• OVERVIEW •
Use the ‘slack thwack’ to access the bass guitar register in your lead playing (well, all but the very lowest 5 tones of it). Tuning the 6str right down to A – downwards a perfect 5th – will likely bring a strange buzz…but opens up some unique textures and grooves. Some guitars will handle it better than others (see ‘inharmonicity‘) – give it a try on yours!
The huge width exceeds that of a normal-tuned 7-string, and the low-string separation is somewhat reminiscent of a harp guitar. And to extend the general ‘one-twist‘ idea to other keys: just tune Standard‘s 6str down to your chosen root, and see where it leads…there’s real jam freedom here (you can also wind it upwards: e.g. see Ali Farka Touré tuning).
Harmony: A9(sus4) | 1-1-4-b7-2-5
• TUNING TONES •
• SOUNDS •
Antonio Forcione’s nylon-string trickery on Acoustic Revenge is hands-down the best slack-thwack showcase I’ve yet come across (although he doesn’t actually go overly loose: “I use extra hard tension on the bottom E…[it] has to hold”). No doubt about it, Forcione is one of the most fun guitarists I’ve ever witnessed live…
Also used on Bangers + Mash (Jonny Greenwood), Caligulove (Josh Homme), No One Loves Me and Neither Do I (Them Crooked Vultures), Citizen Erased (Muse), Moor (Every Time I Die), Sorceress (Opeth), Strat Riff (Bluffalo) – and in solo jazz by Jeffery Matz (Stella by Starlight). Plus Jon Gomm‘s Crazy Jonny (direct from the tuning list he sent me).
- Acoustic Revenge – Antonio Forcione (2000):
“I care about the excitement of a live performance as much as I do about the intensity and details of a studio recording. I just hope my audiences wear good lenses on their ears – and on their hearts too!” (Antonio Forcione)
Also, check out a few highlights from the history of the actual harp guitar – an instrument which, despite a recent internet-driven resurgence, long predates the advent of recorded sound (although the ‘harp’ name is a more recent addition). For some gems from soon after the microphones did arrive, listen to George N. Dudley (who recorded with the mandolin-banjo Ossman-Dudley Trio in Jan 1906), Alfred Karnes (a Baptist minister who used one to preach around Tennessee in the 1920s), and Pasquale Taraffo (a breathtaking Italian virtuoso who toured the globe with his custom-designed axe in 1928-9: watch below!).
In fact, Michael Hedges’ iconic harpwork of the mid-1980s was recorded on an 11-string model built way back in 1922 (he spotted it “on the wall of the Satterlee & Chapin guitar store in San Francisco…immediately thought, ‘That’s for me!’…and purchased [it] for $350: less than the cost of the custom case [to] take it on the road”). For other modern harp-guitar stars, watch Muriel Anderson, Andy McKee, and Jamie Dupuis (n.b. Also see an altogether different guitar-to-harp hack in my article Double-siding: capo your guitar into a 12-string harp).
- Stefania – Pasquale Taraffo (1928):
“[Taraffo] was finding Europe confining, and…[left] in Sep 1925, on the steamship Re Vittorio, for Buenos Aires [a voyage of around a fortnight]. Once there, alone and without help, he met members of the press and the theater and had them listen to his playing. Within a very short time, his concerts were being joyfully received…Enthusiastic headlines at the time defined him as ‘the best of all’, and ‘the erupting volcano of technique’…” (Miner & Ghisalberti, Taraffo: The World’s Greatest Harp Guitar Virtuoso)
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:
…and hasten the project’s expansion…
—Documenting more altered tunings—
—Further harmonic & melodic analysis—
—Engaging with peg-twisting guitarists—
—Ensuring that high-quality guitar knowledge will remain open to all, at no cost: free from commercial motive!—
Insights to share? Get in touch!
• 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…
- Drop D (this with 6str +5): the classic low shift
- Drop C (this with 6str +3): another low-dropper
- Equilibrium: why not slacken the 6str further?
• MORE INFO •
—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…
- Antonio Forcione: an interview with Sound Rebels, and another one with MusicRadar (with an accompanying guitar lesson) – plus a short clip of him chatting and playing his nylon-string (“it’s not about technique, it’s about…the capacity to connect when you are playing, being totally absorbed…”)
- Harp guitar histories: read about the earliest known designs on the incredible Harp Guitars site (featuring the “infamous painting The Theorbo Player [c.1611] by Antiveduto Grammatica, [with] the fingering of what looks like a difficult Cmin guitar chord”, as well as reports of “an aristocratic Buckinghamshire lad who went to France, where, in 1650, his teacher apparently had a 5-course guitar retrofitted for extra floating basses…”)
Header image: Antonio Forcione (left) & Adriano Adewale (right)
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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