Tenor guitars are a study in punch, clarity and tonal complexity. If you’re not convinced, listen to the early recordings of the Delmore brothers. Young Rabon Delmore’s tenor sings out in the melody parts and provides a clear, brilliant rhythm section.
Because tenors have relatively little tension on the soundboard (the strings exert about 85 pounds compared to about 150 pounds on a six-string guitar), and cover a relatively smaller range, the builder can squeeze tons of sound out of these little boxes.
My tenor design was based on a much-loved Gibson TG-0, pictured above, that we bought years ago from Lloyd Snow of Onawa, Iowa. It’s a great example of how cool tenors can sound and look, and also of how closely early tenors were related to tenor banjos. Of course, I’ve made a number of changes to make this model my own.
I built this tenor with the melodic players of traditional Irish tunes in mind. It is tuned like a violin, but an octave lower, and uses heavier strings to make flatpicking easier. This small guitar has well-defined bass and sounds pretty cool with wide-open chords as a backup or accompaniment instrument, too. A friend of mine thinks it would be a nice alternative to the typical bouzouki sound for Irish music.
Amber’s parents came up with the perfect name for this lightly shaded, barely-a-sunburst finish: the tea-burst.
The body is finished with a French polish and water-borne varnish sandwich, and the neck is sugar maple with an oil finish. The sugar maple and Adirondack spruce top were supplied by Old Standard in Callaway County.
Here’s the tenor I’ve been dreaming of. This was built based on a very cool Gibson TG-0, with a few twists thrown in to make it my own. The big change I made was building the top on a light X-brace pattern rather than the ladder-braced scheme of the original. The sound of this little guitar is incredible. It has a throaty, full bass end with a bright, Adirondack spruce-chime on the high end. It pairs really well with the grand concert guitars I’ve been building, in case you’ve been having Delmore Brothers-inspired thoughts like I have.