• I Only Said tuning •



Used by so-called ‘shoegaze’ pioneers My Bloody Valentine on I Only Said, from 1991’s Loveless (well…we’re almost 100% sure: sometimes it’s hard to know through the swirling fog of pedal effects). Features huge leaps and stark tension differentials, enabling frontman Kevin Shields to bring out drone-stretching microtonal effects with the whammy bar.


It rings strong and consonant despite these seeming angularities, forming a balanced G6/9 voicing if you root from the unison G pair (3+2str). Surprisingly quick to adapt to – note-wise it’s like ‘Standard with the D removed’ [tones: E,A,G,B]. Appears to be mystifyingly rare aside from MBV’s famous use, despite being relatively easy to reach (…in fact, I can’t find any other definite instances on record).

Pattern: 5>2>8>0>9
Harmony: G6/9 | 6-2-3-1-1-6


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Sometimes used to open the group’s live sets, I Only Said – track six from Loveless – is among MBV‘s most guitar-driven songs. In a 1992 feature on the band (Bloody Guy), my Guitar World fellow Alan DiPerna asked Kevin Shields about the making of I Only Said. They had this to say:


“Sometimes, Shields ends up reinventing the wheel as a result of his carefully cultivated artlessness in the studio. There’s the case of what sounds a heck of a lot like a wah-wah pedal on I Only Said…’What that actually is…is a guitar through this strange Seymour Duncan amplifier that’s got a graphic equalizer preamp. I just had 1kHz really overdriven through it. So you get this honky guitar sound that automatically gives you a wah-wah effect, especially when you use the tremolo arm. But what really made it sound like some kind of wah pedal was that, after recording it, I was bounced it to another track through a parametric equalizer. And as I was bouncing, I was chasing chords and stuff like that, twisting the EQ knob in real time…“.


  • I Only Said – My Bloody Valentine (1991):

“See you there, run away, you said,
To go you were there, you were there,
To lay underneath the red sky there,
To lay under her, I want her there…”


Some great covers of the track also exist – including a sliding, fusion-inclined take from Japancakes, and a tasty solo piano rework from Walt Wagner. Plus, MBV’s original was sampled by Stratus in Uplink.


  • I Only Said (solo piano) – Walt Wagner (2016):

“Songs and music are so simple in many ways. But there’s a special ingredient that you have no control over, which is just playing something because you enjoy it. It’s very simple and very obvious, but it can actually sort of get the music to work. Whereas if you contrive something…it doesn’t seem to have that magic ingredient anymore…” (Kevin Shields)

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note E A B G G E
Alteration 0 0 -3 0 -4 0
Tension (%) 0 0 -29 0 -37
Freq. (Hz) 82 110 123 196 196 330
Pattern (>) 5 2 8 0 9
Semitones 0 5 7 15 15 24
Intervals 6 2 3 1 1 6
  • 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…

  • Fuji: also has a G-G 2-3str unison, but flips to minor
  • Road: Drake brings a similar proximity to standard
  • Ali Farka Touré: another G6/9, differently stacked


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

  • I Only Said: to get further into the guitar parts, check out Shaun Lockwood’s video lesson (plus a good tab based on his arrangement), and Sparky Guitar’s neat playthrough, and to witness the band play in full force, see a 1991 version, live in London – and to learn about Loveless‘ original reception, see the Alan DiPerna Guitar World feature from 1992 (“Guitars sputter and wobble like a melted data disk flung from an exploding starship. But somewhere in the din, traces of human life are detectable: pop melodies! It’s like hearing pop music for the first time, the way a visitor from another planet might hear it”)
  • MBV’s tunings: learn more about their madcap layouts in my Altered-tuned Artists article – and for fuller listings, check out the heroic compilation efforts of Reddit user mbvtunings4u, as well as surrounding discussion on the Simple Machines forum (“I listened for drone notes, tuned the highest strings accordingly, and then tried to figure out the remaining notes on each chord. I did have some help on a few from Kevin’s former roadie…”)

Header image: MBV’s Bilinda Butcher takes the mic

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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