Five Songs Every Tenor Guitar Player Should Know

Guest blogger Emily Harris from the Get Offset podcast picks top 5 songs you should know how to play on a tenor guitar...

Top 5 Tenor Guitar songs

Despite its niche status, the tenor guitar is a remarkably versatile instrument well-suited for a vast array of genres. From dixieland jazz to indie rock and everything in between, the tenor guitar is a tool that can strum and shred as well as its six-stringed siblings.

Today, we’re going to cover five songs that we think every tenor guitar player should know. Most of these songs were first performed on the tenor guitar, but we threw in a ripping rock solo for good measure.

You’ll need to know two tunings. For all of these songs, we’ll show you how to play it either tuned in fourths like the top four strings of a standard guitar (D-G-B-E) or tuned in fifths like a mandolin (G-D-A-E).

  1. Tiny’s Tempo - Tiny Grimes
  2. Tom Dooley - The Kingston Trio
  3. Jubilee Street - Nick Cave (feat. Warren Ellis)
  4. Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case
  5. Little Red Corvette - Prince

Tiny’s Tempo - Tiny Grimes

Tiny Grimes is arguably the most famous tenor jazz guitarist, and “Tiny’s Tempo” is his signature jam (in case you couldn’t tell by the name).

The song structure itself is quite simple. It only features three chords: Bb7, Eb7, and F7. Here's how to play them:

In this second video, we’ll show you how to play a tenor-friendly version of Tiny’s solo as originally transcribed by Michael Hilbun. You can find his six-string tab transcription here. Our version is also tuned like a guitar (the Chicago / fourths tuning).

Tom Dooley - The Kingston Trio

Nick Reynolds of The Kingston Trio is one of the most renowned tenor guitarists in history -- he even boasted his own signature model with Martin Guitars.

“Tom Dooley” was one of the biggest hits for The Kingston Trio, and and it’s incredibly simple to play, though remembering all the words is another thing and we can’t help you there.

Below we’ll show you how to play it tuned in fifths (like a mandolin).

Jubilee Street - Nick Cave (feat. Warren Ellis)

“Jubilee Street” was the second single from Nick Cave’s fifteenth studio album, Push the Sky Away. Released in 2013, it’s the most recent of the songs we’re covering today.  

The song itself is super simple -- it’s the same riff repeated throughout. So, once you get the hang of it, you’re ready to go!

Warren Ellis plays this tuned in fifths with the lowest string being G.

Hold On, Hold On - Neko Case

Neko is a long-time tenor player, which made it tough to narrow it down to one song of hers to cover.

When she released Fox Confessor Brings the Flood in 2006, one of the standouts was “Hold On, Hold On,” an autobiographical song that featured the Sadies as her backing band. It immediately became one of her flagship songs, and is perfectly suited for tenor players.

For this one, you’ll need to learn the chords Em, C, G, and D. If you want to play along with the record, you’ll also want a capo on the second fret (though we don’t use one in the video in order to make it a little easier to follow). We recommend a banjo capo on Eastwood tenors - they’re a perfect fit.

Little Red Corvette - Prince

Though Prince is one of the most masterful rock and funk guitarists of his time, he didn’t actually play the recorded solo on “Little Red Corvette,” that was all Dez Dickerson. Regardless, it’s a classic rock solo that every aspiring shredder should master.

Of course, this song wasn’t originally performed on a tenor guitar, but with a small adjustment, it’s a perfect fit for a tenor guitar tuned in fourths (the Chicago tuning).

In this video, we cover how to play the chorus and the solo -- the only parts of the song that actually feature guitar! Bust this one out next time someone tells you tenor guitars can’t absolutely rip.

Tenor Guitars for sale

More info:

Warren Ellis Series Alternate Tunings & String Guide

Stop Thinking like a Guitar Player... Think like a Tenor Player

Tenor Guitar vs. the Banjo


3 comments

  • Sorry Emily, but the top 4 strings of a guitar aren’t tuned in fourths. You should make that clear for beginners! Thanks

    John
  • Neko -

    So sorry to hear of your losing the Jupiter Creek bari uke! I too lost one (was stolen), but was fortunate enough to have another one made before Rob’s passing.

    Since then, I’ve added THREE of Eastwood’s tenors to my collection – the Warren Ellis 2P, the Classic, and the Tenorcaster. They’ve each been incredibly delightful to play and I’d recommend them to ANYONE who is considering them! Hopefully the exchange/shipping rates don’t keep you away from these forever!

    Eric
  • Now that is Marketing.
    Thanks Eastwood.
    Only 2 minutes of watching Emily at work tutoring plus years of crying after losing my Jupiter Creek Baritone Electric Uke makes me know that I do want the Eastwood Warren Ellis Sig.
    If only exchange rates and shipping weren’t so nasty!
    Some of us like having a free finger per string plus whatever us folkies want to do with a thumb be it twist or wrap. Music doesn’t have to be too complicated it just must be, in the words of my immortalised Brass Teacher: Beautiful.

    He didn’t care what I played but how I played and that each sound was beautiful.

    Neko No

    Neko

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