Crowdsourced Tunings: Reader Submissions & More

 


Audience submissions: Fascinating ideas sent in since the World of Tuning‘s late-2022 launch – plus further insights gleaned via discussions with artists, theorists, researchers, etc. Eventually I’ll collate these new tunings into the Menu (along with some of the 200-300 more in my rough notes!)


SEND IN YOUR TUNINGS! •

  • George Winston: Archipegalic tips from a true slack-key expert
  • Bob Nagy: Self-devised high-strung ‘part-Nashville’ variants
  • Paul Querol: Extending the harmonies of the Open C family
  • Andy Latham: Other melodious Orkney-adjacent variants
  • James DS: Exploring the bounds of so-called ‘ugly tunings’
  • Caleb Ramsby: Fresh approaches to high-tension electric F
  • More: Full list of correspondences & input from collaborators

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• George Winston •

Archipegalic tips from a true slack-key expert [Sep 2022]


“Aloha George! Yes, I agree that [Open G & Drop D] are currently the most-used tunings in Hawaiian slack-key. I think next on the list would be Open D…and DADGAD and DADF#BE are becoming more popular too. Also, here are some tunings used by Polynesian guitarists (mahalo to Dennis Ladd for this info!). Though Samoan fingerstyle [known as ‘ini] isn’t played as much towards the end of the 20th century, guitarist Vainu’u Tu’igale’ava has used at least six tunings…”

  • ‘Standard’ (x-A-D-G-B-E): “Called ‘Ki Sepaniolo‘ (meaning ‘Spanish’ or ‘Standard tuning’), mainly played in the key of C…” [n.b. ‘5-course ADGBE’ is also the direct ancestor of our ‘European EADGBE’: see my Standard-tuned history page for more]:

  • Gmaj (x-G-D-G-B-D): “Called ‘Ki Tu Fa‘ (probably meaning ‘Fourth Position Key’)…” [=’5-string Open G‘: which also happens to be one of Keith Richards‘ all-time favourites]:

  • Gmaj7 (x-F-D-G-B-D): “Called ‘Sui Ki A Le Ki Tu Fa‘ (‘Slack-Key of the Open G’: ‘sui’ means ‘change’ or ‘weaken’, which can also be taken to mean ‘slack’)…” [=’5-string Open G with 5str-2′]:

  • Dmaj7 ‘Repentance’ (x-A-D-F#-A-C#): “A Wahine [Maj. 7th] tuning sometimes called ‘Ki Salamo‘ (and also called ‘Repentance Tuning’)…” [=’5-string Open D with 1str-1′]:

  • C6 ‘Mauna Loa’ (x-G-C-G-A-E): “Called ‘Sui Ki Maualuga‘ (or ‘High Slack-Key’) – with its distinctive sound of the 4str tuned down to C. Leonard Kwan also used it, except with [6str] tuned down to a low C, on Pau Pilikia” [=’5-string C6 Mauna Loa]:

  • C6 ‘Maualuga’ (x-G-C-G-A-C): “Called ‘Sui Ki Maualuga‘, but also referred to as ‘Low Slack-Key’…” [=’5-string Open C with 1str-4′]:

  • Winston also tells of “an undocumented [Samoan] tuning called ‘Ki Tu Lua‘, also referred to as ‘Second Position Key’…perhaps an F Wahine [x-F-C-G-C-E] or Dmaj [x-A-D-F#-A-D], or a Cmaj-based tuning such as [x-G-C-G-C-E]” – as well as highlighting other Pacific traditions: “On the Cook Islands, solo guitar playing is called ki amoa…literally meaning ‘early in the morning’, the favorite time to play (especially on the island of Aitutaki) – as documented by Hawaiian slack-key guitarist, composer, and mariner Carlos Andrade…” [Half the world away: compare to North India’s morning-specific ragas such as Ahir Bhairav. And see Winston’s excellent Slack Key Info Booklet!]

  • Further afield, he recommends Botswanan guitarist Ronnie Moipolai, “who plays in Open D, usually tuned up 3 semitones to F [F-C-F-A-C-F]. His guitars can have 4, 5, or 6 strings, set (if in D) in the order D-F#-A-D” [‘1-3-5-1’ = an uninverted major triad]:


  • Catch That Flame – Tim Arnold (2022):

“The lockdowns have been tough on musicians…I began to revisit the 13-year-old child that had cast spells alone in his room to the sounds of Michael Hedges…I wanted to bathe in that sound again…I listened to the records, and the pure innocence, hope, and belief of a better future all came flooding back. I was excited, and wanted to connect…” (Tim Arnold: Maybe Magic)


  • Finally, Winston singles out his (possible) all-time favourite altered-tuned track: “the South African song Isoka Labaleka, by the great ‘Blind Man and His Guitar’…He plays melody and bass simultaneously, answering melodies using drone phrases with two strings playing the same note. He is possibly tuned to Open G, up a half step [Eb-Ab-Eb-Ab-C-Eb], and using only the five highest pitched strings. I discovered it on a compilation of South African pieces I bought in the mid-80s…so powerful and so moving – I can feel his humanity, his very soul…a whole encyclopedia, a whole world in three minutes…”:

  • Isoka Labaleka – ‘Blind Man and His Guitar’ (~1980s):

“African Acoustic Solo Guitar: [feat.] Jean Bosco Mwenda, Pascal Diatta, Ali Farka Toure, D’Gary, Solorazaf, Erick Manana, Stephen Tsotsi Kasumali, Herbert Misango, Boubacar Traore, Habib Koite, Djelimady Tounkara, Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck…and Ronnie Moipolai from Botswana (playing with 5 strings in FxACFF)…And the great ‘Blind Man and His Guitar‘: who plays one wonderful solo instrumental piece called Isoka Labaleka [from] the out-of-print anthology cassette SOUTH AFRICAN JIVE, VOL.4” (Dancing Cat Records)


• Bob Nagy •

Self-devised high-strung ‘part-Nashville’ variants [Jul 2022]


“I have three tunings which are basically modifications of Nashville, plus one for 12-string…I wanted to explore what Frank Gambale did, but ‘improve’ it in these ways: 1) Keep the guitar tuned to the notes EADGBE. 2) Keep any wound strings in the bass. 3) Retain enough ‘normalcy’ for melodic playing, within limits. 4) Keep string-to-string pitch increasing linearly, within limits…” [i.e. a disinclination for re-entrance]

  • Ė-A-Ḋ-G-B-E (‘Nagy1’): “Strings 1,2,3,5 are tuned as normal, and strings 4,6 are raised an octave…” [i.e. a ‘half-Nashville‘ layout: also see E-A-Ḋ-G-B-E, a ‘quarter-Nashville’ tuning used by Congolese virtuoso Zacharie ‘Jhimmy the Hawaiian’ Elenga in the 1950s]:

  • Ė-Ȧ-Ḋ-G-B-E (‘Nagy2’): “Strings 1-3 are tuned as normal, and strings 4-6 are raised an octave. I believe this has also been called ‘High-Strung‘ tuning…” [it has indeed! As per Sweetwater: “High-Strung…sounds different from Nashville: it can’t be used [for] a true ’12-string’ effect…overall, a less ‘chiming’ and ‘mandolin-like’ sound”. Although Billy Gibbons chose to call the same layout ‘Cheater’s 12‘ while using it on ZZ Top’s 1979 Deguello album]:

  • Ė-Ȧ-D-G-B-E (‘Nagy3’): “Strings 1-4 are tuned as normal, and strings 5-6 are raised an octave [=another ‘half-Nashville]. The higher four strings, unchanged from Standard, allow for natural melodic playing…and with the octave-transposed strings 5-6, it has enough harmonic complexity to allow cluster voicings. Therefore, the same guitar can be used for both cluster chords and melodic lines. I find Nagy3 tuning to be the most useful…”:


  • Etude In Weird Tuning – Bob Nagy (1998):

• Paul Querol •

Extending the harmonies of Open C [Dec 2022]


“A couple of tunings I play in: these are similar to Open Cm (‘Wide Minor’) and Open C (‘Wide Major’), which I also use a lot…but turns them into Cm7 and Cmaj7 chords. I used to play them in C, but have drifted to Ab with thicker strings to really plumb the depths. Don’t know if these are too underused to make it onto the list…” [definitely not: the rarer the better!]

  • Open Cm7 (7>5>7>3>5): With a C root (C-G-C-G-Bb-Eb) or an Ab root (Ab-Eb-Ab-Eb-Gb-B). Used by Querol on De Mi Ojos:

  • Open Cmaj7 (7>5>7>4>5): Also in C (C-G-C-G-B-E) or Ab (Ab-Eb-Ab-Eb-G-C). Used on Querol’s Henrietta’s Lament:

• Andy Latham •

Melodious Orkney-adjacent variants [Dec 2022]


“I use CGDACE pretty extensively. I really love ‘stacked 5ths’ chords, so those CGD notes really speak to me.” [Also, props for pointing out how much Sonic Youth‘s Thurston Moore loves the nearby Orkney tuning!]


  • Heart of Fool’s Gold – Andy Latham (2021):

• James DS •

Exploring the bounds of so-called ‘ugly tunings’… [Dec 2022]


“I have a few favorites…that I don’t think would make great additions…I don’t have any names for these, but hope you enjoy them nonetheless!” [I disagree with half of this, and agree with the other. Thus, listen below!]:

  • C#-A-C#-G#-A#-D# (8>4>7>2>5): “This one is actually very ugly…but I’ve written a lot of stuff in it. It works particularly well with partial capos covering 4 of the strings…” [Without a capo, it has a tantalisingly polytonal character. Also check out Ben Howard‘s use of partial capos, as well as my ‘Double-siding‘ article on capoing your guitar into a microtonal 12-string harp]:

  • D-A-D-G#-A-C# (7>5>6>1>4): “This is one I found myself, and really like…” [As do I! Essentially ‘DADGAD with 3str+1 and 1str-1′]:

  • C-G-D#-F-A#-D (7>8>2>5>4): [Another oddball arrangement, featuring a rare Minor 6th jump between 5>4str. Forms a wide-spread Cmin9(11) chord: also see other Minor 9th-flavoured tunings such as Godzilla, Gothic, and Zigzag Thirds]:

  • F-G#-D#-G-A#-D# (3>7>4>3>5): [A reshuffle of the above, with intervallic balance brought by ‘re-Standardising’ 3str back to G]:

• Caleb Ramsby •

Fresh approaches to high-tension electric F… [Jan 2023]


“I’ve been playing around with electric tunings which put significant tension on the strings (right now, Ernie Ball’s ‘Purple People Eater’ 11-48s). I like the resonance and feel of high tension, and have been using it to explore the curious relationship between the ‘1-5-7’ intervals, which are engaging in their own way…To this point, I’ve been messing around with Fmaj7 tunings…thought you might like these two…”

  • F-A-E-F-C-E (4>7>1>7>4): “Gives intervals ‘1-3-7-1-5-7′ – identical to above, but with 3str now lowered a tone rather than raised” [twists= ‘+1|•|+2|-2|+1|•’: including a tense, hemitonic ‘E>F’ jump in the middle, beautifully explored on Ramsby’s Fiery Earth (“With a more aggressive tone: I put asymmetrically loosely-placed magnets on my humbucker pickup to bring out some…curious harmonics, however, this also makes the guitar incredibly microphonic…”) n.b. For more F-rooted tunings, see Airtap, F Standard, F Math Rock, & Zigzag Thirds]:

• More Contributions •

Full list of project contributors (updated periodically):


  • Erik Mongrain: Fantastic, wide-ranging interviews from the virtuoso fingerstyler on his use of Airtap, Equilibrium, and Math Rock F tunings (Apr 2022: “Video game soundtracks help inspire [me], from old-school stuff to current-gen games: tracks from Witcher 3, World of Warcraft, Dragon Quest games from the 1990s…”). Also see Erik’s Altered-Tuned Artists listing.

  • Benn Jordan: Fascinating musico-pugilistic insights from the multimedia composer and amateur MMA fighter, also discussing the advantages and drawbacks of ‘learning left-handed’ in guitar and martial arts (Lefty Flip: “I used to fight southpaw, but a slap tear in my shoulder that made me switch. This resulted in really powerful left jabs, so I concentrated on switching stances…).

  • Jon Gomm: Further info from one of the world’s true fingerstyle innovators, specifically on his use of Open Fm and Kabosy – with more to follow soon (and, as a longtime admirer, I’m pleased to hear he’s finding joy from some of the project’s African tunings!). Also see Jon’s Altered-Tuned Artists listing.

  • Michael Astley-Brown: My editor at Guitar World helped to prompt this entire project, via asking me to put together an ‘Ultimate Tuning Guide‘ article in Dec 2019 – which soon grew into a huge set of rough notes on global tunings and assorted peg-winding concepts…resulting, 18 months later, in the World of Tuning (thanks for some open-minded commissioning)!

  • Jack Jennings: My fellow UK-based raga explorer ran over his method of replacing his Strat’s 6+5str with super-light high Ds, to imitate the ‘rhythm strings’ of the Hindustani sitar (see Jack’s Chikari: “A thicker G string works much better for bending – it gives you more pitch range before you run out of space…”).

  • William Sethares: The revered tuning theorist (he published the Alternate Tuning Guide), is referenced countless times throughout the project – also offering direct input on his various microtonal experiments, as well as encouragement for my site’s general direction and ethos (all credit to Bill for his similarly open-access approach to online musicology!)

  • Mark Claydon: Programmer, audio engineer, unclassifiable musical inventor, longtime aficionado of Pythagorean triangles in music, and friend of many years (who knows what I would have missed if not for his astonishingly broad range of musical questions: ranging from the profound to the playfully absurd…)

  • Tony Corman: Confirmed my biographical writeup of his curious ‘sax-to-guitar’ conversion path, induced by focal dystonia affecting his jaw muscles (as told on the All Major Thirds page) – as well as kind words of encouragement for the overall mission (“Sometimes it takes one of us nerding out for years to come up with something nourishing, in a new way…and I’m for it!”)

  • Ian Ring: Databasing inspiration and more from the composer and designer behind the amazing All the Scales website (for which I am an occasional ‘raga spelling consultant’).

  • Alfonso Calvo: Forthcoming research work on historical classical guitar tunings (more info to follow after publication in 2023…).

  • Chris Healey: Info on transcriptions on his excellent Nick Drake Tabs site – which, many years ago, really helped me get further into altered tuning…hence, the many Nick Drake listings here! (“Perhaps it’s a bit much to call BEBEBE ‘Drake’s Drone’? He doesn’t really use it as a drone…and I guess you could argue that AADEBE and GGDGBD might be worth a page, but I see you’ve already got AADGBE and DGDGBD…”)

  • Mitchell Zouzoinis: Volunteered clarifications on which songs fit the criteria in his FACGCE playlist (see Math Rock F).

  • Vincent Brown: Helpful feedback sent in concerning the site’s search functionality and intervallic listing methods, as well as highlighting several fresh tunings from guitarists already included for other work (e.g. Tim Collis of TTNG, and the Goo Goo Dolls’ John Rzeznik: who turns to D-A-E-A-E-E on Name, and Db-Ab-Db-Ab-Db-Db on Black Balloon, as well as the All Fourths-like F#-B-E-A-D-G# on Two Days In February, and the Pink Moon-adjacent D-A-D-G-D-D on Slide>).

  • Guitar Pro engineers: Generous technical clarifications from their sound designers on exactly how their excellent software emulates its guitar tones – used to hone the creation and mastering of all the project’s mp3 tuning clips (it’s flattering to know that so many of you assumed that these were ‘real’ guitar sounds I recorded myself: however, the string-set requirements of this process would have quickly bankrupted me, as well as tension-warping all my guitar necks within days…).


  • Many more: Including all of my own intrepid students! When it comes to tuning, there’s no harder challenge than keeping a full class of 25+ budget ukuleles in harmonious order while overexcited primary-age children constantly twirl at the pegs (I salute the direction of their curiosity…just not all at once!)

Thanks everyone! Keep the insights coming: if I haven’t replied yet, I will…


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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…”

(Guitar World interview)

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