Thicker strings on a Tenor Guitar
March 30, 2013 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Can I use higher gauge strings on a Tenor Guitar?

I play a tenor guitar in normal guitar tuning, as if I was using just the top 4 strings of a guitar (DGBE). I want to try stringing it with the lower strings, so I can tune it EADG. If I just slap the appropriate higher gauge strings on there will I risk damaging my pretty, old and recently set-up tenor guitar?
posted by kittensofthenight to Media & Arts (6 answers total)
While it's certainly possible that tuning EADG might result in higher tension, it might not be all that dramatically higher. You can get an idea on numbers here. If you really want to be safe, you can either use the low strings from a silk and steel guitar set, or from a extra light gauge regular set.

This online calculator might also be of use.

Intonation up the fingerboard might be a bigger concern, as saddles are usually compensated for a particular gauge. But I'd worry about that bridge when you get there.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:41 PM on March 30, 2013

You might want to make sure the nut and bridge slots will accommodate the thicker strings before you do anything. Otherwise, if this is a fairly modern tenor with a reinforced neck and intended for steel strings, the additional tension shouldn't cause any damage.
posted by tommasz at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2013

Its pretty old, '64 I think.
posted by kittensofthenight at 3:36 PM on March 30, 2013

You should be fine, neck-wise. Steel-reinforced necks were common before WWII and pretty much universal by the 60s.
posted by tommasz at 3:47 PM on March 30, 2013

Cool. I'll see if thicker strings can even fit in the bridge. The guitar gets some of the best tone I've ever had, but I have had this urge to just play straight up power chords on it.
posted by kittensofthenight at 5:08 PM on March 30, 2013

It's the bridge I would worry about first. Stories abound of pyramid bridges peeling off after putting medium gauge steel strings on old parlour guitars.

I haven't strung or played my tenor guitar in years, but here's my take: it's a matter of too little tension, not too much. The low-E on a set of extra-light guitar strings is still ~.47, roughly the same gauge recommended for the low (G3) string in GCEA tuning. That same string tuned to E3 is going to have tension similar in feel to six string tuned to C -- pretty sloppy.

On the other hand, here is someone on the tenor guitar registry (a still-active group full of people far more steeped in the arcane knowedge of tenor string gauges) going in the opposite direction, lighter gauge strings and EADG tuning starting at E4.
posted by Lorin at 6:30 PM on March 30, 2013

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