Harvester Guitar!


Quick summaries of the sounds & ideas – & standard tuning notes at the end:


Magic Vertical Voicings

We can form fascinating harmonic sequences right up the neck with just two chord shapes: a minor (‘line’), and a major (‘triangle’). Here they are as a fretboard diagram – first, minor shapes (all blues), then major sequence (different shades of red). All open strings work throughout:

  • Minor: Theoretical names don’t matter much, but it’s worth knowing that these are from the E Dorian mode (‘natural minor with a major 6th’ = 1-2-b3-4-5-6-b7 = playing Dmaj but starting on the E). Coltrane’s all-time favourite scale.

  • Major: n.b. you can play the root notes with your middle finger for easier switching between ↑ and ↓ shapes:

  • Combined: it only looks messy when it’s outside your head…

  • Tab(lature): Same as above in tab – the guitar’s highly practical and near-universal notation system (tab actually predates staff notation by many centuries). Numbers = where to fret, with the 6str (lowest-pitched) at the bottom:


More Vertical Shapes

There are infinite variations on the above concept: ‘take a shape, move it up and down, see how it interacts with the open strings’. We also did this one, focused on the high-pitched strings (1-4str):

  • Symmetry: This sequence has some beautiful consonance and crunch to it (e.g. 5fr vs. 8fr shape). The moveable portion is pleasingly symmetrical, ‘reflecting’ itself around an imaginary line at ~5.5 frets – but the unchanging open strings shuffle everything up. Always about tension and release…


Place to Be

—Tuning: Alter the strings (low to high) by these semitones: [-2|0|0|0|-2|+2]

  • Nick Drake has a capo at 4, and brings out some strange harmonic magic by tuning a little messily. Tune the 1str carefully…


Chords: basically just these four on a loop, with embellishments (brackets = optional)

  • 0-0-0-2-0-0 | 0-0-4-0-0-0 | 2-2-2-0-0-0 | 0-2-0-0-(2)-0

  • And then for the end of each verse: 4-4-4-(2)-0-0 | 2-2-2-0-0-0




—Tuning: (0|0|0|-3|0|0)

  • Again, tuned messily with a high capo – but sounds great low too


—Chords: Lots of detail in the sequence, and (as usual) he changes shape at odd times in the bar. Start on darker colours, and move to lighter ones for the next bars:

  • 0-5-0-2-0-0 | 0-4-0-2-0-0 | 5-0-0-2-0-x | 4-0-0-2-0-x


A few general learning principles:

  • Listen to lots of different music: feed the brain with good sounds
  • Train the ear: this gives you the ‘toolbox’ to teach yourself any style
  • ‘Sing inside’ as you play: music is about emotions, not finger muscles
  • Experiment freely: constantly create your own patterns & variations
  • Enjoy it! Find fun in improvement…then mastery is no struggle

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.


Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!