Tenor, Plectrum & Bass Guitars

    Construction and Standard Features for all Instruments are in the “Design Notes” section

 

The Southcoast Guitars & the Southcoast Tenor Guitar -  We are very pleased to offer our group of 4-string guitars, instruments that broaden the scope of the 4-string world.  The first modern 4-string guitar was the Tenor Guitar, and we also began with our version of that instrument.  A number of later 4-string designs were based on the original Tenor Guitar concept, and our new designs are also built around our original Tenor Guitar body. 

 

For those who are familiar with the Tenor Guitar, our instrument is not quite what that name normally implies.  A brief  Tenor Guitar history has these instruments first appearing around the beginning of the twentieth century.  They were steel stringed instruments, tuned in a number of ways, but mostly in CGDA.  This is what is called a tuning in 5ths - that is to say in 5 note intervals.  This type of tuning is the original set-up for the Tenor Banjo.  While 4ths tunings (4  note intervals) are standard for guitars and ukuleles, these 5ths tunings have wide use as well.  In addition to the Tenor Banjo, they are standard for the Violin and Mandolin among others.   

 

In large part, these Tenor Guitars were created to give Tenor Banjo players another instrument to play, one that used the chording they already knew.  Various other tunings followed, including what is often called “Chicago Tuning”:  DGBE, a tuning in 4ths.  These are the first four strings of the standard six string guitar. 

 

Tenor Guitar scale is generally 23”, although Regal also built a very popular 20” scale tenor.  The first models had smaller bodies than what are commonly seen today.  They were four string versions of what were known as “parlor-size guitars”.  In the 1930s larger archtop tenor models began to appear, and at that point, the flat top bodies began to grow in size as well.

 

As this occurred, in the 1940s, a new four string instrument called the Baritone Ukulele came into existence.  The body was significantly smaller than a tenor guitar, although it had the 20” scale used on some Tenor Guitars.  It is a nylon strung instrument, however, and even though it’s body is really too small for it, it has traditionally been tuned in the “Chicago Style”. 

 

Our instrument in many ways bridges the gap between the tenor guitar and the baritone ukulele.  It has the 23” Tenor Guitar scale, but as with the Baritone Ukulele, it is designed for classical, not steel strings.  Our full parlor size Tenor Guitar body is a much better fit for deep tunings than the smaller body of the Baritone Uke.

 

Our neck width is significantly wider than a traditional tenor guitar.  The tenor guitars, derived in part from tenor banjos, have an extremely narrow neck by modern standards.  Ours is about the width of a traditional baritone ukulele, and the instrument works nicely for chord playing or finger picking.

 

Classical Guitar construction is different from steel string construction in a number of ways, but most significantly in the neck construction and bracing of the body.  A reinforced neck, attached with a dovetail joint and X bracing of the body are all typical steel string construction, and are necessary because the strings exert around three times the pressure of nylon or gut.  The Spanish heel neck joint and fan bracing of classical guitars are much more efficient transfers of sound, but do not hold up to the strain of steel strings.  Since we use classical stringing, we avoid the heavier steel string construction and use the Spanish foot and fan bracing.  As we do with our ukuleles, however, we wanted to build even lighter than traditional classical guitar construction.

 

We have been able to accomplish this by using an element often employed in early steel strung Tenors, but only recently on classical strung instruments - the tailpiece (new designs with tailpiece will begin arriving shortly - the original Tenor with classical bridge arrangement is shown on this page).  Our tailpiece design works a bit differently than steel string tailpieces.  It is very low to the body, and great care has been taken to assure that the string break angle so crucial to good sound on an instrument built for classical strings, is maintained.  The tailpiece also relieves upward pressure on the bridge, allowing for a smaller glue area on the bridge itself - in other words, a smaller bridge.  This allows more of the soundboard to vibrate, and gives us the opportunity to both thin the top and lighten the bracing. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

                                                      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tenor Guitar tuning samples - click below - wait for file to load

 

                        Tenor Guitar - 4ths - Linear G                                   Tenor Guitar - 5ths - Linear A

 Update:   Our New Model Tenor & Plectrum Guitars  will be available in 3 standard configurations.  Check “Design Notes - Models & Features”  for further details.  Our Bass Guitar will be offered in one unique design.  Check back for new photos and sound samples.

The result is an instrument with the traits of a large body: sustain and depth, but with an extremely quick response and a bit of a percussive element.  This combination gives a range, depth and breadth of response that are unique in a plucked 4-string instrument.      

 

The Southcoast Plectrum Guitar - Very shortly after the Tenor Guitar came into being, another version began being produced.  Never as common as the Tenor, this was called the Plectrum Guitar.  It also had 4 strings, but a longer scale.  While there was some variation, it was either just above or just below the standard guitar scale of 25.6” or 650mm.  The bodies of these Plectrums were usually the same as the Tenor Guitar bodies, so the longer scale gave extra room on the fretboard.  We do the same with our Plectrum; it uses the same body, design and construction as our Tenor.  Because of it’s longer scale, however, and the greater spacing between frets, we also give it a slightly narrower neck.  Narrower, that is, in comparison to our Tenor, but still wider than the early Plectrums.  There were reasons for the longer scale with steel strings that we’ll not address, as our instruments use classical strings.  There are reasons, however, to offer both varieties for classical strings as well.

 

The primary reason for a longer scale is to provide a standard tuning in 5ths.  As mentioned above, a tuning in 5ths (5 note intervals) as opposed to the DGBE Chicago tuning (in 4ths), was the original set-up for Tenor Guitars.  It offers present day players of the Mandolin, Violin or Tenor Banjo a wonderful sounding 4-string classical guitar that they can, so to speak, “step right into”.  Because of the wide spacing of the notes, it is much more difficult to select classical strings for 5ths tuning than it is with steel strings.  As it turns out, the best string selection will give an Octave Mandolin tuning - GDAE - on this Plectrum scale (for further discussion, see our Linear String Set - 5ths page).  Of course, with the Plectrum being the same scale as a classical guitar, the whole spectrum of classical guitar strings are also available for DGBE or Chicago tuning.  

 

Tenor or Plectrum? -  We feel the decision between these two instruments should come down to your preference in tunings.  If you come from a Mandolin, Violin or Tenor Banjo background, then the Plectrum Guitar, with it’s ability to set up in Octave Mandolin tuning, is your obvious choice.

 

If you want to play in the Chicago style - DGBE, the choice is not so obvious.  Both instruments can be tuned this way.  We feel, however, that with typical classical strings, the slightly heavier gauges needed for the shorter scale of the Tenor Guitar gives a fuller, stronger sound.  On the other hand, if you are looking for a lighter sound, the Plectrum may appeal more.  With our flat wound classical set, you can have a gorgeous light “gypsy” sound, but with much more color and range than you would ever get from a steel strung Plectrum (for further discussion, see our Linear String Set - Round & Flat Wound page).

 

The Southcoast Bass Guitar -   We can sum up our Bass Guitar very simply by saying it is a fretless Plectrum Guitar.  Of course there is a bit more to it than that.  First the tuning for this instrument is an “Octave Bass” tuning, so to speak.  In other words, it is an octave above the tuning on an electric bass, or the same as strings 3-6 on a 6 string guitar. 

 

This higher tuning would not be a good match for a guitar ensemble - the notes would not be lower, they would simply be in the low range of the other guitars, and therefore be lost in the shuffle.  For ukulele accompaniment, however, we feel this arrangement is superior to standard bass tuning.  The notes are much lower than the range of ukuleles, thus giving a deeper bass compliment, but they are not so low as the standard electric bass, which often can make a ukulele seem weak by comparison.

 

In contrast to all our other models, instead of offering our Bass Guitar in 3 configurations, this instrument comes one way only.  We use a soundboard (and back) of Spanish Cedar, a light density hardwood similar to Mahogany in appearance, and whose sound is  both warm and highly percussive (for further discussion see the Woods page).   Sides are of Guayacan.  The fretboard and standard strumguards are Mexican Ebony, and this is the only instrument where the Mi-Si Acoustic Trio pick-up is standard also.  

 

The last key element are the strings.  We string up with our classical flat wounds.  The result is an instrument that allows noiseless movement on the strings.  You glide over that extremely long, oiled, fretless Plectrum fingerboard, producing smooth, deep percussive sound with an acoustic quality unknown to instruments with heavy strings geared primarily to amplification.  We also install side markers to let those unused to fretless playing “slide into” the transition.

 

Summation -   We can’t end the discussion without remarking on the looks of these 4-string Guitars.  The appearance of these instruments is a striking example of Omar Corrales’ artistry in design.  While their body dimensions are based on a 1930s Bruno Parlor Tenor Guitar, Don Omar has touched them in a way that produces a unique beauty.  Only a designer with long experience, and the confidence that comes with an intimate knowledge of the traditions of his craft can be bold with his form and still keep balance and proportion.  The sweep of the curves has the feel of the classic “modern” Spanish artists, like Miro or Picasso.  Both were in their prime in the pre-war twentieth century, as was the Tenor Guitar.  At the same time, as with all Corrales designs, classical influences are dominant, for this is a “guitarra cinturada”, or small-waisted form.  While not as exaggerated as many of those instruments, the form goes back to early guitar design, where it was more prominent in Portugal than Spain. Let me just say that neither these photos nor my fanciful descriptions do justice to the beauty of these instruments.

 

These are simply gorgeous small guitars, by one of the Americas’ finest concert guitar builders; and their great good looks are matched by their unique and wonderful sound.