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Thread: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

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    Default Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    I'm shopping for an older tenor as the modern options have proven to be very limited. I'm aware Martin seems to be the gold standard. Where do options from Gibson/Silvertone/Harmony/Stella generally rank? Is a Martin 5 body too small for GDAE?

    Thanks.

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    What do you mean by limited?
    Are you expecting a vintage Martin to sound better that say a Blueridge in some way or another?

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Quote Originally Posted by fox View Post
    What do you mean by limited?
    Are you expecting a vintage Martin to sound better that say a Blueridge in some way or another?
    That's the impression I've gotten across the web. I have a BR-40T available near me for $500. Is that the move for GDAE tuning in your opinion?

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Well I don’t know what your expectations are but yes the Blueridge BR 40 T is very well suited to GDAE and is a very well made instrument.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    If you are looking at older tenors, Harmony, Stella and Silvertone tenors will all most likely be ladder braced. A lot of them will need neck resets and some will have solid tops. The tone can be "funky" but underwhelming.

    Older Gibson tenors can be very nice but I would avoid Gibson tenors from the 1950's and 60's. They just stuck a tenor neck on a six string body and tend to be over built and cannot be heard in a session.

    No reason a Martin style 5 can't be tuned GDAE, you just need to figure out the right string gauges. With the heavier strings required the intonation may be slightly off.

    Have you looked at the Pono and Kala tenors?
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Quote Originally Posted by Charles E. View Post
    If you are looking at older tenors, Harmony, Stella and Silvertone tenors will all most likely be ladder braced. A lot of them will need neck resets and some will have solid tops. The tone can be "funky" but underwhelming.

    Older Gibson tenors can be very nice but I would avoid Gibson tenors from the 1950's and 60's. They just stuck a tenor neck on a six string body and tend to be over built and cannot be heard in a session.

    No reason a Martin style 5 can't be tuned GDAE, you just need to figure out the right string gauges. With the heavier strings required the intonation may be slightly off.

    Have you looked at the Pono and Kala tenors?
    Thanks for the info!

    I owned a Kala tenor (and, regrettably, owned and sold two Fender Tenor Teles that have now doubled in value) while I was coming over from the baritone uke, working on all of them in DGBE tuning. Never really connected for me and I ended up on a six-string. Discovering GDAE tuning has reinvigorated my interest in tenors. I found the Kala to really be lacking compared to my Pono baritone uke, but I would be interested to see how it does in GDAE with some luthier work to set the intonation. Would you recommend them for this?

    I don't see any Pono Tenors in stock anywhere.

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    You can find many post on this forum about all the available models, i find it more effective to search the forum by using goggle search and add ‘mandolin cafe’ to your search.

    GDAE seems to suit the longer scale tenors like 23” you can set up the shorter scales but the G will be a heavy thick string.

    If you want to play mainly chords with a full resonate sound then the bigger body, longer scale tenors might work better for you.
    Perhaps you want to play single note Irish melody? Then perhaps a 21’’ scale might suit you better?

    The other popular 5ths tuning is CGDA and that seems to suit the smaller body shorter scale models but nothing is set in stone.
    That is the beauty of tenor guitars ......

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    I'd add old Regal tenors to your list as well, nice examples of them can be found for not too much money.
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    I'd add old Regal tenors to your list as well, nice examples of them can be found for not too much money.
    I'd agree, but would stay with the early models from the mid 20's to early 30's. They came back out with them a few years later and were redesigned and are more along the Harmony style. The early ones have different grades with different tops, sides and backs. The very plain base models are good but the better grades can be quite a bit better sounding....and are much prettier! Take a look at some of Jake Wildwoods models for examples. See the "Regal Flattop Tenor" section.
    https://jakewildwood.blogspot.com/p/museum-regal.html

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Agreed on the late 20s - early 30s Regals. You have to be careful, as some will require a little or a lot of work (true of any used instrument really) but once fixed and set up, they are great for a harpsichordy /almost tenor banjoey sound at GDAE. The spruce top birch back ones are good, the ones with spruce over striped mahogany better and the spruce over rosewood are even better. I play Irish trad on mine (I have the mahogany and the rosewood models and used to have the other two models.) I believe they are identical in design to the tenor that Fletcher based his instruments on.
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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Don't rule out old National tenors either.
    Charley

    A bunch of stuff with four strings

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    I have a solid wood small bodied Harmony H1201 tenor that is easy to play and has a nice tone. A few years ago came across another one for cheap, so bought it and gave it to a friend. I also have a f-hole, pressed wood big-bodied Harmony H1215 with painted binding. It’s tone is not so resonant, but still fun to play and I can leave it out in my living room, play it when I walk by and the fancy seizes me, and I don’t have to worry about an earthquake destroying an expensive instrument (I would still be sad, but not devastated!).
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    Smile Ranking old tenors

    Quote Originally Posted by subby13 View Post
    I'm shopping for an older tenor as the modern options have proven to be very limited. I'm aware Martin seems to be the gold standard. Where do options from Gibson/Silvertone/Harmony/Stella generally rank?
    I tried to have a little fun with this. I tried to use brands that are somewhat available. This is just my thoughts, yours may differ:

    Ranking Old Tenors

    Arch tops
    1. Epiphone (NY)
    2. Gibson (including: Cromwell & Kalamazoo)
    3. Harmony

    Flat tops
    1. Martin
    2. Gibson (including: Epiphone, Cromwell & Kalamazoo)
    3. Harmony/Regal (tie)

    Electrics
    1. Gibson
    2. Gretsch
    3. Guild/Rickenbacker (tie)

    Resonators
    1. National/Dobro (tie)
    3. Regal

    Quote Originally Posted by subby13 View Post
    Is a Martin 5 body too small for GDAE? Thanks.
    Nope, size 5 Martin tenors after 1929 will have around a 23" scale length and 14 frets to the body. Similar to all long scale tenors. You use the same string gauges on a small bodied Martin 5-15T as you do on a Gibson TG-50. Projection/volume differ greatly - but string tensions are equal.

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    I have a small gaggle of tenors, some in CGDA and some in GDAE.
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    So hard to "rank" them: such different voices! String gauge makes most 23-inch scale instruments interchangeable in either tuning, IMO. My pear-shaped national (they only made 'em in 1928) does well in GDAE, and they show up from time to time. In the woody section, my '36 Gibson TGL-7 has a very sweet, jazzy voice and "likes" CGDA, for which it was intended: I wonder about the less expensive TGL-150s, which there seem to be a lot of. My current favorite? A 1960's Del Vecchio: a resonator with a unique sound that manages to be balanced, punchy, and sweet. It's a bit shorter (22" scale), and I haven't tried it in GDAE, but I suspect it would do fine. Made in Brazil, hard to come by, but there is a guy on Reverb who is reliable and can probably find you one reasonably. There's also a very nice one on Mercado Livre (Brazil's ebay): Can't buy from there directly, but I've had good luck working with an ebay "personal shopper" who purchased a Del Vecchio mandolin for me. PM me if interested in details.

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    Nice collection, some interesting instruments there.

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    Default Re: Ranking old tenors (generally speaking) by brand?

    I like my Nationals a lot, and rank them near the top. For wooden body, I have an Epiphone Beverly with a flat top (and f-holes) and arched back....Really sweet sounding with some cutting power. One of my favorites.

    There are also some great contemporary instruments being built. I have a few tenor guitars from Paul Lestock (Arrow Guitars and Mandolins) that usually are the first to be played.

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