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Author Topic: tenor guitar for acoustic blues  (Read 3176 times)

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arbarnhart

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tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« on: November 01, 2005, 09:46:44 AM »
Anyone out there doing much (any) of this? Since I started playing the mandolin, I haven't had much interest in playing my guitar. For whatever reason, I "get it" more with the 5ths tuning and fewer strings than I ever did with the mostly 4ths tuning of the guitar. Anyway, I just bought an old Emperador tenor. I am contemplating stringing/tuning it to GDAE (an octave below the mandolin) for a couple of reasons. One is that my feeble brain would not have to memorize another set of chords or note locations. The other is that it would be pretty close to the same range as a standard guitar, starting only 3 intervals higher and ending on the same string. The E and F blues bass runs are about the only things that can't be done in that tuning (and there are reasonable substitutes that I have already learned on the mando). The CGDA tuning (higher than what I am thinking) seem to be more popular though. Anyway, just curous if anyone else here is messinag around with a tenor.

Offline Scott Jacobs

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2005, 01:56:09 PM »

Offline Johnm

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2006, 10:36:08 AM »
Hi all,
Didn't Charlie Burse, the jug band musician from Memphis, play a tenor guitar?  I am not familiar enough with his recordings to know whether there are any songs that really feature his playing, or if he was most often employed in a more chordal accompanying capacity.  Is there anybody out there who is more familiar with his work?
All best,
Johnm

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #3 on: February 06, 2006, 11:43:02 AM »
Didn't Charlie Burse, the jug band musician from Memphis, play a tenor guitar? 
I'm sure you are correct.
This is from memory since I seem to have misfiled the work but I'm sure there are two photos showing Burse with tenor - one from the 30s, the other the 60s - in Bengt Olsson's 1970 Memphis Blues paperback. My mind's eye can also visualise a quote from Burse in which he says that folk who didn't know what the instrument was called it a uke-banjo (or something similar). Anyone have easy access to this book?

Offline dj

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #4 on: February 06, 2006, 02:02:29 PM »
I don't have access to the book, but there's an extremely grainy print of one of the pictures - I assume the one from the 1960s - on the cover of Old Tramp CD 02: Charlie Burse - James De Berry.  It shows Burse in an open-necked shirt strumming a tenor guitar.  The CD title banner covers part of the guitar's headstock, but the thin fretboard is readily apparent.  I haven't listened to the CD in a while, so can't comment on what he's playing on the 1939 recordings.  I guess I'll give it a listen tonight.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2006, 02:27:09 PM »
A grainy version of that grainy photo...

Offline dj

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2006, 02:55:10 PM »
Charlie's playing on his 1939 sides is mostly chording on the beat.  He occasionally gets off a flat-picked solo, as on "You Better Watch Out" and "Too Much Beef".  On "Good Potatoes On The Hill", he opens with some nifty flat-picked "bass" runs.  Since the lowest sounding note is a D corresponding to the 4th string on a guitar, I'd guess he's playing a tenor there. 

All the 1939 recordings by Charlie Burse and his Memphis Mudcats are on the Juke.

Offline Johnm

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2006, 04:38:07 PM »
Hi all,
Thanks very much for the information, Bunker Hill, dj and Uncle Bud.  I realized that about all I remember of Charlie Burse is that on the old "Rural Blues" set that Sam Charters put together on RBF, Burse was included on a version of "Take Your Fingers Off It" that Charters used because it employed laughter.  As I recall, Burse had pretty infectious laughter, too, almost in a class with Charley Lincoln.  I need to hear more of what he did.
All best,
Johnm

Offline MTJ3

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2006, 08:44:51 PM »
Didn't Charlie Burse, the jug band musician from Memphis, play a tenor guitar? 
I'm sure you are correct.
This is from memory since I seem to have misfiled the work but I'm sure there are two photos showing Burse with tenor - one from the 30s, the other the 60s - in Bengt Olsson's 1970 Memphis Blues paperback. My mind's eye can also visualise a quote from Burse in which he says that folk who didn't know what the instrument was called it a uke-banjo (or something similar). Anyone have easy access to this book?
Burse is on the cover (with an f-hole tenor!) and at pages 29 and 30 of the book in photos that are undated, dated c. 1935 and dated 1962, respectively.  Also at page 29: "Charlie was nicknamed 'Uke', since the tenor banjo he played was called ukulele-banjo in Memphis (as it was in many other parts of the south)."  Laura "Little Bit" Dukes is shown in photographs at pages 40-43 playing an ukulele (in one photo) and an ukulele-banjo (in several).  Her ukulele banjo was about the size of an ukulele and had a banjo head instead of a wooden body.  George Formby, eat your heart out.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2006, 10:23:20 PM by MTJ3 »

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2006, 11:35:59 PM »
A grainy version of that grainy photo...
Which indeed is the one originally used on the 1980s Old Tramp LP, which in turn is from the 1935 photo in Olsson; OT just cut out the other musicians to his right.

Offline arlotone

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2018, 11:26:52 AM »
Didn't Charlie Burse, the jug band musician from Memphis, play a tenor guitar?  I am not familiar enough with his recordings to know whether there are any songs that really feature his playing, or if he was most often employed in a more chordal accompanying capacity.

Sorry to bump a 12 (!) year old thread, but I ran across this and can confirm that Burse's tenor guitar stands out in several Memphis Jug Band recordings. Check out "Tired Of You Driving Me" or "Insane Crazy Blues." I'll have an article in the next Frog Annual that explores his contributions further.

This 1958 video gives a great look at his National tenor guitar:



I believe he's using the standard CGDA tuning there and in the Memphis Jug Band recordings, rather than a guitar tuning. Burse also played mandolin, so the fifths wouldn't have been too foreign to him (but he also played guitar in standard tuning).

What I'd like to figure out is when he got his National and what he was playing before that. He played a CGDA instrument on his first MJB recording in 1928 (Lindberg Hop), but National didn't release the single-cone tenor like in his photographs until late 1930.

The quotes above refer to a tenor banjo being called a "ukulele banjo," which reminds me that one of his nicknames was "Uke Kid Burse." I've wondered where that came from, since we don't have any recordings or photos of him playing what we call a ukulele. If he was actually playing a tenor banjo in the early years, that would explain the nickname, and answer the question of what he was playing before he got the National.

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2018, 01:11:57 PM »

What I'd like to figure out is when he got his National and what he was playing before that. He played a CGDA instrument on his first MJB recording in 1928 (Lindberg Hop), but National didn't release the single-cone tenor like in his photographs until late 1930.



A friend of a friend bought the wood-body polychrome Triolian tenor that Retrofret had a few years back and I'm pretty sure it was a '28 or '29. There certainly were other non-reso tenor guitars available prior to that. Is Burse the one holding the tiple in the "Schlitz Jug Band" photo? Maybe he was playing tiple at first session.

Offline arlotone

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #12 on: April 26, 2018, 04:53:05 PM »
Yes, Charlie is 2nd from right in that photo. A tiple! I'd never heard of that and had to look it up. I assumed it was just an unusual looking mandolin. It's hard to tell from the photo, but it looks like it might actually have 10 tuners.

It's also hard to tell if he has a finger on the first string, but if that instrument is tuned like a mandolin (G D A E), he'd be playing Bb Eb B on the bottom strings. Blech. If it's tuned like the Martin tiple (A D F# B), he'd be playing C Eb Ab, which is a Ab major chord. But the guitarist is playing a C major chord. Does anybody recognize that chord shape in any tuning?

Anyway, I'm assuming if Burse had a tricone resonator in '28, he would have kept it rather than "downgrading" to a single-cone model later. But I guess it's possible. I figured he was playing a wood-body tenor before that, but the reference to the "uke banjo" makes me think he was playing a tenor banjo.

I wish I knew the exact year of the Schlitz photo. He moved to Memphis at the age of 26, and in that photo he seems closer to that age than to the age of 40 shown in the LIFE Magazine photos from 1941.

Offline Lastfirstface

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2018, 06:32:19 AM »
The Triolian was never a tricone model. The Dopyeras originally intended it to be, but the name stuck after the switch to a single-cone design. It was basically a Duolian with slightly different features and a different paint job. I'm attaching a pic of the one I've played in person.

Offline arlotone

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Re: tenor guitar for acoustic blues
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2018, 11:06:43 AM »
What I meant regarding the tricone is that in all the photos showing Burse with a tenor guitar, it's a single-cone model, which wasn't produced until late 1930. But he recorded with a similar instrument before that ... so it was either an earlier tricone tenor guitar, a wood-bodied tenor guitar or a tenor banjo.

 


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