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Alternate Guitar Tuning

Alternate guitar tuning can really broaden your sonic horizons. For beginners especially, it's an extremely fast way to get an almost instant different sound.

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Alternate Guitar Tuning

Acoustic Guitars are really ideal for using and experimenting with Alternate, also known as Open Tunings. They tend to keep the tuning better than standard electric guitars because they normally have heavier gauge strings (and no whammy-bars - btw if you have an  acoustic with a whammy bar fitted you're still welcome :).

I read recently that players have been using alternate guitar tunings since ye olde Renaissance times and we all probably heard Open Tunings wail across the Delta Plains, when somebody's baby did do them a' wrong, on CD I presume ... really? an acoustic with a whammy?

From the Ragtime 20's to Led Zep, these alternate tunings are certainly alive and well...

  • CAUTION For Beginners Make sure to point the Guitar AWAY from yourself (and anyone else) whenever you are re-tuning or putting on new strings. Even new strings can break so be careful.
  • Alternate Guitar Tuning Tips The use of a good Capo will instantly multiply your output and options immensely. Here's a great pro capo called Kyser - I use these Kysers myself for years now and no complaints. You can even get spares and renewal parts for them! 
    Kyser Quick-Change Capo 6-String Gold
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    UK Music Store width=16 height=11 Available online at Music Street UK (see link in left column).
  • Alternate Guitar Tuning Tips Many chord shapes and inversions are available in books and you can pick these up quite easily. I reckon it speeds things up  a bit instead of ambling thru hundreds of possibilities - the choice is there.

Common Alternate Guitar Tuning Here's a few popular Open Tunings to try out - each string is LOWERED to the new tuning. The notes of an open tuning are written in ascending order from left to right: Bass string (6th) to treble string (1st) Underlined Note = retune that string down.
Dropped D = D A D G B E
Double Drop D =  D A D G B D
DadGad = D A D G A D
Open G = D G D G B D
Open D = D A D F# A D
Try your own = I can't remember what I used in this little Yamaha guitar demo ;-() doh! it's a bit twangy to say the least but I liked the mood - might get a chance to re-record it someday.
  • Open Tunes A few well known songs and bands that have used alternate tunings in the past include -
The Beatles - Dear Prudence (Dropped D)
James Taylor - Country Roads (Dropped D)
Led Zeppelin - Goin' to California (Dropped D)
Led Zeppelin - Black Mountain Side ( DadGad)
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi (Open D)
Led Zeppelin - Bron Y Aur Stamp ( Open G)
There are many virtuoso's of alternate guitar tuning recorded. Here's just a few of the big names you might like to check out. There not always to be found on Top of the Pops but hey - someone's recently covered and re-released some of 70s songstress Joni Mitchell's stuff. 
  • Ry Cooder/Leo Kottke/Stefan Grossman/John Renbourne/Bert Jansch/Adrian Legg - Stunning players in their field.
  • Chet Atkins - Unbelievable in ANY tuning!
  • Pierre Bensusan - Absolute master of DADGAD, has to be seen and heard.
  • Michael Hedges - Big hit from the 80s on.
  • Jimmy Page - Folky-Rock tunings are still in vogue you know.
  • Bonnie Raitt - Bluesy Mama.
  • For Flatpicking/Bluegrass virtuoso stuff you could also try Tony Rice, Dan Crary and Clarence White.
  • Robert Johnson/Son House/Muddy Waters/- Blues Master's often use open G/D and so on for simple but powerful Slide Guitar. These tunings automatically give you one-finger and slide Barre Chords.
  • Nanci Griffith - Colorful Country Gal has used alternate tunings in some of her hits.
  • Stanley Jordan - the "10 fingered Octopus" type player - I love the self penned track "All the Children". Special alternate tuning on a customized electric guitar - also uses special fitted dampers etc. I read in Guitar Player years ago, that this incredible player got his first album released back in the 80's as far as I remember, after he was noticed busking on the street - I'll dig it out...
  • Richie Havens - I remember seeing a video of this guy opening up the famous 60's festival Woodstock - coool man. He only used his thumb and of course Open Tuning, to play simple Barre Chords throughout the set. I remember he went pretty crazy and even busted a string I think - peace man ::_)).

Most if not all of these artists above are listed at Amazon - just copy and paste the players name into the search boxes below and see what you come up with. My absolute top recommendation for starting would be Pierre Bensusan. His use of the alternate tuning Dadgad, mixed with his technique, style and effects is stunning and unique.




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Ok that's all for now gotta go and practice - remember if you need an instant boost to your playing or songwriting, alternate guitar tunings are a seriously fast option - recommended.





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