National Reso-Phonics Paul Lestock Martin
My personal relationship with the tenor guitar began in about 1960.
My hero was Jimmy Dodd and I loved all the kids on the TV show “The Mickey Mouse Club”. All the neighborhood kids would gather in one living room and sing along with the show-stopping classic songs like Today Is Tuesday, A Cowboy Needs A Horse, Beauty Is As Beauty Does and the catchy theme of the show M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E.
There was Jimmy Dodd playing a tenor guitar right on the screen. He was cool. He was talented and…I wanted that guitar.
The first guitar my parents got me was a Casper the Ghost wind-up guitar. It had a little red crank on the side and played tunes by itself. It wasn’t good enough. Nothing could match the sound of Jimmy and his guitar.
The next tenor guitar player that came into my consciousness was Nick Reynolds of The Kingston Trio. The band had a “big guitar” sound with one 6 string and one tenor guitar filling out the rhythm. They played(and still play with newer band members) high energy songs like Tom Dooley, Sloop John B. and Hard Ain’t It Hard.
By that time I was 6 or 7 years old and had my own guitar with songbooks by The Kingston Trio, Pete Seeger and The Weavers. I was hooked on the 6 string guitar but the tenor never completely left my mind.
Next I picked up the ukulele as a young teen after finding one in a trash can on my way to school. It was a fascinating little instrument with four strings. This particular uke was made to be hung on a wall but I loved playing it and the little thing held together for a couple of years.
In about 2006 the tenor bug came back fueled by my love of Tenor and Cello Banjos. The tenor guitar is a cross between a tenor banjo and a guitar. Tenor guitars were made for tenor guitar players when the tenor banjo started to go out of fashion.
Cello Banjos you may ask? Yes, Cello Banjos. Tenor banjos are often tuned CGDA and Cello Banjos are tuned an octave lower. Here is more info on Cello Banjos that are being made today. Gold Tone is the only company on the planet that is making Cello Banjos today.
Thank you, Gold Tone!
The quest for a tenor guitar continued. I bought two tenor guitars from EBAY, kept one and sent one back. The one I kept wasn’t really a good player but it was the best TG I could find at the time.
Then one day while visiting the Hula Honeys on Maui (the musicians, not the Roller Derby team), Ginger Johnson pulled out a little badly abused little 14 fret size 5 Martin tenor from 1929 that she had found. It alarmed both of us to see the sad shape the old girl was in so we called Martin and asked Dick Boak for help. Dick knew we had a potential treasure on our hands and suggested we send it to the repair department at The C.F. Martin Guitar Co. In Nazareth, PA.
They not only fixed her up but they did a beautiful job! They put the old TG in nicely playable condition. She still looks like she’s 90 years old but we never mention it to her face.
Here she is with a YouTube link. Pardon my hair. There was a snowstorm, I was jamming, Cathy grabbed the camera….here you go. Cereza Rosa
On my new CD, “Things Are Coming My Way” you can hear tenor guitars on these tracks: LISTEN
5. Angeline the Baker (Martin) 7. I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free (National Resophonics) 8. Brasil (lots of tenors!) 9. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today (Martin) 12. I’ll See You In My Dreams (Lestock w/Martin tenor & ukes for rhythm)) 13. Lost Gander (Martin)BUY CD HERE
Where to go from here? Ginger Johnson of the Hula Honeys and I will both be teaching some tenor guitar at the UKE & GUITAR SUMMIT 2013, August 10-14 in N. Bethesda, MD. Here is a list of a few of the best players I know. These folks inspire me and I think they’ll inspire you, too.
Ez Marc Poschman -See him on this YouTube link. You’ll want to see more.
Eddie Davis playing a National Tenor
John Lawlor playing an electric tenor.
Angelina Carberry and Martin Quinn playing Irish Music on Fletcher tenor guitars.
Getting started playing the tenor guitar. First, you need a reliable guitar. There are many on EBAY but my suggestion is to stay away from internet auctions and buy one from a reliable source.
Gold Tone makes some very nice tenor guitars that won’t break the bank. They play very well and sound really good.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
Check these music stores wesites to see what old or new tenors are available.
Intermountain Guitar and Banjo is my first stop when looking for used instruments or information. The shop is run by people who really know setup. Anything you purchase from them will be exactly as described. They have a great selection of used instruments.
RETROFRET is another great site with good prices. Located in Brooklyn, NY, Retrofret and their staff are very good.
Vintage Instruments in Philadelphia, PA Great tenors occasionally pop up on their website.
Elderly Instruments, Lansing, MI
Players Vintage Instruments, Inverness, CA
These are the builders and companies that made my tenor guitars.
Martin 5-17T I love the small body of the 5-17. The 5 means half size and the 17 means mahogany. T means tenor. Martin has also made style O Tenors of mahogany and the classic spruce top guitars with mahogany or rosewood back and sides. All are great!
Arrow Archtop Tenor – Made by Paul Lestock, Mosier, OR (541) 478-0491 ** Paul makes fantastic archtop instruments of the guitar and mandolin families. My archtop tenor is an Arrow and it’s a beauty! If you’re thinking of a custom instrument Paul Lestock is the place to start.
National Reso-Phonics Triolean Tenor : National Reso-Phonics makes the best steel body and resonalor guitars and ukuleles. They made my Triolean Tenor and it’s big and warm and punchy !
Tunings – I keep 2 tunings ready to go: DGBE (like the 4 high strings of a regular guitar) and CGDA (like the cello banjo, or using the same fingerings I use on mandolin).
Got questions? Want help finding the tenor guitar of your dreams or budget? Contact me, I’m friendly! email@example.com Or leave a comment here with contact info. You’ll find that there’s PLENTY of fun to be had on just 4 strings.