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Tuning

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Although it is possible to play some slide guitar in the standard tuning (and this is a useful skill), slide guitar is best played in open tunings. Simply put, an open tuning is when your guitar is tuned so that strumming all the strings without holding any of them down on the fretboard will produce a chord. Open D (also known as 'Vastopol') and open G (also known as 'Spanish') are the most commonly used tunings for blues playing. These tunings have two advantages over other open tunings. Firstly, if a capo (a clamp used to hold all the strings down at one fret-position on the neck) is placed on the neck of the guitar at the second fret, the tuning is changed to E if using the D tuning and A if using the G tuning, which are very common keys for blues music. Secondly, both of these tunings have the string tension lower than in standard tuning, making it easier to fret notes with your fingers. This is a big advantage when playing an instrument which, being suitable for slide playing, has an action higher than normal. These are the two tunings we will primarily be working on.

Think learning to play in a new tuning would be too much of a hassle? I like this quote from Bill Sethares' website:

"But playing in alternate tunings is impossible on stage, retuning is a nightmare... strings break, wiggle and bend out of tune, necks warp. And the alternative - carrying around five special guitars for five special tuning tunes - is a hassle. Back to EADGBE.
But all these "practical" reasons pale compared to psychological inertia. I've spent years mastering one tuning, why should I try others? Because there are musical worlds waiting to be exploited. Once you have retuned and explored a single alternate tuning, you'll be hooked by the unexpected fingerings, the easy drone strings, the "new" open chords. New tunings are a way to recapture the wonder you experienced when first finding your way around the fretboard - but now you can become proficient in a matter of days rather than years!"

I think he's summed it up very nicely there, particularly that last line about the time required to attain proficiency. You'll be amazed at how quickly you can get a good sound out of your guitar using alternate tunings.

Check out the "Chords" link on the menu at left for some open-tuning chords

open tunings chart

Click here to hear Open G tuning

For easy tuning I recommend getting a
Clip-on chromatic tuner
for your guitar.
Click on the picture to buy one at a great price!
guitar tuner

 

 

If you have an Android phone with a bar code scanner, I highly recommend the FREE "Gstrings" chromatic tuner application,
Scan this barcode to get the App from the Android marketplace

Screenshot:

A good Free Tuner for Windows, Mac or Iphone which has presets for Open tunings is NCH software's PitchPerfect

    I have included the open E tuning as it is an excellent tuning for electric guitar. Open E, as mentioned before, can also be achieved by tuning to open D and then placing a capo on the second fret. You will notice that the open G and open D tunings are "down" tunings, that is to say, they are achieved by de-tuning some of the strings from the standard tuning. The open E tuning is an "up" tuning, achieved by increasing the tension on three of the strings. Many players prefer not to use "up" tunings on acoustic instruments as they place extra strain on the sound-board and neck of the guitar.

A lot of players say they don't like playing in open tunings because it's "a hassle" to re-tune their instrument. However, once you are familiar with these tunings it becomes very easy to switch between them. Keeping an electronic guitar tuner handy helps too!

For more comprehensive information on Alternate tunings I recommend WA's Encyclopedia of Alternate Tunings,
Bill Sethare's Alternate tuning guide and the great Alternate Tunings page on Brad's Page of Steel

Why they call it "Spanish" tuning (Actually the tuning is named after an old song, "Spanish fandango")

 

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