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

Never played a tenor before? No problem! If you already play a 6-string guitar you'll be just fine... but you'll need to stop thinking like a guitar player and start thinking like a Tenor player.

playing a tenor guitar

What do you look for when buying a new instrument?

Even though many (most?) of us guitarists might obsess over technical aspects of an instrument, when we choose a new guitar it ultimately boils down to one thing, really - inspiration. Think about it.

There's a well-known tale about how Johnny Marr went guitar shopping in New York once, and one particular guitar attracted his attention for some mysterious reason - an old Gibson ES-355. He took it to his hotel room and the first thing that came out of it was The Smiths' soon-to-be-classic 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. Almost as if the guitar itself "had" the song inside it.

You probably know the feeling... and that feeling is the reason why most guitarists are always on a quest, always trying to find that new guitar that will inspire them, make them play better, give them new ideas. 

Which leads us directly to why getting a tenor guitar could be a great thing to do, if you've never played one before. Get ready to revolutionise your guitar-playing...

Why Should I Buy a Tenor Guitar?

Warren Ellis Tenor guitar

Playing a tenor guitar can be very inspiring for the guitarist who never ventured beyond the realms of the 6-strings.

People who collect guitars (most of us here!) basically buy more of the same stuff: guitars will vary in tone, feel, wood, colors and in a myriad of other ways but, really, they are all pretty much the same thing - whatever guitar you choose, it'll get the job done. 

So how about getting a tenor guitar next time, for a change? Instead of getting a guitar that will do the same thing as any of your other guitars, get a guitar that can allow you to play differently. As a musician, you can only benefit from this.

If you've never played a tenor before, it's a revelation - something that feels both new and familiar at the same time... a tenor guitar is still a guitar, after all. But it's sure to inspire you in new and different ways than if you bought another 6-string guitar, which makes it a great addition to your collection.

Stop Thinking like a Guitar Player... 

One of the major hurdles - probably the main hurdle - that stops some guitarists from even trying a tenor guitar, is a mental one. They look at a tenor and think "How do I play one? What do I do with it?"

And that happens because they're still thinking like guitarists, perhaps even seeing 4 strings as a shortcoming. So it's important to take the right approach - to think as a tenor player.

The first thing you need to realise is that, if you know how to play guitar, you'll know how to play a tenor - never mind the different tuning. After all, a tenor guitar is not miles away from your usual 6-string. In fact, a guitarist who've never tried a tenor might feel more at home with a tenor guitar than, for instance, trying out a bass or an ukulele for the first time. 

Check this video, showing someone who's never played a tenor before, trying out a Warren Ellis Signature Tenor 2P.

The second thing you need to bear in mind is that, even though you can tune your tenor to guitar tunings you're familiar with (minus two strings, of course, so it could be EADG or DGBE tuning, for instance) that's probably not the best approach to playing tenor - because you need to stop thinking like a guitarist, and start thinking like a tenor player!

Warren Ellis Tenor 2P

...Think like a Tenor Player!

Thinking "like a tenor player" means, for a start, that you shouldn't try to just play the same things you're used to playing with your 6-string guitar. 

Of course, it's always helpful to learn a few basic tenor guitar chords (based on the standard CGDA tenor guitar tuning) to get you started, but you should try using the tenor as the starting point for new musical adventures, exploring the fretboard, and discovering some chords by yourself, too. 

You'll find out that, even if you don't know specific chords on a tenor, you can straight away play lead parts on one, and because the strings are tuned differently than on a guitar tuned to EADGBE, it means you'll find the notes you want in different frets, which will will make you play a bit differently. 

The more you play a tenor guitar without thinking in 6-string terms, the more your ability and familiarity with the tenor guitar will develop naturally, and rather than thinking like a guitarist ("A tenor is a guitar with four strings, so how do I play it? How do I transpose a 6-string song to a tenor?") you'll find yourself thinking more like a tenor player - ie. not trying to use your tenor simply as a substitute for your old guitar just for the sake of it, but as a natural choice whenever the mood strikes to do something different.

Because of the tenor guitar will make you play differently, you'll feel compelled to grab your tenor when you want to do something you wouldn't normally do with a 6-string guitar, just the same as when you pick a 6-string you naturally play something that you wouldn't do on a tenor. 

The more you play your tenor, the more you should find yourself playing it with confidence and flow, creating your new guitar parts with the tenor - and adding a new dimension to your music.

And, if you needed any reminding, as Warren Ellis shows in this clip, you can really rock out with just those four strings, if you want!

Tenor Guitars for sale


3 comments

  • Still dreaming of an 8 string tenor. I have a Pono 8 string acoustic tenor . I would love to have an 8 string electric tenor.

    Stuart Bonnington
  • Still dreaming of an 8 string tenor. I have a Pono 8 string acoustic tenor . I would love to have an 8 string electric tenor.

    Stuart Bonnington
  • Ok. How about a bass player (ie: me) picking a tenor? Waiting for a Warren Ellis 2P baritone. Anybody had the experience?

    Constantinos Mastoris

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