• Cello (‘Haircut’) tuning •



While the highest two strings of this tuning are left as Standard, the rest are ‘widened’ in range to form a stack of perfect 5ths across 6-5-4-3str – thus matching the tuning of a cello. The treble side also gives open-string access to the next 5th in the sequence: between 3-1str (i.e. just skip out 2str) – resulting in six different notes in total.


The tuning’s characteristic ‘low-side widening’ leads to a redistribution of string tension: get to know the differing resistances by moving step-by-step from the slack-bass 6str to the ultra-tight 3str (maybe consider transposing downwards for snap-safety). Sometimes nicknamed ‘Haircut’ after featuring on Pavement’s Cut Your Hair.

Pattern: 7>7>7>2>5
Harmony: Cmaj9(13) | 1-5-2-6-7-3


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Cut Your Hair, the lead single from Pavement’s 1994 album Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, remains among their most intriguing tracks. Writing for Glide, Daniel Couch describes it as “an anti-single: that functions as an anthem of disavowal of their own fame, and reminds fans of their own complicity in a music industry that fosters reactive, passive listening”.


To me, there’s definitely a touch of self-referential rage to the song: maybe because Pavement – up to then a famously indie-hearted, independent-labelled group – had just signed a distribution deal with the uber-corporate Warner Elektra Atlantic. Couch summarises: “It’s not a stretch to read Cut Your Hair as…openly critical of the celebrated buzz bands of the era. However, Pavement’s own rise in popularity at the time of the album’s release complicates the interpretation“. Fittingly or otherwise, it remains their best-known track nearly three decades later.


  • Cut Your Hair – Pavement (1994):

“Advertiser looks and chops a must,
‘No big hair!’
Songs mean a lot when songs are bought,
And so are you,
Face right down to the practice room,
Attention and fame’s a career…”


Pavement may also have used CGDABE on Filmore Jive – while other explorers include the Foo Fighters (Weenie Beenie), Oxbow/Niko Wenner (The Valley, Frank’s Frolic), and peg-twirling jazz innovator Carl Kress (e.g. Helena & Peg Leg, both down a tone: also see All Fifths).


Kevin Wilmeth of the CraftyGrass blog describes its “interesting attributes…as a general-purpose tuning…5ths-based scales available on five strings, [plus] all the advantages of the DGAD relationship…partial-capo options [offer] a great deal of flexibility with these tones, while retaining the ability to play up-the-neck”.


  • Frank’s Frolic (live) – Oxbow (2011):

“Drivers try not to let drivers drive,

While drivers are driving drunk as popes,

But rifling through my pants,

For the cigarettes that I don’t smoke…”

Like everything on my site, the World of Tuning will always remain 100% open-access and ad-free: however, anti-corporate musicology doesn’t pay the bills! I put as much into these projects as time and finances allow – so, if you like them, you can:

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note C G D A B E
Alteration -4 -2 0 2 0 0
Tension (%) -37 -21 0 +26 0 0
Freq. (Hz) 65 98 147 220 247 330
Pattern (>) 7 7 7 2 5
Semitones 0 7 14 21 23 28
Intervals 1 5 2 6 7 3
  • See my Tunings Megatable for further such nerdery: more numbers, intervallic relations, comparative methods, etc. And to any genuine vibratory scientists reading: please critique my DIY analysis!


—Associated tunings: proximities of shape, concept, context, etc…


—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…

  • Pavement: more on the indie pioneers in a Stereogum overview of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, song selections from the Guardian, and the triple-length film retrospective Slow Century – plus Daniel Couch’s Glide article quoted from above (“My son and his younger sister skipped around…their arms pumping up and down as if they were throwing tiny handfuls of confetti in the air. Cut Your Hair came on, and my son began to sing along. The ‘Haircut Song’, as he calls it, was a new addition to our bedtime playlist. When he blissfully belted out ‘hesitate to die’, my wife shot me a sharp look…”)
  • Cello-tuned roots: listen to some oldskool classical cello at its finest (e.g. Pablo Casals playing the Bach Suites), as well as some modern transglobal fusions (Saskia Rao-de Haas reworking the Hindustani Raag Bhimpalasi) – and find out about the instrument’s origins via a Vienna Symphonic overview (“The violoncello was originally also known as the violoncino. What both terms share is a linguistic paradox: a diminutive form (cello, cino) is added to an augmentative (violone = large viola). Violoncello literally means nothing more than ‘small-large viola’. In spite of this paradox, the Italian name was adopted throughout Europe from 1700 onward…”)

Header image: Pavement’s Cut Your Hair single (1994)

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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