Tuning, though a universal guitaristic experience, rarely gets its dues. Few other instruments give as much freedom to choose a ‘starting canvas’ – unlike a piano, horn, or drum, the guitar can move fluidly between different tunings, opening up fresh geometries and spaces of the imagination at every turn. And, many facets of musical learning are unique to these zones…
The ‘World of Tuning‘ explores how we can get the most out of our peg-twisting rituals. Stemming from my Guitar World lesson series, the project examines tuning horizons from multiple musical angles: practical, harmonic, historic, social, scientific, spiritual, and so forth. We take a global view, incorporating ideas from a worldwide variety of string traditions – India, Hawaii, Madagascar, Mali, and beyond…
Menu of Tunings (100+) • Altered-tuned artists • Divine Indian drones • Global instrument tunings • Joni’s stringed canvas • Alpha-melodic games • Double-sided harp-capoing • Tales & quotes • Megatable: hidden relations • Glossary • Submissions • About • Feedback
“There’s perhaps no better guide to alternate tunings than George Howlett’s ‘World Of Tuning’: with its compendium of 100 tunings, each helpfully accompanied by recorded samples, details on the intervallic relationships between strings, and bios of the guitarists who invented or popularised them…” (The Wire: Unofficial Channels, Aug 2022)
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How can we best utilise our tune-up time? Why don’t we choose our starting notes as we do our chords? What can we find in the guitar’s under-explored microtonal capabilities? And which global traditions offer unique insights?
• Menu of Altered Tunings (100+) •
In-depth database: ‘Palate expander’ of 6-string tunings from around the world – with notes, songs, origin tales, etc (see Tag List):
Std. | Drop | Open | Interval | Global | Artist | Misc.
“An intrepid guitar researcher has assembled a list of over 100 tunings (and he’s just getting started…). Stuck for ideas? Feeling uninspired? Not sure how to relight your six-string spark? George Howlett’s comprehensive collection of global tunings is sure to help!” (Guitar World, Dec 2022)
EADGBE (‘Standard’) | Eb Std. (‘Hendrix’) | D Std. (‘Tone Down’) | Db Std. (‘Iommi’) | C Std. (‘Two-Tone Drop’) | B Std. (‘Baritone’) | F Std. (‘Raise’) | G Std. (‘Terz’) | Drop D | Double-Drop D | Drop C (‘Neon’) | Low Drop C | Drop A (‘Slack Thwack’) | Dmaj (‘Vestapol’) | Dmin (‘Bentonia’) | Dsus (‘DADGAD’) | Gmaj (‘Taro Patch’) | Gmin (‘Banjo Minor’) | Gsus (‘Sawmill’) | Cmaj (‘Wide Major’) | Cmin (‘Wide Minor’) | Csus (‘Wide Modal’) | Amaj (‘Spanish’) | Emaj (‘Vestapol’) | Emin (‘Cross-Note’) | Fmaj (‘Low Taro’) | Fmin (‘Low Banjo’) | All Min. 3rds (‘3s’) | All Maj. 3rds (‘4s’) | All Fourths (‘5s’) | All Tritones (‘6s’) | All Fifths (‘7s’) | All Min. 6ths (‘8s’) | AirTap! | Albert Collins’ Fm | Albert King’s F6 | Ali Farka Touré | Alphabet | Atta’s C | Bağlama (‘Saz’) | Banjo | Black Crow | Blown a Wish | Bruce Palmer | Cabbage | Carnatic Drone | Cello (‘Haircut’) | Charango | Coyote | Dracula | Drop DG | Ead-Gad | Equilibrium | Ethereal | Fuji | Funky Avocado | Gambale | Ghost Reveries | Godzilla | Gothic | Haja’s Bb | Hejira | I Only Said | Icarus | Iris | Jack’s Chikari | José González | Kabosy (‘Leonard’s C’) | Karnivool | Keola’s C (‘Wahine’) | Lefty Flip (‘Mirrored’) | Lute (‘Vihuela’) | Magic Farmer | Math Rock F | Mauna Loa C6 | Mesopotamian | Mi-composé (‘Elenga’) | Nashville | New Standard (‘Fripp’s NST’) | One-Tone Drone (‘Ostrich’) | Only Shallow | Orkney | Oud (Arabic) | Oud (Turkish) | Overtone Series | Papa-Papa | Papuan Four-Key | Pink Moon | Place to Be | Rakotomavo | Road | Schizophrenia | Square-Neck Dobro | Teardrop | Ten Years (‘Decade’) | Wind of Change | Yvette’s Dadd9 | Zen Drone (‘Dulcimeric’) | Zigzag Thirds (Maj.) | Zigzag Thirds (Min.)
• Altered-tuned artists: 13 innovators •
Prominent peg-twisters: A haphazard selection of global guitarists who have twirled at their headstocks to great effect…
Joni | Drake | Hedges | Pahinui | Page | Martyn | Mongrain | McKee | Gomm | Howard | D’Gary | Sonic Youth | MBV | More
• Global instruments: intriguing tunings •
Worldwide configurations: Look to global tunings for new inspiration – Indian sitars, Malian koras, Balinese gamelan, etc
Sitar | Kora | Santoor | Hang | Hardingfele | Gamelan | Tabla | Jaltarang | Well-tuned piano | Jaw harp | Palaeolithic flutes | Vocal cords | More
• Tanpuras: 26 divine Indian drones •
Longform drones: Heighten your overtonal awareness and inject psychedelic jam texture – HQ tanpura samples in all keys
Sa-Pa | Sa-ma | Alternates | Role | Mysticism | Origins | Build | Mechanics | Today
• Joni Mitchell’s 6-stringed canvas •
Lesson article: How does Joni’s ‘colour palette’ approach to tuning and songwriting draw from her lifelong passion for painting?
Early sparks | Hejira | Dulcimers | Joni’s paintings | This Flight Tonight
• ‘Alpha-melodics’: well-tuned words •
Linguistic layouts: What do spelling-derived tunings reveal? Beautiful BAGDAD, crunchy CABbAGE, dissonant DECADE…
Alphabet-melody | Guitar games | Challenge | Examples | Global word-music
• ‘Double-siding’: a DIY harp-capo hack •
Dark sides of the strings: Tune to DADGAD, capo at 11fr, and pluck on ‘both sides of the bar’ for some ethereal 12-string magic
Accidental discovery | Two-faced fretboards | DADGAD cp.11 | Capo+tuning combos | Third bridge guitar | Global instruments | Questions
• Tuning tales, quotes, & musings •
Direct insights: A slap-dash selection, from mosquito romance and wolf-howl illusions to death-legends of the Norwegian fiddle
Guitarists | Global traditions | Science & nature | Microtonalism | Misc.
• Crowdsourced Tunings: Reader Submissons •
Audience submissions: More tunings sent in by readers, spanning open minors, partial capos, differential 12-strings, etc…
e.g. Winston | Nagy | Querol | Ramsby | James
• Glossary: tuning terms & definitions •
Conceptual clarity: Solidify your vibratory understanding with plain-term definitions, analogies, audio clips, & more
e.g. Anti-Pythagorean | Beau Geste effect | Binaural beats | Consonance | Hz | Imperfect root | Inharmonicity | Lefty involution | Magic temperament | Maqam | Meantone | Nada brahma | Non-octave scale | Overtone | Paucitonality | Pitch | Raga | Tetrachord | Tritave | Tuning | Undertone | Wolf fifth | Xenharmonic
• Megatable: hidden interrelations •
Comparison spreadsheet: Analysing all 100+ Menu tunings – intervals, tensions, Hz, etc. Please peer-review my DIY science!
Megatable | Basic dimensions | Generative fields | Other calculations
• Feedback: ideas & corrections •
Submit feedback: Help ‘tune’ the World of Tuning – send in your ideas, suggestions, corrections, etc (all credited!)
Also hit me up for online lessons!
More soon: e.g. ear tuning, overtone scales, microtonal tweaks, spiritual & scientific dimensions, etc (click to expand)…
• [Tuning by ear: the best methods] •
Self-reliance: How to mix chords, melodies, harmonics, & fretmatches – and warm up your ears, hands, & musical mind
Why tune by ear? | Overview | Fret-matching | Melodic phrases | Chordal checks | Natural harmonics | Combinations | Considerations | More
• [James Taylor’s string-stretching puzzle] •
Tuning puzzle: Can we accurately reach his microtonal ‘stretch’ without a tuner? And what is ‘inharmonicity’ all about?
Stretched tunings | What is inharmonicity? | The puzzle | Solution: basic beating | Solution: beat pairing | Evaluation | Practicals | More
• [Overtonal scales: invisible geometries] •
Natural harmonic sequences: Uncovering the hidden patterns of the ‘fretless fretboard’ via my ‘overtonal scale explorer’
Invisible fretboards | Techniques | Exploration methods | Overtonal scale sequencer | Discoveries | Global natural harmonics | Expanding the search
• [Microtonal guitar: the infinite spaces] •
Off-grid intervals: How can we harness the guitar’s expansive microtonal capabilities? Between the frets, around the world…
What is microtonality? | Necessary imperfection | Stretching | Sweetening | Going fretless | n-edo | Çoğulu’s designs | Quarter-tones | Overtones | Raga sruti | Meantone | Freestyle | In the studio | Ear training | More
• [Tuning: the ‘impatient meditation’] •
Multimedia essay: Examining tuning from multiple perspectives: Vedic myth to modern neuroscience via anti-colonial Andean folk
Tuning through time | Hawaii to the Himalayas | Nada brahma | Ritual dimensions | Global tuning metaphysics | What’s the point? | More
Open-access, ad-free pledge: This was mainly a labour of love/obsession – and it’s not really ‘my’ knowledge anyway…I’m just the messenger, or maybe the database admin (more about the thinking behind the project here). If you want to support me, hit me up for online lessons: passion projects don’t, as yet, pay all the bills!
George Howlett | Rāga Junglism
— rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’ —
Search the Altered Tunings Menu (100+): type in notes, artists, adjectives, intervals, sequences, etc. Also see Tag List:
George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Home & Writings, and hit me up for Online Lessons!
“An intrepid guitar researcher…”
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