• Gambale tuning •



A high-strung, Nashville-style reshuffle of the ‘Standard5>5>5>4>5 sequence – the whole guitar is raised up by a perfect 4th, and 1-2str are then lowered an octave from there (in relative terms: akin to capoing at 12fr, but only across 6-5-4-3str).


Developed by Australian fusion virtuoso Frank Gambale as part of a quest to capture his bandmate Chick Corea’s distinctive piano voicings – apparently via “messing with a Nashville tuning patch on a Roland VG-88”. He calls it a “revelation”, opening up close, keyboard-like chords and new 4, 5, and 6-note shapes.

Pattern: 5>5>5>(4)>5
Harmony: Amin7(11) | 1-4-b7-b3-5-1


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In Gambale’s words: “I love to hear piano chords…after a lot of work and research, I found this new tuning. I think it’s an important discovery: chords that were impossible with regular tuning are now possible“. Used for the first eight tracks of his 2003 Raison D’Etre album (Foreign Country, Cachination Bittersweet, Table for One, Nouveau Vignettes 1-3, Ka’anapali), as well as plenty of works since.


  • Table for One / tuning demo – Frank Gambale (2014):

“Mr. Gambale…seems so born to his instrument that it is simply part of his armature. His solos each had the same quality: unbelievable speed and clarity, attained through his sweep-picking technique, in which [the] picking hand scarcely seems to move. The band steamed through each tune” (NY Times)


If you discount octave-shufflings, ADGCEA also matches the main tuning of the Mexican guitarrón (‘large guitar’): a giant, fretless lute used in mariachi music, which helped to inspire the acoustic bass via the attention of Mr. Ernie Ball. In his words, “I always thought that if there were electric bass guitars to go with electric guitars, then you ought to have acoustic basses to go with acoustic guitars. The closest thing…was the Mexican guitarrón…so I bought one down in Tijuana and tinkered with it…”


  • Mariachi Guitarrón Solo – Chino @ MiVidaStrings (2012):

“This [guitarrón] has a distinctive timbre…warm and colorful. The large hollow-body, with the convex back, enhances the lower frequencies, thus producing a rich bass…The strings are of heavy gauge, and the tension is firm. An exceptional and specific left-hand technique is required to depress the strings…” (from West Music’s Guitarrón Overview)

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note A D G C E A
Alteration 5 5 5 5 -7 -7
Tension (%) (-) (-) (-) (-) -55 -55
Freq. (Hz) 110 147 196 262 165 220
Pattern (>) 5 5 5 4 5
Semitones 0 5 10 15 7 12
Intervals 1 4 b7 b3 5 1
  • 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…

  • Nashville (this +7): the more prolific transposition
  • Mi-composé: only octave-jumping a single string
  • Terz: raised arrangement based on a tiny guitar


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

  • Gambale’s guitar: more on the tuning on the GearPage forum – and also see interviews with Rick Beato, Troy Grady on picking, and Abstract Logix (“…his much-talked about new tuning invention will enable guitar players to play piano type chords…and play four chromatic notes simultaneously”), as well as a Live4Guitar profile (“Playing melodically through chord changes is one of the funnest things about music…I see harmony and theory in terms of colours, the more colours on the palate, the prettier the picture I can paint…”)
  • MIDI tunings: other guitarists, including Joni Mitchell and John McLaughlin, have also tried MIDI-guitar setups, allowing them to change tunings at the press of a button (Joni used a Roland VG-8, compared to Frank’s VG-88): check out a patch demo from Fishman Transducers (“You can create multiple patches in alternate tunings, and call them up instantly…you can play a song live, with sections in 5 different tunings on a single guitar, and switch seamlessly between them”)

Header image: Frank Gambale sweeps all before him

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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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