rod is backed off completely with neck dead straight and needs some work (restring, cleanup, etc. - sold AS-IS), inexpensive import, 14-3/4" lower bout, 23-1/8" scale, mahogany sides and back, spruce top, with SSC
80U-1729... - No longer available - $125.00

Oct-29-2005, 5:01pm
Here is the tenor (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7361539723) I am trying to get now.
I saw that. What worries me there is the bridge that's coming unglued. I'm not sure what to do, other than waiting for it to pop off and then regluing. http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/wow.gif There's some breakage in the bottom too, which should be easier to glue.

Oct-29-2005, 5:47pm
I think a hair dryer and putty knife will hasten the process on the bridge - go ahead and remove it and then glue it back. If it comes off while strung up it might tear out some of the top. The bottom seam really doesn't worry me much. But it is still a little early to be making plans. I do like seeing a truss rod in that bridge shot.

Oct-30-2005, 9:20pm
Now I guess I can make plans for the Emperador - I won! I got pushed pretty close to what I thought it was worth but if it turns out to be a reasonable player (and I think it will) I will be happy.

Oct-30-2005, 9:39pm
And I just won the Martin. (http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7360908664)

You guys are killing me!

Oct-30-2005, 9:43pm
Wow - nice! Trade ya; I'll even fix the bridge first http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/biggrin.gif

(mine is obviously much more desirable since it got 12 bids and yours only got 2, but I like you, so today only...)