Some Strings Attached: Electric Tenor Guitar Built From Scratch

It’s no secret that we have a soft spot for musical instruments here at Hackaday, especially for the weird and unusual ones. An instrument that definitely fits the unusual category is the four-string tenor guitar, which — as legend has it — originated back in the 1920s by frankensteining a banjo neck and a guitar body together. Despite being around for almost a century, they’re still rarely found outside some niche genres, which makes them an excellent choice when pursuing a unique sound experience. As someone looking for exactly that, [Ham-made] decided to build an electric tenor guitar entirely from scratch, and documented every step of it at great length.

Built from two random chunks of wood, a dissected single coil pickup, and a leftover piece of elk antlers, the result is even more unique than the sound experience itself. While the rather unorthodox, faceted body shape leaves no doubt that this is a handmade instrument, the real eye-catcher has to be the neck and its oddly spaced frets. Counting the frets, the math doesn’t seem to add up either, as the twelfth fret usually creates the octave, and as such should be at half the scale length (i.e. half the string’s length from the bridge at the body’s end to the nut at the neck’s end). Turns out that [Ham-made] went for a diatonic scale instead of the usual chromatic one, essentially leaving out the notes you anyway wouldn’t play in a standard Pop or Rock setup. Using an all-fifths tuning akin to cellos and mandolins, this will work nicely over all four strings.

Aesthetics are certainly a subjective matter, and [Ham-Made] is fully aware that people might feel downright offended by his creation, but as he also wants to “embrace mistakes and promote experimentation”, he encourages everyone with similar aspiration to simply go for it — and he’s certainly no stranger to unconventional instruments and recording equipment. But before the never-tiring tonewood debate sparks up, check out this scrap metal guitar.

4 thoughts on “Some Strings Attached: Electric Tenor Guitar Built From Scratch

  1. Eastwood guitars sells a few electric tenor guitars. Some of them are pretty good, some have too fat of a neck (Warren Ellis Signature). They are middle of the road quality and middle of the road price. I have a custom one with a bigsby vibrato tailpiece, and it’s pretty fun. I play around with my electric mandola more than the tenor, it’s slightly shorter scale length and uses 2 string courses but can otherwise be tuned up the same as a tenor guitar.

  2. I play Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer, which is a 3-string diatonic instrument. Depending on how you play, it’s usually tuned in D-A-D (common in the west) or D-G-D (common in the east) or D-A-C (when you want to do minor tunes without chording or capos.) Traditionally you play the melody on the high string and leave the low and middle strings open as a drone, but you can also play chords or melodies on them if you want. This means it works better in one or two main keys (because you often add one extra fret that gives you more choices) but for traditional tunes that’s fine, whether it’s singing or dance tunes (fiddles can play anything, but traditional tunes mostly stick to a few keys, and banjos also have the “better in one or two keys” problem, so usually old-timey music sets will play in one key for a bunch of tunes before switching), and you can also play modes (which are the relative more-or-less minors, so you can hit most of the common keys without retuning.)

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