Did You Know They Made These Classic Vintage Guitar Models as Tenors?

The spritely tenor guitar is something of an overlooked cousin in the family tree of stringed instruments. Most players have probably never picked up a tenor, and many incorrectly peg these diminutive instruments as just one of many larger–sized ukuleles.

Despite their relative obscurity, there is a lot to be said for these 4–stringed wonders. Typically built with a 23–inch scale length and tuned in a variety of ways, tenor guitars are a lot of fun to play, with an articulate sound that can blend beautifully into folk, bluegrass, and even rock settings.

Nick Reynolds (right) of the Kingston Trio with his Martin Tenor

Nick Reynolds notably played one with the Kingston Trio, while the late and beloved singer–songwriter Jason Molina composed on a tenor under the Songs:Ohia moniker. Warren Ellis tours with a tenor in his various collaborations with Nick Cave and even has a contemporary signature model built by Eastwood.

While only a small handful of modern makers build tenor guitars, there was a time when most of the major players in the industry offered tenor options. Their exact origins are unclear, but tenor guitar production picked up in the '20s and '30s, along with similarly voiced plectrum banjos. During the folk music boom of the '50s and '60s, more and more manufacturers built tenors to accommodate a renewed interest.

It was in this period especially that brands like Gibson and Gretsch began to produce tenor renditions of some of their core models with increasing regularity. Some of these, like the Gretsch 6129 Duo Jet Tenor, were normal production models that, while certainly rare, can be found periodically on the vintage market.

Other tenors were built exclusively on a one–off, special order basis making them exceptionally rare instruments, indeed. In the case of Gibson, for example, a tenor build seems to have been mostly a matter of fitting a normal body with a tenor neck based on a customer's request.

Either way, this slice of tenor history sees a profusion of models with exact 6–string corollaries that are, undeniably, intriguing and totally adorable. Here's a look at some of our favorites that have hit the pages of Reverb over the years stacked up next to their 6-string counterparts.


Gibson 1963 SG Standard Tenor and 1962 Les Paul/SG Standard


Gretsch 1955 6129 Duo Jet Tenor and 1956 6128 Duo Jet


Gibson 1953 ES-5 Tenor and 1951 ES-5


Gretsch 1962 6125 Anniversary Tenor and 1960 6125 Anniversary


Gibson 1937 ETG-150 Tenor and 1937 ES-150


Gibson 1963 ETG-150 Tenor and 1965 ES-125T


Martin 1936 R-18 Tenor and 1938 R-18


Gibson 1954 TG-50 and 1952 L-50


Gibson 1958 Les Paul Special Tenor and 1956 Les Paul Special TV Yellow


D'Angelico 1947 Tenor Archtop and 1948 Excel Archtop


Guild 1954 X-100 Tenor and 1953 X-100


Martin 1965 0-18T Tenor and 1965 0-18

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