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Thread: What is a tenor guitar

  1. #1


    I keep hearing people talk about tenor guitars, and how they are similar to a mandolin. Can anyone give me some general information on this?


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  3. #3
    Registered User John Flynn's Avatar
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    Oct 2002
    Richmond, VA


    It is a 4 string guitar, usually tuned DGBE, but it can be tuned like and octave mando. More info here:

  4. #4
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    Usually tuned in fifths, CGDA, like a mandola or mandocello in my experience, but also tuneable (as jfly says) like an OM, GDAE. Often used as back-up for Texas fiddle tunes. Benny Thomasson's son (Jerry, I think) is famous for his tenor guitar accompaniment. Dan B. and Kevin MacCleod use National tenor guitars quite nicely in Celtic music styles.

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  5. #5
    coprolite mandroid's Avatar
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    Mythology I heard was that Eddie Lang was such a hot player that Jazz bandleaders wanted that sound, but all they had was banjo players, so It was buy a tenor guitar or, get a day job.

    that would be C G D A tuning

    G D A E requires heavier strings , 'Irish tuning'

    D G B E is baritone Uke or the top 4 strings of a guitar.

    the kingstin trio included a tenor guitar, but He,[?] being a Uke player, it was always capo'd up a ways.

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  6. #6
    Registered User 8ch(pl)'s Avatar
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    The term tenor guitar is sort of a misnomer. It is guitar like in it's shape. It has 4 strings and a somewhat narrower body, a narrower neck etc, but is guitar shaped.

    It is not in the guitar catagory due to it's being tuned in 5ths like a mandolin or violin family instrument. in it's original tuning it was intended for C-G-D-A Cello tuning. Guitars are tuned in 4ths except I believe one string, (forgive me if I am wrong, I do not play guitar, refuse to in fact).

    The Kingston trio had a Martin tenor. I also saw an old hokey production of the film "The Lost World" from the early 60's that featured Fernando Lamas playing a Spanish style number on a tenor guitar, awesome. I was only watching the stupid movie to stay awake on a midnight shift as a security guard.

    The neat thing about these instruments is that they can be adapted from mandolin chords, as can a tenor banjo. Oner can often get one for less than an octave mandolin will cost.

  7. #7
    Cafe Linux Mommy danb's Avatar
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    Jun 1996
    Norfolk, England


    Agreed.. as stated above, they make fun 4-string octave mandolins too (Irish GDAE tuning). The scale length is the same as a tenor banjo- historically they were an instrument to market to tenor banjo players when the guitar became popular. New sound without re-learning from square 1. Most makers made tenors, Gibson, Martin, Stromberg, Epiphone, D'Angelico.. they are just as varied in tone and types/configurations as normal guitars.

    I've personally found that mandolin technique (somewhat harder picking compared to thin picks/light strings that a lot of the really good Irish tenor banjo players use) can result in unpleasant tone on a tenor banjo (loud/piercing) but works just right on a tenor guitar.
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  8. #8
    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    I heard that the tenor guitar was developed as a way to get guitarists into the tenor banjo craze of the beginning of the last century.
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  9. #9


    Tenor guitars tuned cgd'a' are tuned the same as a viola, an octave above cello tuning.
    As stated above, they provided continuing employment opportunities for Dixieland jazz banjo players when rhythm guitarists were wanted in the emerging Big Band sound.

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