Tenor Guitar


Music Notes

Some Background

If you have looked over my site you will have learned that a long time ago I used to a mixed entertainment act, sort of a low key belated vaudeville featuring folk singing, some standup, storytelliing and ventriloquism. It all started with the singing, for which I accompanied myself on guitar. I was a decent singer but only a weak "strum and hum" guitar player. In spite of this, I really loved guitars as instruments and always had really good Martins. When I was in my early 70's I became a victim of the side effects of statin drugs and lost so much strength I could no longer handle the large stage size ventriloquist figures. I no longer had the hand strength to grip a guitar neck and make chords. I tried performing with a mountain dulcimer for a short time but it just didn't work for me and I stopped singing and sold my instruments.

In early 2017 I began, unexpectedly, to recover some strength and tried a guitar while we were in a music shop. I found I still couildn't handle a full size guitar but it felt I might be able to work with a baritone ukelele or perhaps a tenor guitar. A tenor guitar is a usually smaller guitar with only four strings and therefore a much narrower neck. Most people don't even know they exist and it proved very hard to find one. I think I ended up buying the only one for sale in any music store in Seattle. I found that with some hand exercise and practice the tenor would work for me. Even more, I found a wonderful and extremely versatile instrument that I had previously overlooked. I'm quite fascinated with it . I now have two and I thought that since it is so relatively little known I would like to present it here and give it a bit of "free press".

My New Brier Road Tenor Guitar

My first tenor was a Gold Tone, an available production instrumen of laminated construction that wasn't too expensive but had decent sound and workable action. First thing I did was take it to a professional luthier for a proper set up, dressing of the frets and replacement of the plastic nut and bridge with bone and new strings. This got me going and I began the process of learning about tenors.

Right off, I learned that there are three different common ways sto string and tune tenors. The most common way is to set them up to be tuned and played in fifths, like a mandolin or violin, CGDA. This is the same as the tenor banjo, a much more common instrument which actually was the genesis of the tenor guitar. Banjos were very popular around the turn of the century. By about the 1920's banjos were losing popularity and many musicians, not wanting to learn new chords and playing styles, were wanted guitars that played the same as their banjos and the tenor guitar was born. Nowadays, with the Irish music boom, some tenor guitars are set up to GDAE, consdidered the "Irish tuning". A third, and less popular tuning is "Chicago" tuning, DGBE,which isthe same as the top four strings of the standard guitar. It was this tuning that especially made the tenor of interest to me. Just as with the banjo players, it providedd a way for me to chord patterns I was basically familiar with. As soon as I was satisfied that the tenor was going to work for me and provide a means for me enjoy my old repertoire of songs, I set about trying to find a really high quality instrument.... at a price that was reasonable for an 80 year old man who was only going to sing at home for his own enjoyment of the songs. Here's what I found:



full on - top is reclaimed redwood, bridge is walnut, rosette is spalted maple, binding is figured maple. Note: the color in this pic is the closest to actual. 14 fret neck.


As far as the body is concerned this is pretty much a full size guitar. Comparing all dimensions, the closest match is a Martin 00.



back and sides are Indian rosewood. Inlay is more spalted maple


Sound port directs a portion of the sound up for the player to hear better. This works and I love it! This pic is especially good in terms of accuracy of the colors.


Spalted maple end inlay





After considerable searching for available instruments, I found a new one made by Nick Lenski, a luthier working as Brier Road Guitars in Adams, Mass. (www.brierroadguitars.com) There are very few higher end instruments available. None of the major companies offer a quality American made tenor as readily available. I had not heard of Nick, but he had some good looking work posted on line and some good recommendation. This guitar was finished and avaialble, had lots of pictures and I liked the look and description. I'm glad I decided to try it.

The sound is so full and brilliantthat when it arrived I couldn't stop playing it till my fingers were just too sore. (I'm still working on calluses.) You can hear every string! My wife is a classical harpist and has no use for guitars or country/folk music but she stopped what she was doing and came in from another room to comment that "That thing really sings! (Yes, it's been an interesting 60 year marriage!)

The redwood top and rosewood back work wonderfully together, with the sound full and even across the range, and the neck and fret action are easy and fast, very important with my hand. The fact that it's one of the most beautiful guitars I've ever seen doesn't hurt either.






Dick Wightman, Seattle WA

email: rwightman@mindspring.com

Phone: 206 784 0883


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