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History and the Tenor Guitar Converter

The following information will allow you to discover what they sound like but why not read through this info first. It's an odd thing but many guitarists have never heard of the tenor guitar and don't know what one sounds like. When we've discovered there is such a thing, we wonder what it's all about and what the thing would sound like, and even why there is such a thing.

The Tenor Guitar had it's beginnings at the end of the Dixieland era as the banjo gave way to amplified guitar. There were a pile of gifted banjo players who would be out of work if they couldn't make the transition from banjo to guitar. The solution someone came up with was a 4 string guitar that could be tuned to the same notes as a banjo.

As it turned out this was a very cool solution as it gave the sound of the guitar with the very unique and open tuning variances of the tenor banjo.

While the instrument has largely faded out of production there are a few eclectic makers who still produce the instrument, among them Evergreen Mountain Instruments and Soares'y Guitars.

Here's a way you can use a 6 string guitar to discover for yourself the unique sound of the tenor guitar. We'll be working with the GDAE tuning for the tenor.

***Warning***

The C tuning would have you breaking strings constantly on the high pitched strings and possibly damaging your instrument. Tune only as described below. Also, be aware that one of my guitar students, after I came up with this idea for him dubbed me the "Mad Scientist of Guitar Teachers".

"Northern Musician's Patented 6 String Guitar to Tenor Guitar Converter System"

Okay so it's not patented. Here's what you need:

  • Two rubber Grommets.

Yep, that's it. What you need is two grommets. I'd suggest taking your guitar into the local auto parts store in order to be sure you get the right sized grommets. Many guitars will need two different sizes.

For those of you who don't already know, a grommet is a fairly soft little rubber donuts with a hole in the center and a groove around the outside. What you do is place the grommet in between the 5th and 6th string on your guitar. They will act as string mutes so that the two bass strings will be taken out of action. Note that hard plastic grommets will not work. Don't remove those strings instead as the tension of the strings will still serve to 'activate' the guitars soundboard.

Here's how to tune up.

Please note***: Radically changing the pitch of your strings like this will cause them to break if you do this frequently. If you've got a spare guitar you can use and leave in this tuning for a week or so while you fiddle with it, that would be a great way to go.

  • Tune the 4th string down to the G note on the 6th string. That's the same pitch as the 6th string fretted at the 3rd fret. Once these match (don't be tempted to tune higher. I will not be held responsible).
  • Fret the 4th string at the 7th fret and match the 3rd string to this pitch.
  • Fret the 3th string at the 7th fret and match the 2nd string to this pitch.
  • Fret the 2nd string at the 7th fret and match the 1st string to this pitch.
  • Check your tuning again. You've just release a lot of pressure.
  • Place the grommets between the 5th and 6th strings at the 2nd and 12th frets. If they rest on the fingerboard, so much the better. Try the chords below.

The grommet converter will obviously never take the place of having the proper instrument. It will only serve as an example of the sound. While you could work your way through my book with this setup, you will eventually need to purchase a true Tenor Guitar and due to touch and feel, the sooner the better.

Some open Chords
G A7 Am7 G (yes, also) Bbmaj7
Some Simple Barres
3rd string root 4th string root 3rd string minor 4th string minor

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