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Thread: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

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    Still learning Taylor and Tenor's Avatar
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    Default Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I recently purchased a tenor guitar that came from the manufacturer tuned CGDA which I intent to play at traditional Irish music sessions along with my mandolin.

    The tenor guitar can be tuned to GDAE with the proper set of strings thus allowing me to play tunes I know with the same fingering as a mandolin. Thus avoiding go through the re-learning process or always be forced into playing tunes in the key of C for now.

    What is the most common tuning of a tenor guitar - CGDA or GDAE ? How do you have your tenor guitar tuned and why?

    Your input will be greatly appreciated

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    This has been discussed in several previous threads, if you hunt down the list.
    "True" tenor enthusiasts will tell you that CGDA is "true" tenor tuning, which is also used by many (most?) tenor banjo players.

    I think the best answer is it doesn't matter. One tuning may suit your guitar better than another though, depending on the scale length, strings, and other variables.
    Though I don't play much tenor lately, I mostly use CGDA; or I will sometimes tune down to Bb and capo up two, to shorten up the scale. When I play tuned CGDA, I inevitably mentalize as though I have transposed to a different key/scale/fingerings, even though this is an illusion. But it may help to start thinking of tenor fingerings this way: They are essentially the same fingering as on mandolin, except shifted by one string. It is a mandolin, with the top E removed, and a low C added, which extends and/or shifts your fingerings.

    Octave GDAE tuning will also work fine, but with heavier gauge strings - there were numerous suggestions on string guages in a recent thread. One factor I find can be a nuisance is that your saddle really needs to be compensated differently when using a wound 2nd string, which will probably need to be the case with GDAE tuning.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I wanted to add that, after replying above, I noticed your post & review of the Aria tenor.
    I've noticed these guitars online. I believe these guitars differ from most traditional tenors in that they do not have a shortened (tenor) scale - they are essentially a normal ~25" scale guitar with 4 strings - do I remember this right?
    In this case, I think it really would be much better suited for GDAE (and I'm surprised the mfr or distributor strung it up for CGDA).
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    Still learning Taylor and Tenor's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Although body on Aria AF is rather large (15LB x 11UB x 4D x 19L), the scale length on the Aria AF is 23.125 inches. Well below the normal six string guitar 25 inch scale length and I think more in line with an octave mandolin.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    A 3rd tuning is common too, DGBE.. just sayin' ..
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    If you want to play fiddle tunes, esp Irish, GDAE is the way to go. I tune my tenors CGDA. I think this tuning is more versitile for a wider range of music. I play in a large Oldtime stringband and also play Swing and Dixiland. The CGDA tuning sounds better when playing chords and also lends it's self to playing in C and F, common swing keys. I use a capo on the second fret for playing fiddle tunes in D and A.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I prefer my Tenor guitar tuned GDAE. I used to cringe when tuning the A string in CGDA - and usually broke it...

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I have both tenor guitar and tenor banjo tuned CGDA - the reason being that, as they're tuned in 5ths like my mandolin and violin, the fingering for traditional tunes is all very similar. Like Charles E., I often use a capo for tunes in D and A. F (without capo) is a particularly good key for the CGDA tuning - and nearly all the jazz stuff I do is in that key. :-)

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    GDAE is also in fifths and even more like mandolin and violin tuning... (down a fifth from Mandola/Tenor and equal to OM or Zouk - requires no auto-transposing of keys e.g G on GDAE = C on CGDA etc.)

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I've been playing mine in Open C, tuned CGCG, but then everything is in C or I'll use a capo.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I didn't realize you had to tune them.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Tenor guitars are normally tuned CGDA and are said to typically have a 23" scale. Does this mean that for a tenor guitar be tuned GDAE, the scale length should theoretically be longer? The low G is fairly close to a guitars low E, so shouldn't the scale be just slightly less than 25.5? (If attempting to maintain a guitar-like sustain/sound)
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I think the 23" scale is pretty much perfect for GDAE. If you took a regular 6 stringer and capoed on the third fret to get a G on the low string you'd probably be close to 23". I'd say 21" would be better than 23" for CGDA, but then it all depends on what you like.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Bumping...

    I'll be getting my first tenor guitar, and although I may eventually have it set-up for GDAE, I've decided to keep it in CGDA to begin with. I figure this will give me an opportunity to explore this new (to me) tuning.

    Also, since I usually play alone, I figure that I'll just use my mandolin/octave mandolin fingerings, and thereby play stuff in the typical key + 4. So, there will be plenty of 'Blues in C to begin with'

    For others who have done this (gone to CGDA after being familiar with GDAE), did you find CGDA easy to pick-up? Do you now easily go back and forth?

    Which tuning sounds better on the average box (say a Blueridge BR-40t)?

    Other comments or observations?
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    There's no difference. You just play in a different key...

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Ed- My tenor is a $5 yard sale former basket case by an unknown maker that I restored myself. You can read about my restoration project if you're interested, just search the threads for "mystery yard sale find" and "tenor guitar restoration complete". It has a 20 inch scale, short even for TG standards. Body is about the size of a Martin #5 "Terz". I really wanted GDAE tuning so I used Graham's online string tension calculator to find the best gauges that would give me tension equal to CGDA, or at least no higher (it has no neck stiffener as far as I know. Certainly no adjustable truss rod). I found that GHS OM strings did it. No problem with nut or bridge, it was missing both so I had to make new ones and just cut them to the needed gauges. I used a non-compensated floating bridge so I just tilt it a bit and it's pretty darned close. I think it sounds really sweet in GDAE! So glad I did it. Tenors in CGDA sound kind of tinny to me. Plus I like staying consistent with my mando and fiddle.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I tend to think of the CGDA tuning as more natural for the transition between mandolin and tenor guitar.
    I read the mandolin in treble and am using the bass clef for the tenor guitar.
    When I pick it up I do a switch about in my head which says reading bass clef = going down to the C string/losing the E.
    So lower sounding instrument = lower tuning; just a little trigger to make it easier to switch.
    The scale patterns are ok as I play CGDA (cello) anyway, but 4 finger chords with the low string are a whole new kettle of fish for me.

    As for the sound I did tune my Martin LMX down again to the lower GDAE but it lost a lot of the resonance and went a bit dead.
    I know it's a HPLaminate body, but I was surprised at the difference in performance. I love the sound when up in CDGA, I didn't think you could do laminates to sound this good. I'm sure some would be a bit sniffy about them, but it's got me to drop some of my 'must be' solid wood prejudgices.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    The OP was talking about using the tenor in an Irish setting - most Irish tenor banjo players I know tune GDAE, so if you want to sound/finger like them then I would go that route.

    If your goal was to play violao tenor like Garoto, then I would tune CGDA.

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    In Ireland we like to be contrary....

    or to use a good Donegal word, "Thrand"

    HERE, tenor banjo is tuned GDAE

    tenor guitars?

    the ONLY one I've ever seen in Ireland is the one that I made myself.......

    theres a thread here if youre interested.....

    http://www.mandolincafe.com/forum/sh...t-tenor-guitar

    and I tune it GDAE with 56, 45, 26, 17 strings which are canabalized from a set of D'Addario mediums that I bought bulk a while back
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    Now, thanks to Martin and his guitar shaped mandola, I have been stricken with GBMAS, guitar body mandola acqusition syndrome
    hey!! I got my own Syndrome!!!!

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I know it's a HPLaminate body, but I was surprised at the difference in performance. I love the sound when up in CDGA, I didn't think you could do laminates to sound this good. I'm sure some would be a bit sniffy about them, but it's got me to drop some of my 'must be' solid wood prejudgices.
    It is true that HPL Martins sound better than one would think they should. I had a chance to buy the tenor version but passed because I had heard GDAE was a problem with them. It was a worthy idea though. Too bad they didn't make one with a solid wood top.
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????


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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    I just used the McDonald Patent Universal String Tension Calculator to determine the tension differences between CGDA and GDAE tunings on a standard scale tenor guitar (22 7/8" or 58.1 cm) using common string gauges. The tensions seem to be nearly identical!

    I used the 'long scale mandola' setting (with properly adjusted scale) to get the CGDA string tensions, and the 'short scale Bouzouki' setting (again with properly adjusted scale) to get the GDAE tensions. Here's what I came up with:

    * A tenor guitar (22 7/8" scale), tuned CGDA with strings .010, .014, .022W, .032W has a total string tension of 40.18 kg.

    * A tenor guitar (22 7/8" scale), tuned GDAE with strings .013, .020W,.030W, .042W has a total string tension of 38.97 kg.

    Very interesting!
    c.1965 Harmony Monterey H410 Mandolin
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Ed- You did EXACTLY what I did and came to the same conclusion- a typical CGDA set and a typical GSAE set have very close to the same tension (with appropriate string gauges of course). That's why it works so well! The only problem is the nut and saddle slots- nothing a set of properly gauged nut files won't fix! I use GHS OM strings on mine- 12, 22W, 32W, 44W- plus you get 2 sets for the price of one!
    Don

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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Quote Originally Posted by multidon View Post
    Ed- You did EXACTLY what I did and came to the same conclusion- a typical CGDA set and a typical GSAE set have very close to the same tension (with appropriate string gauges of course). That's why it works so well! The only problem is the nut and saddle slots- nothing a set of properly gauged nut files won't fix! I use GHS OM strings on mine- 12, 22W, 32W, 44W- plus you get 2 sets for the price of one!
    So loop end strings work okay with bridge pins? Do you place the loop over the end of the pin?
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    Default Re: Tenor Guitar tuning - CGDA vs GDAE ????

    Ed, my tenor has a floating bridge and a mandolin tailpiece. The original tailpiece was a clamshell banjo tailpiece but it caused me problems so I just replaced it. That tailpiece was built for loop end too. I am guessing that you will have to buy single strings to get a set of ball ends in the gauges you want for your Blueridge. Good luck!
    Don

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