At one time most of the major banjo and guitar manufacturers produced a line of tenor guitars including acoustic, electric, metal or wood resonator, flat top and archtop models. Today tenor guitars are built by only a handful of private luthiers.
We have put together a brief history and introduction to some of the makers on this page, with links to their websites where available. For more details about specific models check 'The Guitars' section.
(Clicking on the guitar image will take you to directly to 'The Guitars' section and photo gallery for that maker.)
Active Tenor Guitar Builders
Aria Arrow Guitars (Paul Lestock)
Beeton Brass Guitars
Ian Chisholm (UK)
DarkStar Guitars (electric only) Paul Doyle
Eastwood (electric only)
Egan Custom Guitars
Evergreen Mountain Instruments
Fletcher Tenor guitars
Max Girouard - NEW (electric only- first under construction)
Gold Tone Andrew Jerman - NEW
Jupiter Creek Music in Australia
Lark in the Morning
Martin Custom Shop (?)
Bryn Munford (UK - Aldershot, England)
National (resonator only - custom order only)
David Newton Guitars
Republic (resonator only [model T49])
Kevin Schwab (electric only)
Zither Music Co. (electric only)
Lyon and Healy
Based in the Czech Republic, Amistar manufacturers pear-shaped single cone and tricone resonator tenor guitars which are also marketed Saga Musical Instruments (http://www.sagamusic.com) under the Regal name. [Top]
Based in Maine, USA, musician, teacher and luthier Joel Eckhaus builds mandolins, ukes and custom instruments, as well as a range of beautiful tenor guitars. Contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website for more details. [Top]
The DOBRO is a mechanically amplified guitar that has an aluminum resonator set into the body. The first DOBRO guitar was released in 1928 by John Dopyera and his brothers (DO(pyera) BRO(thers), as a woodbodied, affordable version of the National metalbodied guitars that Dopyera had developed a year earlier. After suing each other, the two companies merged in 1932 to become the National-Dobro company, although the lines continued to be separate. After WWII they stopped producing DOBRO guitars, and the DOBRO name was eventually reaquired by the Dopyera family's Original Musical Instrument company in 1967, and then in 1993 was bought by Gibson, who continue to make DOBRO resonator guitars today.
Dobro made several models of tenors from the late 1920s until the late 1930s. These included the Tenortrope models with round bodies: Nos. 40, 45, 60, 75, and the custom model A45; traditional guitar shaped instruments were Nos. 50, 75, and 100. In the 1930s, Dobro licensed the Regal Company (see below) to make resonator guitars under both the Dobro and Regal brand names; they appeared with both brand names and were numbered 27 ½, 37 ½, and 45 ½, with the ½ designating a tenor version. Regal also made an F-hole wood body model called the 25 ½ by the late 1930s which was gone by 1940. [Top]
In 1915 Epi Stathopoulo took over his father's musical instrument company, and combining his name with the Greek word for sound, 'phone', produced the first Epiphone instrument. Up until WWII Epiphone was to rival Gibson in the guitar market, but on Epi's death in 1943 the company began to lose its way and was eventually aquired by the Gibson's parent company, Chicago Musical Instruments, in 1957. Epiphone guitars have been played on some of the most famous recordings ever, including the most recorded song of all time - Paul McCartney's 'Yesterday'. Today, Epiphone is the brand Gibson uses on its imported instruments, which include modern versions of classic Gibson and Epiphone designs, and Epiphone claims to be the world's No.1 seller of fretted instruments.
Epiphone made archtop tenors as early as the late 1920s, and was one of the first to attempt to market electric tenors, first under the Electar label, then as Epiphones (probably to avoid confusion over Rickenbacker's Electro brand. [Top]
In 1894 in Kalamazoo Michigan, amateur luthier Orville Gibson started building the first ever carved top mandolins and archop guitars. The "Gibson Mandolin - Guitar Co., Ltd" was incorporated on October 11, 1902, and over its 100+ year history Gibson has developed numerous technical innovations that make guitars what they are today, and manufactured some of the most famous guitars ever produced, including the jumbo sized J-200 favored by country players, and solid electric classic, the Les Paul.
Gibson first introduced tenor guitars into its line in the late 1920s, and any guitar model was available in a tenor version by special order. [Top]
Known for its unique sound and style, Gretsch was founded in Brooklyn in 1883 by German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch, and has been run by the family for 100 of the 118 years it has been in existence - save for a period from 1967 to 1985 - and although the guitars are now made in Japan, Gretsch is still very much a family business. Rock n' Roll idol Eddie Cochran played a Gretsch, as did Elvis, the Beatles and a whole host of other famous guitarists.
Gretsch made several tenor models over the years, and listed tenor versions of the 'Jet' series electrics as well as the Anniversary model, from the mid 1950s into the early '60s. The electric tenor never really caught on, and these models are rare today. [Top]
Harmony was the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the world for much of the 20th century and made many guitars sold under other labels such as Silvertone (Sears), Stella, and others. A fairly good history of the company can be found at the Unofficial Harmony Guitar Home Page http://members.aol.com/Rothguitar/Rothguita30.html. [Top]
In 1864, George Washburn Lyon and Patrick J. Healy came to Chicago to found a sheet music shop. In 1889 they began to make violins, pianos, mandolins, and harps, and guitars under the 'Washburn' brand, soon becoming one of the largest musical instrument manufacturers of the time. When their huge factory was burned down guitar manufacturing practically stopped, but the Washburn name continued, although in the first few decades of the 20th century the guitars were actually built by several different manufacturers, before years later it became the seperate Washburn International company that it is today. Lyon and Healy are still based in Chicago and are now one of the two major harp manufacturers in the world. [Top]
Martin is one of the oldest guitar makers around, established in 1833 in New York (C.F. Martin's father was a guitar maker as well, in Europe). Known primarily for its flattop guitars and especially as the designer of the ever-popular dreadnought shape, Martin first listed tenor guitars in 1927. The O-18T tenor was popularized in the late 1950s by Kingston Trio member Nick Reynolds. [Top]
National made tenors in Styles 1, 2, and 3 (no style 4 was offered), in both pear-shaped and guitar-shaped bodies, as well as the Style O. All were discontinued by the early 1940s, but many survive to this day. [Top]
Rickenbacker's contribution to the tenor world came early and ended just as early, with the Electro tenor guitar, introduced with the Electro mandolin in the 1930s. Both had the early Rickenbacker horseshoe pickups. As an odd side note, from 1968 until the early '70s they also made a 6-string electric plectrum guitar (the lower two courses of strings were doubled) called the Banjoline, endorsed by plectrum banjoist Eddie Peabody. [Top]