Tenor Guitars, Resonator Mandolins, Tiple
by Gregg Miner, as part of www.minermusic.com)
- Regal, ca. 1930
Disclaimer to Internet readers: The following text is a humorous essay written for the layperson. It originally appeared in a companion booklet to my 1995 Christmas Collection CDs. The information, while factual, is presented in a personal, unorthodox manner. No offense is intended toward my fellow musicians or fellow musicologists.
Call me an old softie, but I find these simple, inexpensive yet fine-sounding Regal instruments irresistible. Suprisingly, some players and collectors are unfamiliar with this Chicago-based company -- though Regal probably made more instruments in its history than any other manufacturer. From 1908 to 1954 it produced its own prolific line of stringed instruments, plus untold numbers built for other companies (such as this B&J tenor).
The first little instrument you'll be meeting is a soprano ukulele -- it's very unpretentious, though its solid oak neck is somewhat unusual.
Next -- tenor guitars come in every size and shape, from small cute ones like this shapely Regal, to full-size archtops -- the only common feature being the four strings, as opposed to the standard guitar's six. Though some players simply tune them to the first four strings of a guitar, the proper method is tenor banjo tuning (c,g,d', a') because they were originally designed so that tenor banjoists could "double" on guitar. I've used the two different tunings on these two respective tenors, which together play the second verse. This unusual B&J tenor is almost entirely covered with pink celluloid -- affectionately known to the trade today as "mother-of-toilet-seat." At the turn of the century this popular decorative material was more valuable than ivory.
Regal's uniquely shaped invention, the "octofone," refers not to its eight strings, nor my tuning -- an octave below the mandolin (it plays the bass in this tune) -- but to its ridiculous marketing gimmick. "Eight Instruments in One," it could be tuned and played as a mandolin, tenor banjo, and five other essential instruments.
The tiple sounds somewhat like a cute baby twelve-string guitar, but is really a member of the ukulele family, designed after a South American folk instrument of the same name. It borrows the size and tuning of a tenor uke, but replaces the four nylon strings with ten steel strings arranged in a bizarre array of double and triple courses of unisons and octaves. This stringing gives the tiple its bright, unique sound (it opens the second section).
Playing the choruses and fills are mandolin counterparts of the National metalbody guitar and Dobro in the next selection (in Vol. 2, I'll also explain the relationship between National, Dobro and Regal). These "resophonic" instruments have a substantially different tone than their acoustic cousins, besides being boisterously loud. I played them like normal mandolins in the first half, with a slide bar, Hawaiian-style, in the second half, and with snare brushes for percussion in the tiple verse.
And finally, playing the electric fills is this great National "art deco" lap steel guitar, made almost entirely of celluloid.
All in all, a group of extremely cool instruments from a past, and possibly more interesting era.
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