• OVERVIEW •
Whether by accident or design, countless guitarists have ended up tuning a semitone sharp of Standard. Doing so raises overall tension by ~12%: not enough to necessitate a restring, but still sufficient to give a fantastic volume boost. It will, however, limit bends, barres, and general melodic fluency (as well as tiring your hands out more quickly…).
Works best on lighter-strung, shorter-scale guitars (e.g Les Pauls will handle it slightly better than Strats). And, while you could just use a 1fr capo to produce the same notes, this has the drawback of confusing your ‘dot-marker perspective’ – all the neck markings are thrown ‘one off’ (i.e. the 3/5/7/9/12fr dots, when capoed, become 2/4/6/8/11fr: a dissonant mismatch if you momentarily forget to recalibrate!).
Harmony: Fm7(11) | 1-4-b7-b3-5-1
• TUNING TONES •
• SOUNDS •
Luther Perkins is probably the most prominent F-tuner from guitar history – the Tennessee Three axeman used it to accompany Johnny Cash on countless occasions. (Oddly, this may have been in response to how low Cash’s voice could go: my guess is that playing in F allowed him to reach the key’s bass-octave 5th, a C2 tone lying right at the bottom of his range, e.g. audible here – perhaps EADGBE‘s equivalent B2 note was a stretch too far?).
Uses are generally difficult to identify (chiefly due to its similarities to a 1fr capo), although Nirvana are known to have wound to F on Love Buzz (apparently without conscious intention) – and it also seems to have been used by Varg Vikernes on early Burzum releases (although the Norwegian black metaller has since become better known for, umm, other work).
- Walk the Line @ Town Hall Party – Johnny Cash (1958):
“Perkins…was not a professional…but a mechanic who played guitar a hobby. Nailing his playing style is a great lesson in minimalism, because Luther never played any wild solo parts or fancy chords…” (Dirk Wacker)
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• NUMBERS •
- 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!
• RELATED •
—Associated tunings: proximities of shape, concept, context, etc…
- AirTap!: a tense-sided arrangement of an F major triad
- Albert Collins Fm (this with 4/5str +2): tight-wound wails
- Zigzag Thirds (Min.): flipping up the thirds from an F root
• MORE INFO •
—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…
- F Standard: check out a tension discussion on the Acoustic Guitar Forum (“…retain perspective with the fret markers, instead of capoing and losing them as references…a half-step will not hurt the guitar, unless [it’s] made of balsar wood…”)
- Luther Perkins: emulate his sound with the aptly-named Dirk Wacker in Premier Guitar (“So, what does ‘boom-chicka-boom’ style mean? It’s an onomatopoetic word, similar to the fast, stomping tone from a freight train in motion. Several urban legends exist about how Luther Perkins developed this tone…”)
Header image: Luther Perkins with Johnny Cash (~1966)
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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