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Overtone Stack

G-B-D-F-G-A • OVERVIEW • My ‘squeezed’ sequence of tones 4 to 9 in the harmonic series – if ‘squashed’ to 12-tone equal temperament, they spell out a 9th arpeggio as an ascent-ordered stack of thirds: 1-3-5-b7-9. Bill Sethares’ variant keeps string tension within more sensible bounds, by adding a register-jump in the middle (C-E-G-Bb-C-D). Make […]

 

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Mi-composé

E-A-Ḋ-G-B-E • OVERVIEW • Used by flamboyant 1950s Congolese guitarist Zacharie Elenga, also known as ‘Jhimmy the Hawaiian’ – after country star Jimmy Rogers (already a global icon), and Elenga’s own self-mythologised brand of thumb-and-forefinger picking (which, though formidable, had very little to do with Hawaii).   Jhimmy shot to fame in Léopoldville (now Kinshasa), […]

 

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C Wahine / Keola’s C

C-G-D-G-B-E • OVERVIEW • An quick-to-reach Open C variant mixing 5ths, 4ths, and 3rds. Popular in Hawaii as ‘C Wahine’ (‘woman’) or ‘Keola’s C’ after modern slack-key legend Keola Beamer. The Honolulu maestro, who has long used it to explore fresh chord voicings and mellifluous natural harmonics (ho’opapa), hails it as “one of the easiest and […]

 

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Slack Thwack A

A-A-D-G-B-E • OVERVIEW • Use the ‘slack thwack’ to access the bass guitar register in your lead playing (well, all but the very lowest 5 notes of it). Tuning the 6str right down to A – downwards a perfect 5th – will bring a strange buzz…but opens up some unique textures and grooves. Some guitars […]

 

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Full Drop C

C-G-C-F-A-D • OVERVIEW • The same pattern as Drop D, but everything is then moved down two semitones. Brings a loose, chaotic, imperfect texture: total string tension is lowered by around 25% – equivalent to a ~40lb drop on an acoustic (total string tension on a steel-string can often top 180lb/82kg…no wonder you need a […]

 

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B Standard / Baritone

B-E-A-D-Gb-B • OVERVIEW • In keeping with heavy rock’s ‘ever lower’ trend, many Scandinavian death metal groups (‘ragnarok-ers’?) were tuning right down to B by the 90s, stringing heavier and often adding a 7th to accommodate. Still popular on the global metal scene today.   Also used on ‘baritone’ guitars, which have a 5-10% longer scale length […]

 

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C Standard

C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C • OVERVIEW • Tuning ‘four frets down’ opens up a radically slacker feel (~35% lower tension). Quieter, subtler, with a loose, messy expressive freedom – but without restringing, most guitars will have at least some issues with intonation and buzz (…use them to your advantage!).   Jazz guitarist John Stowell explains how the ear […]

 

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Db Standard

Db-Gb-B-E-Ab-Db   • OVERVIEW • Aged 17, Tony Iommi lost his middle and ring fingertips in a factory accident. His DIY prosthetics – home-made ‘thimble-tips’ fashioned from a leather jacket and a melted-down soap bottle – didn’t take the tension of bendy lead playing too well, leading him to experiment with thinner strings and slackened […]

 

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D Standard / Tone Down

D-G-C-F-A-D • OVERVIEW • Tuning ‘down a whole tone’ lowers overall string tension by around 20%, decreasing volume but allowing for wide bends, subtle vibratos, and an overall ease of fretting. Great for opening up electric-style melodic freedoms on the acoustic guitar – and for reducing strain on the hands.   According to Patterson Hood […]

 

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Eb Standard / Hendrix

Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb • OVERVIEW • Though immortalised by Hendrix in the late 60s, ‘half-step down’ has been in use for many centuries – both in its own right as a timbral/register choice, and as a natural way of breaking in new strings on virtually any lute-style instrument. Jimi himself had a mix of motivations:   The […]