Tenor Guitar Tuning on 6-string Acoustic

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Want to try out a tuning in 5ths on your acoustic guitar? This is the standard tuning for the mandolin, mandola, tenor guitar, and even the viol family of orchestral strings. It’s an open, ringing sound that’s a nice alternative to standard acoustic guitar tuning.

You can try out this tuning without changing guitar strings. Many tenor guitars are tuned CGDA, like a viola. Here, we’ll use GDAE, an octave lower than a mandolin.

Here’s how

With your guitar in standard tuning, EADGBE, do the following:

1. Tune the 5th string to G, a whole step down from the usual A.

2. Tune the 2nd string to A, a whole step down from B.

That’s it! You’ll be playing strings 5, 4, 2 and 1. This works best for fingerpicking, because we’re leaving out the 3rd string. Also, be aware that your fingers may need to adjust to this alternative string spacing, and not playing strings 6 and 3.

This isn’t a long-term solution. But it’s a chance to try out tenor guitar tuning and see if it fits your musical style.

To hear this tuning demonstrated,
click here.

CGDA Tuning

If you want a more traditional tenor guitar sound, follow the steps above. Then, capo the 5th fret. It doesn’t sound exactly like a tenor guitar, but it’s as good as it gets while keeping your acoustic in tact!

Another Option for CGDA Tuning

DO NOT try this on a full-scale acoustic guitar! The strings will break, and the guitar could be damaged!

CGDA is traditional tenor guitar tuning. I tested this with D’Addario J66 strings, specifically made for tenor guitars to play in this tuning. I used a child’s guitar, basically a toy, but it had x-bracing to handle steel strings. It had about a Parlor 2 size body, and a 20″ scale. Even this is short scale for a tenor guitar. Most are between 22″ and 23″. But I’ve seen scale lengths as low as 21.5″ (namely, the Kala Tenor Guitar).

I removed all the original strings and restrung the guitar with the J66 strings. Since the 5th and 6th string tuners had no strings attached, the tuners buzzed and rattled. So, I took them off. I was left with a rigged up version of a tenor guitar. It has its drawbacks, and the string tention is lower than I’d like. But you can hear it plays well enough on
Given This Day.

Again, don’t do this to your standard acoustic guitar, that is, not if you value it much!

5ths Tuning on Ukulele

Many ukulele-specific string sets are manufactured for 5ths tuning. Soprano strings are often GDAE, and concert and tenor strings are often designed for CGDA.

I haven’t tried any of these string sets, so I can’t comment on how they feel or sound. However, I’ve used classical guitar (i.e. nylon) strings to tune a tenor ukulele to linear 5ths – CGDA. Note that re-entrant sets can be purchased, where the 4th string is higher than the 3rd. I’m not referring to this tuning.

My tenor ukulele scale length is 17″. Keep this in mind when trying this tuning. Results may vary on different scale lengths and instruments.

Ukulele 5ths Tuning – Here’s How

I used a set of normal tension classical guitar strings (Martins, because they are readily available). Be sure that whatever set you choose is a nylon, classical set, not an acoustic guitar set. Most ukuleles are not designed for steel strings.

1. Remove the old ukulele strings.

2. Install the A (5th) string from the classical set in the 4th string position.

3. Install the D (4th) string in the 3rd string position.

4. Install the B (2nd) string in the 2nd string position.

5. Install the E (1st) guitar string in the 1st string position on the ukulele.

6. Tune up. Tune the 4th string to C3, the C below Middle C. Tune the 3rd string to G3, the G below Middle C. Tune the 2nd string to D4, the D just above Middle C. And tune the 1st string to A4, the A above Middle C.

You don’t need the 6th and 3rd strings from the classical guitar set.

Be careful when tuning, to stop when the string is on pitch. If you raise the pitch and then lower it, the tension and intonation will be off. The ukulele may not play in tune as a result.

You can hear this tuning on
Heartsong.