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Saturday, 13 September 2008


Seth Lakeman, although famous for his fiddle playing is also a skilled player of the TENOR GUITAR. Check out Seth performing " Haunt You " from his latest album, further down this blog

A tenor guitar is a fretted, four stringed instrument, most commonly shaped like a traditional guitar.

Scale length (approx):
23" (Gibson tenors are 22 3/4")
(6 string guitar = 25.5", plectrum guitar = 26")

standard tuning:

standard string gauges:
.036 .024 .016 .010
(use bronze strings for acoustic, steel for electric)

alternative tunings:
Octave mandolin tuning: GDAE
"Guitar" tuning: DGBE

other possible tunings:
"Guitar" tuning, transposed up a fourth
(uke tuning, but G is 1 octave lower): GCEA
Slide: CGCG, or DADA

The tenor banjo is tuned the same way as the guitar so if you are having trouble finding chord charts and books look for tenor banjo resources.
Although traditionally quite pricey, these lovely little instruments are becoming more accessible ( probably in part thanks to Seth ) and a decent quality Ashbury Tenor is now available on AMAZON for amazingly under £ 160 ( more Ashbury instruments at the bottom of this blog )

Technical DetailsAshbury 4 string Tenor Guitar Solid spruce top, mahogany body, 12 fret to body, 580mm scale length. Made by Ashbury Guitars - Professional quality range of Acoustic Guitars, Basses and Resonator Guitars
Ashbury 4 string Tenor GuitarSolid spruce top, mahogany body, 12 fret to body, 580mm scale length.


Although it is now quite hard to pinpoint when the very first tenor guitar was built, and very early models seem to be quite rare, Gruhn and Carter, in their superb book 'Guitars and Other Acoustic Instruments - A Photographic History' state that one of the major instrument manufacturers at the latter part of the nineteenth century, 'Lyon and Healy', whose main guitar brand name was 'Washburn', claimed to have invented the tenor guitar just after the turn of the twentieth century.
Certainly tenor guitars must have been around in the latter part of the first decade of the twentieth century from the existence of published and dated instructional books for both the tenor guitar and tenor banjo from this period that still exist today.

The mandolin family of instruments had been immensely popular in the latter part of the nineteenth century, at the turn of the century and well into the first decade of the twentieth century. However, the popularity of the tenor banjo (or 'tango banjo', as it was sometimes called) significantly began to overshadow that of the mandolin family towards the end of the second decade of the twentieth century.

This was happening because the tenor banjo was particularly suited to be used as the main rhythm instrument in the new style of exciting music played by small groups that the world would soon come to know as 'jass' or 'jazz'. The tenor banjo's sharp and cutting sonority, partly derived from its tuning in fifths, compared to that of the more mellow six string guitar, was particularly suited to the newly emerging, but still primitive, technology of acoustically recording this type of music onto acetate or metal discs which were then used as moulds for pressing the familiar black discs.

It is not surprising, therefore, that some of the earliest tenor guitars were also built by banjo manufacturing companies which they could possibly have seen initially as a way to expand their markets, and then eventually maintain their markets. Two of the major guitar manufacturers of the twenties that still exist today, Martin and Gibson, along with some other banjo manufacturers of the period, started to manufacture tenor guitars in significant numbers towards the end of the 1920s.
In the case of Martin and Gibson this was in 1927, and it is undoubtedly linked to the beginnings of a trend away from the banjo, as the main rhythm instrument in jazz bands and dance orchestras, and towards the guitar, whether four or six string.



SETH LAKEMAN " HAUNT YOU " playing tenor guitar:


Free Music said...

I love these pics

jyamamo said...

Thanks for that; I'd never seen the tenor guitar before (or maybe I just thought it was a ukelele, as the guy said!)...