What’s a Tenor Guitar?
A tenor guitar is a guitar, electric or acoustic, with four strings instead of the usual six. It is larger than a ukulele, with a typical scale length of 23 inches. The baritone ukulele typically has a scale length of 19 inches, so most 4-string guitars with scale lengths between 20 and 25 inches are referred to as tenors. There is a more specialized four string guitar called a Plectrum Guitar with a scale length of 26 inches, that is also sometimes referred to as a tenor guitar.
Tenor guitars were originally designed to allow banjo players to easily transition to guitar. Over time the tenor guitar has evolved into a unique musical instrument, with a host of different tunings. Unlike traditional six string guitars, with their typical E A D G B E tuning, it is hard to pin down any single tuning that could be called “standard”, though some tunings are much more common than others. The bottom of this page has links to more information about tenor guitars.
Tenor Guitar Tunings
The three most common tunings:
- C G D A – Tuning in fifths. (also common on mandolin family instruments)
- D G B E – “Chicago” (same as a baritone ukulele and the top four strings of a standard guitar)
- G D A E – Octave mandolin
Tunings and String Gauges
All string gauges are listed in Imperial measures, 36 = .036″
NOTE: The string gauges listed below are for electric tenor guitars with a 23″ scale. Strings that are too light will feel “floppy”. Strings that are two heavy will feel stiff. No two instruments are exactly alike. Gauges that are fine on one instrument may be unsuitable for another. Use these recommendations at your own risk!
CAUTION: Strings that are too heavy may snap and may damage your instrument or cause injury.
- C G D A – 36 – 24 – 14 – 9
- D G B E – 32 – 24 – 16 – 12
- G D A E – 42 – 32 – 18 – 12
- D A D F♯ – 32 – 18 – 14 – 11 (Open D)
- D F♯ A D – 32 – 24 – 18 – 14 (Open D)
- E G♯ B E – 32 – 22 – 16 – 12 (Open E)
- G D G B – 42 – 32- 24 – 14 (Open G)
- E A D G – 48 – 38 – 32 – 24 (Bottom 4 of standard guitar)
- A D G B – 42 – 32 – 24 – 16 (Middle 4 of standard guitar)
- A E A E – 42 – 32 – 18 – 12 (A Cross tuning, sometimes called sawmill)
- G D G D – 42 – 32- 24 – 14 (G Cross / sawmill)
- C G C G – 36 – 24 – 16 – 10 (C Cross tuning, sometimes called “sawmill C”)
- D A D A – 32 – 18 – 14 – 9 (D Cross)
- G C E A – 28 – 18 – 12 – 9 (tenor ukulele tuning)
- g C E A – 10 -18 -12 – 9 (soprano ukulele)
Papa Dafoe’s Favourite Tunings
- G D G D – 42 – 32 – 18 – 14
- D G B E – 32 – 24 – 16 – 12
- D F♯ A D – 32 – 24 – 18 – 14
More Tenor Guitar Information
- Tenor guitars on Wikipedia
- Mandolin Cafe Tenor Guitar Forum
- Eastwood Guitars tenor guitar guide
- Riverboat Guitars
Alternate Tunings for Ukulele
Alternate tunings are not common for the ukulele but are sometimes used by blues musicians and slide players. Because nylon strings can take over a week to stretch into stable tuning, and because ukuleles are generally more delicate than bigger instruments, alternate tunings typically involve only incremental retuning of existing strings, usually to an open chord. Learn to walk before you start running. Before investigating the world of alternate and open tunings, you should be able to consistently and easily tune and string your ukuleles with assistance.
The following tunings can be safely used on soprano, concert, and tenor, ukuleles.
CAUTION: Too much string tension can destroy a ukulele!
- Open G –G B D G
- Open C –G C E G
- Open D –A D F# A
- Open A –A C# E A
- Open A7 –A C# E G
Standard Ukulele Tuning Reference
Lower case letters indicate a re-entrant string, tuned to a higher pitch than the next string.
Soprano Ukuleles, 13 Inch Scale Length
Nearly all soprano ukuleles are tuned g C E A (C6/Am7)
Occasionally they will be tuned up to a D F# B (D6/Bm7)
Tenor Ukuleles, 17 Inch Scale Length
Tenor ukuleles are usually tuned to the same notes as most soprano ukuleles, but are usually “linear” tuned, rather than re-entrant. G C E A
Concert Scale Ukuleles, 15 Inch Scale Length
Concert ukuleles are sometimes tuned re-entrant, and sometimes tuned linear. Like their large and small cousins, they are nearly always tuned G C E A (or g C E A).
Baritone Ukuleles, 19 Inch Scale Length
Baritone ukuleles are almost always tuned like the top four strings of a guitar, D G B E. They require special strings to tune like their smaller cousins. Many of the tunings used on tenor guitars can also be used on baritone ukuleles, but due to the nylon strings and more delicate construction, alternate tunings should be limited to no more than two semitones per string if using standard baritone strings.