A couple of years ago, someone asked me what was the difference between the baritone ukulele and the tenor guitar. I couldn’t answer the question since I never heard of a tenor guitar before. Later, I did a bit of research and discovered the answer.
The tenor guitar is a slightly smaller guitar with the neck of a tenor banjo, originally made so tenor banjo players could easily play guitar instead. Like the tenor banjo, standard tuning of the tenor guitar is in fifths, CGDA. However, other tunings, such as DBGE, are also very common. Compared to a baritone uke, the tenor banjo is a bit bigger but with a narrower neck.
Like many other ukulele players, I have a modest collection of instruments. I’ve never really been a fan of the baritone, and so I’ve never been tempted to add a baritone to my collection. But I rather like the tenor guitar. Sometimes, you can find a tenor guitar made by Kala at the local music store, and I must say, it sounds rather nice. It combines the sound you’d expect from a guitar with the ease of playing of a ukulele. I really can’t justify buying a new instrument right now, but I find this instrument very tempting.
So why choose a four-stringed guitar instead of a conventional six-stringed instrument? Think of those two bass strings on a normal guitar, tuned to E and A. For many chords, these strings aren’t used at all. When strumming, many chords require that you don’t touch those strings at all, and yet, they will still vibrate and contribute to the sound. This is fine for some keys, but for others, you really need a capo to avoid dissonant notes from those two strings.
Like a ukulele, the only notes you get out of a tenor guitar are from the vibrations of the four strings. That is, you get a more pure sounding chord. Many guitar players who use just a strumming style of play would get along quite nicely with this four-stringed guitar.
Don’t get me wrong, I love guitar music. The guitar is a very flexible instrument, and can produce wonderful music from a skilled player. It’s no wonder that it’s such a popular instrument. However, many who try it get discouraged and give it up, never bothering to try playing music again. Like ukulele, the tenor guitar should be given more of a chance.