It’s called a tenor guitar (specifically this one). Which means that it’s a guitar, but it’s got four strings, and naturally those four strings are the highest ones. It’s also tuned like a ukulele, which means that all the chords I’ve learned on the one transfer to the other, which is in fact very useful. I got it when I was in California, at the Folk Music Center in Claremont (which for music trivia fans is owned by the family of musician Ben Harper; I believe I was rung up by his mother).
I went in with my friend Natasha to get her a ukulele for her birthday (this one, in fact), and one of the folks behind the counter was fiddling around with the tenor guitar. He gave it to me to try and about three minutes later I was calling Krissy to let her know I was about to drop a non-trivial load of cash for an early birthday present to myself. The store had to ship it; it arrived today.
The quick verdict after a couple hours of playing it: Well, I like it very much. I had no idea tenor guitars existed before I walked into the store, but had occasionally thought that it would be cool to have a guitar-sized uke, so this obviously fits the bill. My history with guitars has not been sterling; I have a couple but I have difficulty with some chords (mostly the ones that require laying one’s finger across the entire fretboard) so I’ve never been able to get a good sound from them. This one has fewer strings and requires less effort to play, which suits my general relationship with musical instruments (i.e., very casual and not inclined to put in the large amount of effort required to be excellent).
That said, I can already tell that the tenor guitar is far less forgiving than the ukulele. One of the things that I like about the uke is that even when you screw up a chord, it still sounds winsome; it’s an instrument that affords the play a huge margin for error. The tenor guitar is more like a guitar in this regard; when I screw up a chord I notice it. It also reminds me that my strumming is completely crap. So if I want to actually sound good with this guitar, I will have to put in more effort than I do now. Maybe not as much as with a six string guitar, but more than I do with the uke.
Which is fine; it’s good to have a challenge and I think I will make the effort. First task: Toughen up the fingertips on the fretting hand. These are metal strings. Ouch.
Incidentally, if you live near Claremont or happen to be going through the area, I do recommend the Folk Music Center to you. There’s a huge number of very cool instruments there, stringed and otherwise, and the folks who work at the store are knowledgeable, nice, helpful and, clearly, able to spot someone who wants a tenor guitar even before he knows he wants one. Give them your business.