Tenor Guitar

Name: Tenor Guitar.
Type: Lute > Chordophones.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 321.322.6
Country: Many, United States.
Region: North America.

Description: The tenor guitar or four-string guitar is a slightly smaller, relative of the steel-string acoustic guitar. The instrument was initially developed in its acoustic form by Gibson Guitar Company and C. F. Martin & Company so that players of the four-string tenor banjo could double on guitar.

History: The origins of the tenor guitar are not clear, it is likely the tenor guitar had appeared during the late 1920s. Gibson built the tenor lute TL-4 in 1924 with a lute-like pear-shaped body, four strings and a tenor banjo neck. Similar instruments were made by other makers such as Lyon and Healy and other banjo makers, such as Bacon. In the same period, banjo makers, such as Paramount, built transitional round banjo-like wood-bodied instruments with four strings and tenor banjo necks called tenor harps. From 1927 onwards, the very first true wood-bodied acoustic tenor guitars appeared as production instruments made by both Gibson and Martin.

Currently most major guitar manufactures including Epiphone, Kay, Gretch, Guild and national have manufactured tenor as production instruments at various times. In collaboration with Cliff Edwards, Dobro built the four-stringed round-bodied resonator tenor scale length instrument called the Tenortrope in the early 1930s. Makers such as Gibson even used to offer the tenor models as a custom option for their six string guitar models at no extra charge. Gibson also produced a line of tenor guitars. During the 1950s and 1960s tenor guitars built by makers such as Harmony, Regal and Stella were produced in large quantities.


Relatives: There are versions of the tenor guitar with four strings but a scale length of around 25 inches [64 cm], similar to that of a six string guitar. As string tension for any pitch increases with length, some have said these guitars cannot be tuned to the normal CGDA fifths tuning because the A string cannot be tuned to pitch without breaking. However, there are a variety of available methods for addressing this issue and bringing the longer-scaled tenor guitar up to standard tuning and pitch. These solutions include special string sets; strings extracted from a seven string guitar set; etc. Tenor guitars can also be tuned to a re-entrant CGDA tuning where the A and sometimes the D are pitched an octave lower.

The plectrum guitar is a close four stringed relative of the tenor guitar with a longer scale length of 26 to 27 inches (66 to 69 cm) and tunings usually based on the plectrum banjo – CGBD or DGBD. Plectrum guitars are also very suitable for guitar tuning DGBE because of their longer scale length but are much less suitable for CGDA tuning because of the high A string. Plectrum guitars were not made in as large numbers as tenor guitars and are now more rare.

Construction: Tenor guitars usually made in a waisted body as with their larger sized guitar counterpart. They can be manufactured in acoustic [flat top or arch top] or with a cone resonator [as seen on the dobro guitars]. Tenor guitars normally have a scale length similar to that of the tenor banjo of between 53 and 58 cm [21 and 23 inches].