• C6 (‘Mauna Loa’) tuning •



A C6 known in Hawaiian kī hō’alu (‘slack-key’) guitar as C ‘Mauna Loa’ – the name of the world’s largest active volcano, which has erupted non-stop since rising from the Pacific seabed over 400,000 years ago.


The tuning’s regular stack of three perfect 5ths brings a similarly balanced stability (6>5, 4>3, 2>1). Popularised by the great Honolulu master Gabby Pahinui from the 1940s onwards, and since used by others in the archipelago and beyond.

Pattern: 7>5>7>2>7
Harmony: C6 | 1-5-1-5-6-3




Various Hawaiian artists – notably slack-string legend Philip Kunia ‘Gabby’ Pahinui (Mauna Loa), who rose to stardom after a tough upbringing in Honolulu’s impoverished Kaka-ako district. He left school young to shine shoes and sell newspapers on the street corner – whereas today, his own children (including Cyril Pahinui) tour the world, continuing his sonic legacy in style. Also used on Stoll (Fahey).


(Plenty of other pieces are in ‘Old Mauna Loa‘ C – e.g. Keola Beamer’s E Ku’u Morning Dew. Old Mauna Loa, a.k.a. ‘Niihau’, also lowers 1str by a tone (C-G-C-G-A-D) – although the phrase ‘Old Mauna Loa’ is also used more generally to refer to a category of Hawaiian tunings: any that have an adjacent maj. 6th and maj. 2nd pair, with the 6th being the lower of the two notes – in this case, the A-D pair. ‘Normal’ Mauna Loa does not satisfy this condition.)


  • Mauna Loa – Gabby Pahinui (1978):


6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note C G C G A E
Alteration -4 -2 -2 0 -2 0
Tension (%) -37 -21 -21 0 -21 0
Freq. (Hz) 65 98 131 196 220 330
Pattern (>) 7 5 7 2 7
Semitones 0 7 12 19 21 28
Intervals 1 5 1 5 6 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…

  • Teardrop (this +2, but 1str left at E): booming nylon tuning
  • Atta’s C: another Hawaiian Cmaj layout, differently shuffled
  • Rakotomavo: a slack C11 from another innovative guitar island


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

  • Gabby Pahinui’s musicality: read a RootsWorld interview with his son Cyril and fellow slack-key master Ledward Kaapana (“Cyril…recalls his younger days on Oahu: ‘the families used to get together, backyard jam and party! Invite family and friends and start creating music’. In this way, the youngsters could look on and listen to the old hands and learn almost by osmosis…”)
  • Mauna Loa & other flamin’ mountains: start with soaring footage from National Geographic, and a rundown of other local volcanoes – and, since we’re examining the origin of Hawaiian tunings, why not check out Scientific American‘s explanation of how Hawaii itself came to be?


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rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and other global improvised traditions. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them. Site above, follow below, & hit me up for…


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Dedicated to Nigel Tufnel – a true tuning connoisseur

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