Tenor Guitar

ten-er guh-tar
The tenor guitar is a four-string instrument of the guitar family. This strummed chordophone has a slightly smaller body than a steel-string acoustic guitar of around 23 inches long and is most often tuned to CGDA, the same as a tenor banjo or a viola. It is a rare instrument in the world of guitars that is most popular with jazz and folk musicians.
History of the Tenor Guitar
The tenor guitar has a short history that begins in the United States in the early 20th century. Tenor banjos were a popular instrument in the 1910s and 20s in dance halls and jazz bands but they had started to decline by the 30s as the steel-string acoustic guitar became cheaper to make and more popular among these musicians. There are also claims that jazz bands and orchestras had started to require an instrument with a more subtle tone for swing and big band music. Large American instrument makers such as C.F. Martin, Washburn and Gibson were among the first to introduce a tenor guitar with a tenor banjo length neck that had an acoustic guitar body. This guitar was intended for strumming in the CGDA tuning that tenor banjo players had been used to and this was initially a success in the dancehalls and with dixieland jazz musicians. However, the tenor guitar was eventually out-sold by the six-string guitar and would go into decline as well by the late 1930s and 40s. Just like the tenor banjo, tenor guitar experienced a renaissance during the 1950s and then became an instrument choice among contemporary folk musicians of the early 21st century. The common tuning of CGDA meant that anything played on a mandolin could also be played on a tenor guitar, allowing musicians to alternate on stage. A few American manufacturing companies still make tenor guitars including Blue Ridge and Goldtone. The tenor guitar has featured on many popular music recordings, but particular albums by folk musicians.
Inventor: Unknown

Where to Buy

£200 - £4,000

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How to Play

A four-string guitar, similar in size and tuning to the tenor banjo. Played by strumming or picking the strings.

In Popular Music

The tenor guitar features heavily in 'Jolene' by country music legend Dolly Parton as the introduction acoustic riff. It has also been played on albums by Kate Rusby and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

Famous Players

Tiny Grimes, Eddie Lang, Charlie Christian

Close Relations

Acoustic Guitar, Baritone Guitar
Video Credit: Tom Kimber
Understanding the Tenor Guitar
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1920s

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