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Thread: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

  1. #1
    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    I bought a tenor guitar because the 6 string steel has been a bit much for my aging left wrist. I was hoping that in octave mandolin tuning, I would be able to revive all my old mandolin tunes.

    I was inspired by watching Tom Kymber and others but it turns out that 5ths on a tenor guitar requires some stretches that were easier on a mandolin and maybe would have been possible for a younger me. I got different strings and tuned the tenor to DGBE and that is working fine. Luckily I also found that I seem to be able to play the mandolin again without too much pain and I restrung a tenor uke in CGDA and a soprano uke to GDAE. Now if I could really retire I might have enough time to spend time with all these instruments.

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    Registered User Ben Vierra's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    DGBE is a very reasonable tuning for a tenor, but before you give up on 5ths tuning, have you tried adjusting your left-hand approach? You could try:

    index finger for frets 1 and 2
    middle finger for fret 3
    ring finger for fret 4
    small finger for frets 5 and beyond

    I first learned of this left-hand approach from John McGann's octave mandolin and bouzouki book, and it's been helpful for me for navigating a longer scale length with 5ths tuning.

  3. #3
    Tired & Cranky Monte Barnett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Another option is to bump the gauges on each string up slightly, tune a step down to FCGD, and capo at the 2nd fret for GDAE. This will drop a 23 inch scale length down to about 20.5 inches.
    Monte

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    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Ben,

    I didn't have such an organized approach to playing the tenor guitar. I will have to look at the book you suggested. Thanks for the idea,
    Doug

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    Registered User Jill McAuley's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    I don't stretch when playing my 23" scale GDAE tuned tenor guitar, I shift my hand slightly instead and it makes all the difference. The big lightbulb moment for me was to not approach playing it from the standpoint of how I play mandolin or even how I play my 21.5" scale tenor banjo - it's it's own instrument so I work with that instead of fighting against it, that means that it encourages me to use different types of ornamentation as compared to what I might choose to use if playing mandolin/tenor banjo.
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    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    20.5 inch scale octave here, and I’d agree with Jill.
    I did play mandolin-style at first. That was hard on the little finger but now I often do fast shifts of the hand to get the first finger rooted at the third or fourth fret. This makes the reach to 7th easier (and more fluid/stable) with the ring finger.
    I’m going to practice sudden rooting of the first finger at fifth fret next. Then 7th.

    Exercise: metronomed triplets (or 6/8 time) of consecutive notes in D major all up the D string. Slide to each new position with a SUDDEN shift of the whole hand. No heavy pressure on fretboard while sliding (to reduce wear and tear on the joints).

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    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Thanks for all the suggestions people. I have some things to try now.

  10. #8
    Registered User Simon DS's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Another exercise is to play the D major scale all up the D string with the index finger only. Again, light touch in the slide and the slide must be sudden. Then try with each of the other individual fingers at a time.
    95% of the time with the metronome.

    Good luck!

  11. #9
    Harley Marty
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    I am an advocate for fan-frets. Fan-frets are very ergonomic and allows you to shorten the scale of the top strings while keeping fuller tone and volume on the bottom strings. The only downside is that you have to get one custom built which can be expensive. I'm playing a 23" to 24" tenor guitar that feels easier than a regular 23" instrument. If you find your 'comfort' scale length & order a guitar with that for the top string and add an inch or 25mm for the bottom string that could be the perfect combination for you, or alternatively go with the minimum scale length that sounds good to you and subtract an inch for the top string. There are lots of possibilities with fan-frets, it's a bit like having your cake & eating it.

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    Tired & Cranky Monte Barnett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    I don't stretch when playing my 23" scale GDAE tuned tenor guitar, I shift my hand slightly instead and it makes all the difference. The big lightbulb moment for me was to not approach playing it from the standpoint of how I play mandolin or even how I play my 21.5" scale tenor banjo - it's it's own instrument so I work with that instead of fighting against it, that means that it encourages me to use different types of ornamentation as compared to what I might choose to use if playing mandolin/tenor banjo.
    In my case, it's really a matter of "structural issues" - degenerative disc disease and arthritis. Coming from guitar, I never played "mandolin-style", so that wasn't an issue. At this point, the jump-shifts of longer scales cause stress & pain from increased lateral forces in my knuckles. I'm down to a 22.75" scale on guitar, and 21.5 & below for octave mandolin & tenor guitar. The shorter scales allow me to play with less effort & more comfort, so I'm happy.
    Monte

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    Registered User fox's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Next step down could be a baritone ukulele, 19-20 scale tuned GDAE with flat wound strings.

  14. #12
    Tired & Cranky Monte Barnett's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Quote Originally Posted by fox View Post
    Next step down could be a baritone ukulele, 19-20” scale tuned GDAE with flat wound strings.
    My avatar picture shows a concert (mandolin) & two baritones (mandola & octave). Easy on the hands and really pretty to the ears. Won't hold up in a session, though!
    Monte

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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Quote Originally Posted by Jill McAuley View Post
    I don't stretch when playing my 23" scale GDAE tuned tenor guitar, I shift my hand slightly instead and it makes all the difference.
    Jill is quite right (not for the first time - heed her advice), as is Simon DS.

    While the tuning is the same, the instrument really isn't and does require some adjustment on your part.

    I don't play tenor guitar but I am a longstanding tenor banjo and octave mandolin player - and indeed guitarist, so I understand the problems.

    Sometimes (for example) you might be better to play a third fret with your first finger - thereby making it much easier to reach the 7th fret.
    Another thing to think about is to play notes like the F# on the first string on the second string (9th fret) instead ,which can make it very easy to reach a top B on the first string. Obviously this means a major move of your fretting hand up the neck, and I usually take the opportunity of there being an open string in the melody (usually top E) to move my hand up or down. It takes a bit of getting used to and indeed some practise, but you should try it.
    David A. Gordon

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  17. #14
    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    This thread just keeps getting better. Good advice here for the transition from mandolin to tenor. Thanks to all who are contributing.

  18. #15

    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    I came to the tenor guitar via the cello (forum name makes that pretty obvious, eh?), and the fingering Ben Vierra suggests above is the same one cellists use to navigate "first position" on the cello. It really does help in managing the 23"+ scale lengths. Another key takeaway I brought with me from cello technique is shifting frequently to new positions in order to minimize stretching. In particular, the positions known on cello as fourth (index finger at fret 5) and fifth (index at fret 7) positions are extremely useful. Fifth position on any given string will give you the same notes as first position on the string above, but with "3 finger" scale fingering that will be more familiar to you from the mandolin. There's some more info here on the 4-finger vs 3-finger positions on cello: https://www.celloprofessor.com/findi...ons-cello.html

    Also, the difference in left-hand stress between steel and nylon strings is significant, as you've already found by stringing up your ukes in fifths. While full-scale nylon-strung tenors in fifths tuning are not at all common, they do exist. I know that Kieran Moloney Musical Instruments of Dublin used to offer a nylon tenor made by AP Carvalho, and perhaps might still be able to custom order one if you happened to be interested.

    Finally, there are some shorter scale-length tenor guitars out there, such as the Kala (21.5") and Fletcher (21") guitars. That shorter scale alone might be sufficient to give your hands some relief.

    Oh, and as for your six-string.... I put some Thomastik-Infeld Plectrum strings on my little Fylde Ariel parlor guitar and it became the most playable guitar I have ever owned. These strings are expensive (for guitar strings, anyway, at $26 a set - still a steal compared to cello strings!), but they're very low tension for steel strings without feeling loose or floppy. They're noticeably quieter than typical steel strings, but the trade-off is I feel more fully in control of dynamics and tone color. Again, that may be because I started as a cellist and they feel very similar to cello strings, but I think for a lot of guitarists who struggle a bit with the tension of typical steel strings they might be just the ticket. I think they're also fantastic for playing tunes because they're not swathed in clouds of overtones like those bright and brassy phosphor bronze strings - they put out a very clean and clear fundamental, which is perfect for melody.

    Practically every string T-I makes can also be bought as a single, so it's entirely possible someone could whip up a Plectrum-style string set for the tenor guitar with similar low-tension benefits.

  19. #16
    Registered User Tug's Avatar
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    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    Well as a result of all the suggestions, I put the octave mandolin string set back on and I am just modifying my fingerings and switching to capo use more often.

    Thanks all

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  21. #17

    Default Re: Tenor guitar in 5ths a stretch

    I also suffer from "degenerative disc disease" (I have 10 fused vertebrae in my back and neck) and arthritis. I moved from 6 string guitar to baritone ukulele a few years ago but missed the sound and sustain of steel strings. Now having switched to DGBE tuned tenor guitar I am comfortably playing again. I found GCEA to much of a stretch for my arthritic hands.

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