I mentioned to a friend recently that one of the reasons I liked playing the tenor guitar — the slightly smaller, four-string variant of the instrument — is that aside from the fact it’s less complicated, it’s also fairly unique; not a lot of other people out there play one, so when I show up somewhere with one, it’s always a fun topic of conversation. I realize this makes me sound like a musical hipster (“oh, this thing? It’s a kind of obscure instrument. I’m sure you haven’t heard of it before”), but I don’t mean it that way, honest. I merely mean to say it’s fun to bring something different to the party.
The flipside of having a moderately obscure instrument, however, is that it does limit things, access-wise. There are dozens of guitar makers out there, making all sorts of acoustic guitars; for tenor guitars, there’s really only two companies making them in any quantity (Blueridge and Gold Tone), and while they’re fine guitars — I have a Blueridge and Krissy has a Gold Tone — they’re not particularly cheap, and the prices for tenor guitars go up from there. I have a dream of one day getting an eight-string tenor guitar, very much like a 12-string, but to do that I will probably have to commission it from a luthier, and I shudder to think how much that might cost.
It’s an instrument with a high(ish) cost of entry, in other words. I’ll note I sort of backed into having a tenor guitar by playing ukulele first and then stringing my tenors like ukes, and ukes, at least, are relatively cheap. So maybe that’s the way in for other folks too. But otherwise I think the tenor guitar is destined to remain a specialty instrument, and that’s a shame. I like that I’m playing an unusual instrument, but I wouldn’t mind a few other people in my quirky tribe.