View Full Version : Tenor guitar?

Oct-18-2004, 2:58am
As I am not very much "in touch" with the "Celtic" U,K, and "European Folk" scenes (Gypsy Jazz is my bag) I would like to ask a couple of questions. #I know this is an 8 string forum #but I was wondering if the 4 string "Tenor" guitar gets much use in these arena's? (I saw Miss Carthy with one last night)
I have long thought that it would have great prospects in this field as the 5ths standard tuning is well suited.
My interest is, and I make no bones about it, as a luthier who knocks up a few Tenors(mainly in Maccaferri style see examples at http://www.rfcharle.com/HTML/PhotosInstruments/HodsonTenor.html and http://www.rfcharle.com/HTML/PhotosInstruments/HodsonEFS.html)
just because I love the feel of them.
I also have a "Flat top" prototype Tenor in hand.
Any comments, other than "sod off" would be well recieved.
(home of the Djangolin #tm)

Oct-18-2004, 3:45am
Hi David,

I know a few players who play tenor guitar (usually old Martin flattops or the like) at home or in the studio, or in amplified gigs, but use their mandolins or banjoes in sessions. They're attracted to the mellowness/sweetness of the tenor sound but find it doesn't cut through in sessions.

There also seems to be an increasing number of players who are discovering they joys of resonator tenor guitars. Some of the guys on this forum play them, and there have been threads about them in the past. The resonator instruments, of course, don't have the volume/projection issues that their all-timber flat-top cousins can have.

I'd say folks might be pretty interested in having a look at a Maccaferri-style tenor, as that style is pretty synonymous with plenty of projection and volume, isn't it?

Bob DeVellis
Oct-18-2004, 6:26am
Padraig said it very well. I have a mahogany Martin tenor that sounds unbelievably sweet and full played solo or with one or two instruments but it doesn't have the projection. Also, I find it hard to play fast triplets on it because of the long scale, light gauge, and relatively low tension of the strings. I find this to a degree with tenor banjo, too, but moreso with tenor guitar. Also, the sustain is really the joy of the guitar, which calls for a different approach. Having said all that, I do think there's a definite place for tenor guitar in Irish music. It works very well for accompaniment with partial chords, letting the open strings ring. In that role, projection isn't so much waht you want. Filling in the sonic hole left by treble instruments with a rich, lower-pitched tonality seems to be what they're best for and they do that very well. For singers (which I ain't), they are wonderful for accompanying voice and allow for a relatively quick transfer of mandolin skills to a different-sounding box. The fifths tuning makes it pretty easy to embellish a song accompaniment with melodic passages. I don't play mine as much as I probably should but I do think they work well for certain purposes.

Oct-18-2004, 7:23am
I'm one of the resonator tenor guys. Kevin MacLeod is another http://www.mandolincafe.net/iB_html/non-cgi/emoticons/smile.gif

Oct-18-2004, 9:31am
I understand where you are coming from Bob to some extent.
The prototype Tenor I mentioned has been built with these points in mind. It has a slightly shorter scale (520mm) than the Mac Tenor which is 570mm. This allows for a heavier gauge string giving a little more tension and subsequently greater punch. I strung it up prior to applying the finish in order to check the intonation was spot on and it has a HUGE sound.
The original Mac Tenor had the inner chamber around which the Myth of "Volume" came about but it is just that a "Myth" the Mac Tenor is a far superior instrument without it (as I build today) as are the D hole guitars. I could go on for pages on the subject but it would bore the hell out of most of you so I'll leave there unless anyone want details off line.
I also have a "Bigtone" PU (undersaddle) custom made to order for my Mac Tenors that will also fit the new model so stage use is no problem.
It is a bit of a streach doing single string work on the 570mm scale as was said but the shorter scale does help a bit. The main reason I feel that Tenors do not get a fair shake is that 90% of the Tenors made from the 20s to the 50s were not "dedicated" Tenors but 6 string bodies with a 4 string neck. The few makers that took the trouble (Martin etc) to work out the details did do a reasonable job but one that can be much improved upon IMHO. It is not being helped by cheaply made versions that are now issueing from the far east sad to say.
I meant to mention that the second of the 2 URL links I posted was for one of my EFS guitars. This is a copy of a 1935 Selmer Maccaferri Eddie Freeman model that is a full 640mm scale 4 string but was designed as a "re-entrant" tuned Tenor.


Michael Wolf
Oct-18-2004, 9:31am
I'm a Reso-Tenor-player too. I have it about one year (replaced my Banjo) and find it very successful in irish music as it is in other genres. I find there is more clarity in tone because of singlestrings in comparison to Octavemando.
I think the other players in my session also like the exotic sound of this thing.
I would be very interested in trying one of the Maccaferri style-tenors. I could imagine that they cut through and it would be another design, that nobody would expect on a irish session.

All the Best

Oct-18-2004, 12:16pm
A friend of mine uses tenor guitar in ADAD tuning to accompany her own singing of English folk songs. Its uncluttered sound seems to lend itself to this purpose.

Jim Garber
Oct-18-2004, 1:06pm
I own three tenors: a late 1920s National silver; a late 1930s Gibson ETG-150 and a recent Selmer-style by Earnest Instruments (http://www.earnestinstruments.com/guitars.html) (the back of mine is pictured on that Web page), an excellent sweet sounding instrument.

I find they are quite good for chord-melody style playing. I also use it for some rhythm backup for old time fiddle tunes and songs.

BTW my "Selma" has a scale of 22.5 inches (571.5mm) closer to the original Selmer scale length. The other one on the site has a shorter 21 inch (533mm) scale.

David, what was the intended tuning for the EFS? I thought it was not actually tuned to tenor tuning at all, but in fourths like a guitar.


Bob DeVellis
Oct-18-2004, 1:52pm
David -
Your instruments sound intriguing. It seems like you've thought through several of the potential problems and have found ways around them. The shorter scale length, in particular, I think would be a big improvement for melody playing. I'd love to give one a go.

Oct-18-2004, 2:59pm
Hi David!

Jim, I own one of David's EFS guitars, and it is tuned in fifths, as Eddie intended - CGDA. The "trick" is the D and A strings are tuned an octave lower than "normal" - i.e. the C/D and G/A strings are only one tone apart. The strings are correspondingly guaged, i.e. Thick-thin-Thick-thin. It also has a longer-than-tenor scale, 25.5". The tuning and the scale kind of work together to give you the right amount of tension for good tone.

As far as playing, I've been using mine strictly for rhythm backup, and it sounds great - though it's VERY guitar-like and not really like a traditional "tenor" in sound. IOW, it doesn't sound like a thin, single string mandola, it sounds like a guitar! If you play with a lot of guitarists (as I do) you'll find the sound will blend in nicely. Personally I hate the "zingy" sound of normal flat-top tenors, especially in a Gypsy swing context, and was quite impressed by the meaty "chunk" of my EFS. It is treacherous to play single note solos, though!


ps Oh yeah, and the sucker is LOUD too.

Oct-18-2004, 4:46pm
I had a 1930s Martin tenor for a while and I kick myself often for selling it.

It was easy to play and sounded beautiful rang like a bell. Sat around and starting singing about Leprechauns and such. I even put a pickup in it and ran it through a distortion pedal for some things.

It was really cool. Never should have sold it.

Oct-19-2004, 3:48pm
The tenor guitar is very prevalent in Texas Style Fiddle Music. Jerry Thommason (son of the great Benny Thomassan who tutored Mark O'Connor) was an extrememly great Tenor Guitar player. It is used strictly as a rhythym instrument though.

I play a Stella Tenor guitar and use a metal slide, great fun and very bluesy.

Oct-20-2004, 1:34am
I do tend to think of the EFS model as a dedicated rhythm instrument.
Darrell has chosen to stick with the original Eddie Freeman tuning but the bulk of the EFS models go out of my workshop strung in either "plectrum" tunings of C,G,B,D, or C,G,B,C, OR in my favourite (being a 6 string player,of "mid 4" that is to say A,D,G,B, as it makes the fast chord work needed for Gypsy Jazz very easy to achieve without having to worry unduly about "raised this, flat that".
With regard to the "true" Tenor model Michael is correct in that it does cut through with a distinctive tone (as all Selmer/Mac's have) and also it would be "another design nobody would expect on an Irish session" in fact on any session!!
As far as can be confirmed only a handful of original Mac Tenors saw the light of day. (unlike the EFS which did reasonably well despite being slagged off in the UK music press of the time)
I think? I may already have exceded the Selmer output of the Tenor.:D

Jim Garber
Oct-20-2004, 6:41am
As a bit of serendipity, a friend of mine was contacted recently about an original Selmer tenor in basket-case condition. It was in the ownser's family for many years. My friend is in the process of restoring it. I will ask him if i can post pics of it.


Oct-20-2004, 9:13am
Is your "friend" an experienced luthier Jim?
I do hope so as I would hate to see it ruined.
I would love to find one in even the "basket case" condition you mention provided it was "untouched". The Tenor does not command anything like the prices of the rest of the range as they are not sought after in the same way. Therein lies the problem with the "correct" amount of restoration. The cost of the work needed can often excede the value of the item. On the other hand a poor restoration devalues greatly. It would have to be done for the love of it by someone who really knows Maccaferri's.
I would be interested in buying if he was interested.

Jim Garber
Oct-20-2004, 10:16am
Yes my friend is very experienced. He is Joel Eckhaus of Earnest Instruments (mentioned above). He built my Selmer tenor and he is very sensitive to the correct amount of restoration.


Oct-21-2004, 12:52am
That is good news. Joel knows his business.
Could you still pass on my interest in it through Joel to the owners if you would be so kind.

Jim Garber
Oct-21-2004, 6:39am
Joel actually owns the Selmer; the previous owner sold it to him.


Oct-21-2004, 11:31am
I'll give him a poke to see if it may be available.Thanks.

Aug-09-2011, 12:22pm
To resurrect an old thread, I'm reporting the purchase of a Blueridge BR40T, tenor guitar, for my wife (but tuned to gdae, as she wants, as it is popular for irish tenor guitar music, I'm sure I'm gonna enjoy this experiment). Should arrive Friday, if Elderly Instruments do their job efficiently.
I wondered if anyone had experience with this model. I can't say enough about Blueridge guitars, having owned a BR160 and in the process of getting a BR40. Wonderfully made, affordable guitars.
Also, I'd be interested to know who rules the Tenor guitar, particularly in Irish genre, as my wife is looking for material (DVDs, books, etc.)

Thanks for any input

Aug-09-2011, 12:25pm
Ooops, I did not realize we had a Tenor Guitar section. I will copy and paste part of my question there.