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Thread: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth?

  1. #1

    Default What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth?

    Is there anyone who tried both can tell what's the difference between a Tenor (tuned in GDAE or CGDA) with a 6 string guitar tuned in fifth (CGDAEB), except a wider neck, longer scale and two more strings?

    Have never played a 6 string guitar, but want to try one tuned in fifth. Just curious if there is any deal breaking factor for a Tenor player to play the 6 string guitar tuned in fifth. If so, what are they?

  2. #2
    '`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`'`' Jacob's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    Tuning the first string of a standard size guitar to high B is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It will most probably break well short of that pitch. High G, as found on 12 string guitars, is pretty much the practical limit. New standard tuning, C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, is the closest tuning to all 5ths that works.
    Last edited by Jacob; Oct-27-2020 at 1:23am.

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  4. #3

    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    Quote Originally Posted by gijkstra View Post
    Is there anyone who tried both...
    Short answer:

    Yes. And still playing 6-string 5ths-tuned.


    Long answers:

    1. (a) In the 1970s I played an old steel-bodied National tenor guitar tuned in fifths, GDAE, the same notes but lower pitched than a mandolin or fiddle.

    (b) Earlier, I also have dim recollections of briefly experimenting with a godawful derelict old Stella 12-string guitar where I'd re-tuned 4 of its courses of strings to fifths (and ignored the other two unused courses of strings) although I don't remember the exact details on the Stella. The Stella was not in good enough structural condition to start with to take foolish chances on, so I kept the strings really slack even before experimenting with 5ths tuning.

    In any case, both of those years-ago setups were for mostly melody work (fiddle tunes), as that's basically about all I knew how to play with any degree of quasi-competence back then.

    2. Nowadays, I play a standard-sized 6-string cheap electric guitar (Squier) tuned in fifths, but I keep a capo permanently on the 5th fret, which results in CGDAEB. (Video sample at end of this post.)

    Oftentimes, if I don't actually need the low C string for a particular tune, I will stuff a little piece of something soft under the string to dampen it, so that it doesn't ring sympathetically when I don't want it to. (Unwanted sympathetic resonance seems more of an issue with electrics, they seem more sensitive/responsive to everything.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    Tuning the first string of a standard size guitar to high B is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It will most probably break well short of that pitch. ...
    Yeah - on my 6-string CGDAEB, even with my 5th-fret capo and light-gauge first string, my high B string seems very tight. Although I haven't broken one yet (been using this same electric setup for about the last 10 years now), but I certainly wouldn't want to bet any money that that particular string could be tuned up very much higher than that.

    I seem to vaguely recall that when I first started with the electric fifths-tuning, I had the capo on the 3rd fret instead of the 5th, but I don't think I'd brought the 1st string up to high B yet - I think I kept the 1st string tuned lower (don't remember for sure now) and basically just kinda ignored it most of the time.

    But after I scooted the capo up to the 5th fret instead, the high open-B string provides a convenient optional way to play that B note that some fiddle tunes have, which would otherwise be on the 7th fret of the E string. That can be advantageous in certain settings, because you don't have to move your hand at all - the fingers can reach everything with no hand movements required, at least playing the way I do on longer-scale instruments like the ones being discussed, where I use the pinky on the fifth fret. (No, I don't play mandolin that way, I use fiddle fingering on mandolin, as can be seen in video down below a ways.)

    For what it's worth, here's me (below) about 5 years ago trying to learn a new Christmas tune (new to me, anyway) using my fifths-tuned electric guitar with capo at 5th fret resulting in CGDAEB. However, this rendition utilizes only the GDAE portion of the strings (I hadn't gotten clever yet with finding uses for the 'extra' strings), so in this particular tune, the low C and high B strings are just kind of along for the ride rather than serving a useful purpose. Since the low C string isn't being utilized in this tune, you'll note the bright-green foam damper stuffed under the low C string at the bottom of the fretboard, to prevent unwanted ringing, as mentioned above. In this particular first-attempt recording of this tune, the fifths-tuned guitar is doing a simple accompaniment, while the mandolin takes care of the melody:


    (or direct link)

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    Registered User Bunnyf's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    I keep my Taylor acoustic six string in conventional tuning, primarily for strumming. I keep an old Kalamazoo tenor guitar in GDAE prefer it for when I’m playing lead. I also keep a Squire electric 6string in new standard tuning (stringjoy strings). I would prefer that high b instead of the g, but I understand how it would be likely to break.

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    I have tried a few times but found that anything that could actually be tuned to pitch felt very unstable and volatile at full scale.
    One way is to use all six strings but use CC GDAE but that really requires a new nut and saddle spacing to get the double Cs working well.

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    Lord of All Badgers Lord of the Badgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    I think the best thing is a five string
    If you're into electrics - Eastwood do a Warren Ellis 5
    About the quickest way into it.
    My name is Rob, and I am Lord of All Badgers

    Tenor Guitars: Acoustic: Mcilroy ASP10T, 59 Martin 0-18t. Electric: 57 Gibson ETG-150, 80s Manson Kestrel
    Mandolins: Davidson f5, A5 "Badgerlin".
    Bouzouki: Paul Shippey Axe
    My band's website

  9. #7

    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    Quote Originally Posted by Jacob View Post
    Tuning the first string of a standard size guitar to high B is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It will most probably break well short of that pitch. High G, as found on 12 string guitars, is pretty much the practical limit. New standard tuning, C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4, is the closest tuning to all 5ths that works.
    That depends on the scale. My 19" Les Paul Pee Wee is tuned in straight 5ths - Eb Bb F C G D - with no re-entrants. The D is and 8 gauge and the Eb is pretty thick, but it works and plays great.
    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

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  10. #8
    Lord of All Badgers Lord of the Badgers's Avatar
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    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    Theoretically could you get a 20.5" terz guitar to do it then Verne?
    My name is Rob, and I am Lord of All Badgers

    Tenor Guitars: Acoustic: Mcilroy ASP10T, 59 Martin 0-18t. Electric: 57 Gibson ETG-150, 80s Manson Kestrel
    Mandolins: Davidson f5, A5 "Badgerlin".
    Bouzouki: Paul Shippey Axe
    My band's website

  11. #9

    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord of the Badgers View Post
    Theoretically could you get a 20.5" terz guitar to do it then Verne?
    I don't think so. I broke a lot of strings getting this tuning to work. I almost got it to E Cb Gb Db Ab Eb but the high string would break just before I got there. That last semi-tone is the killer.

    Even with the tuning I use I have to tune up the D string in stages. If you try to do it one go the string vibrations cause it to heat to the point that it'll snap at the machine. So I tune, leave it, tune, leave it, etc. until it creeps up to pitch. Once it's at pitch it holds rock solid and can sustain significant string bending so the only real issue is only in the tuning.

    If I capo at the second fret I get FCGDAE, which is close enough for rock and roll. I actually have learned to prefer the Eb - D as it gives me more range.
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  12. #10

    Default Re: What's the difference between Tenor and guitar tuned in fifth

    I picked up 2 PeeWees off CL over the years. Both for super cheap. People bought these for their kids and many were never played so they get offed as toys. They have real necks, frets and all so after upgrading the hardware they become the perfect short-scale six-string double-extended range tenor that's fully playable.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    VerneAndru.com | oKee.ComX

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