Friday, October 17, 2014

Tenor Guitar: Behind the House

It was during the Thanksgiving break of 2005 that I decided that I’d restring my tenor guitar and fool with it some. I hadn’t had it out of the case in years and it was time to get interested once again in this four-stringed marvel. I had been tuning the guitar like a tenor ukulele (G-C-E-A), as I thought this was not only the popular but proper tuning of the instrument.

During some of my free time that weekend, I started searching the web for information regarding the instrument and found as well as the tenor guitar list. I joined it that weekend and am still a member. I also learned that since the tenor guitar was originally devised for tenor banjoists, that the original tuning (but certainly not the only tuning) was C-G-D-A).

Since I played mandolin, also tuned in fifths, the transition to this tuning was easy; however, I tend to think that I am playing the mandolin chords by name rather than the actual chord names. For instance, when I played what I knew as a G chord it really was fifth lower as a C on the tenor guitar.

This still messes with my mind and I suppose I could tune it like an octave mandolin and be done with it – but I have a bouzouki and an octave mandolin – so I need something with a slightly different sound – and I really like how the C-G-D-A tuning rings.

During that weekend, I immersed myself in tenor guitar logic, lore, and the legends of the instrument. One of those modern day TG legends is Neko Case. Unfortunately, I had never heard her music before that fateful weekend, and I really missed an opportunity to fully experience this redheaded Siren.

Her hypnotic voice would lure the most experienced mariners to her island of song. Although influenced by many genres of music, Neko’s penchant for folk and country shines brightly like a searchlight across the dark murky waters of oblivion.

Today’s feature, “Behind the House,” has Case playing her 1960s folk-era vintage Gibson TG-0 – which was her first tenor. She was drawn to the instrument because she has small hands and the tenor was easier for her to play than a standard six string guitar – but she plays it as well. As for tuning preference, it appears from this recording that Neko tunes it like a baritone ukulele/guitar as D-G-B-E.

Besides the TG-0, she has a plethora of tenor guitars that include a Martin, a Gretsch, Nationals, and several Gibson electrics in a variety of configurations. Back in 2005, there was a photo online with her tenor and vintage amp collection at that time. I wish I could find it, so I could post it here. “Behind the House” was performed live in Austin, Texas in 2006.

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