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Tuning guitar down in standard tuning

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Little Hawk 25 May 03 - 04:12 PM
Peter T. 25 May 03 - 04:28 PM
Deckman 25 May 03 - 04:53 PM
Mooh 25 May 03 - 05:12 PM
Little Hawk 25 May 03 - 05:51 PM
Mudlark 25 May 03 - 05:59 PM
JedMarum 25 May 03 - 06:14 PM
Deckman 25 May 03 - 09:44 PM
PoppaGator 25 May 03 - 10:26 PM
dwditty 25 May 03 - 11:10 PM
Deckman 25 May 03 - 11:16 PM
Chris C 25 May 03 - 11:34 PM
PoppaGator 26 May 03 - 01:19 AM
Ed. 26 May 03 - 05:06 AM
van lingle 26 May 03 - 08:42 AM
Little Hawk 26 May 03 - 09:35 AM
HuwG 26 May 03 - 11:36 AM
Cluin 27 May 03 - 12:15 AM
GUEST,Mike 27 May 03 - 09:22 AM
RichM 27 May 03 - 10:25 AM
Willie-O 27 May 03 - 11:50 AM
Little Hawk 27 May 03 - 12:27 PM
GUEST,Russ 27 May 03 - 03:22 PM
GUEST,Songster Bob 27 May 03 - 04:24 PM
GUEST,Jonathan Klass 24 Jun 03 - 03:44 AM
GUEST,Fogie 24 Jun 03 - 12:47 PM
Richard Bridge 24 Jun 03 - 01:30 PM
GUEST,reggie miles 24 Jun 03 - 02:54 PM
jonm 24 Jun 03 - 03:20 PM
GUEST,reggie miles 24 Jun 03 - 05:48 PM
wysiwyg 24 Jun 03 - 06:34 PM
Art Thieme 24 Jun 03 - 08:54 PM
Jeep man 24 Jun 03 - 10:56 PM
GUEST,Strollin' Johnny 25 Jun 03 - 07:48 AM
Steve Parkes 25 Jun 03 - 08:11 AM
saulgoldie 25 Jun 03 - 09:46 AM
GUEST,belerecords 25 Jun 03 - 10:09 AM
GUEST,William 20 Nov 08 - 08:30 PM
McGrath of Harlow 20 Nov 08 - 08:47 PM
Murray MacLeod 21 Nov 08 - 03:24 AM
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Subject: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Little Hawk
Date: 25 May 03 - 04:12 PM

I've noticed that some guitar players tune the instrument down a half-tone and then play with a capo on the first fret all the time. Why? Does it make the action lower? If so, why not just get the guitar set up properly in the first place?

In connection with this, it's occurred to me to tune a guitar down a whole tone (2 frets) in order to play in a handy key (like G or D) when I want the pitch in a certain song a bit lower than usual to suit my vocal range better. Will this work, and will the guitar still play and sound okay or will the strings be a bit too loose and buzzy?

Anyone got experience with this? Yes, I know, I could just do it and find out, but I thought it would be more fun to ask first and see what people have to say about it...

- LH


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Peter T.
Date: 25 May 03 - 04:28 PM

I tune it all over the place in open tunings and lower standard. As far as I can tell, the big problem as the strings get looser is that the guitar gets more easily out of tune generally. If Rick F. were about he would also say something about changing your strings as you go lower, but I can't recall if he says get heavier strings or not to keep the tuning better. Also, existing guitar strings tend to go back towards the original tuning they were in for awhile. I assume that a good guitar is designed for peak performance in standard tuning, so mucking around with it can't give you the best performance out of your guitar (keep in mind I know zero about guitars technically). It would be interesting, as you say, to find out what real experts think.



yours, Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Deckman
Date: 25 May 03 - 04:53 PM

The Late Walt Robertson always did this as a matter of course. I think his reasons were perhaps twofold: He often played very fragile instruments and he wanted to keep the string tension at a minimum, and another reason was that he hated to hear other guitarists attempting to play along with him. By keeping the tuning lower than standard, and with the use of the capo, he could drive any other guitarist nuts. CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Mooh
Date: 25 May 03 - 05:12 PM

Guage up and tune down if you want to maintain string tension. Guage same and tune down for reduced tension. There is a point of diminished returns, however, when the strings either flop around or don't "drive" the top enough to creat decent tone, or both. In any event the tone and timbre of your guitars voice will change a bit, often for the better, when tuning down. A set-up may be required if you go beyond the guitar's acceptance of string guages, tension, action, etc.

All this stuff eventually compelled me to buy a baritone guitar. My voice (and the voices of many people I accompany) is low enough to make me want more guitar friendly keys/fingering and some other options so being able to tune down, capo up, partial capo, virtual tune...etc etc etc...made it easier to adapt to voices. I often keep one guitar strung with mediums and tuned down a half step simply because that's easier on my voice when I'm at home. Naturally I have to capo up when I'm using that guitar out...maybe I'm one of those folks you mention.

There's nothing wrong with playing around with tunings, and I've found some guitars seem to prefer lower tunings.

Peace, Mooh.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Little Hawk
Date: 25 May 03 - 05:51 PM

Yeah, I'm thinking it would make sense to use medium gauge strings for tuning down.   

Walt Robertson's trick wouldn't have worked on me, because it takes me a couple of seconds to figure out what key the guy is in, by finding the right lead pattern, and then I can play along with ease no matter what key he's in. His only hope would have been to tune "in between" the normal notes halfway...or else just ask me please not to play along. The direct route is usually the best. :-)

- LH


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Mudlark
Date: 25 May 03 - 05:59 PM

I don't know anything about guitars in general, or strings either, for that matter, but I do know that my Martin sounds its best when tuned properly. I've tried to live with the slightly deteriorated tone when tuned down, because I have a low voice and often have to stretch, when in the keys I like to play in, to reach some of the notes. But it appears my voice is (slightly) more flexible than this guitar...and since I love to hear this guitar at it's best, I don't tune down. If I can ever afford another guitar, this will be one of the things I look for. Also, along the same lines, it seems to me that use of capo degrades the tone on some guitars...mine doesn't sound quite as good capo'd to A as it does played in A...seems to cinch the sound down a little, somehow, so it is not as full.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: JedMarum
Date: 25 May 03 - 06:14 PM

My Larrivee sounds great tuned down a whole step. It's got plenty of power and I use mediums so it works out OK when tuned down. I just do too much playing with other folks and in standard tunings to keep it set up that way - in fact, I wouldn't mind going one half step lower - but that's when it looses its strength.

If I had two of the same instrument, I'd keep one low ... but I think the real long term anser is a baritone ... one day, when I ahve an extra few bucks, that may be what I do!


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Deckman
Date: 25 May 03 - 09:44 PM

Hi Littlehawk ... Walt always tuned "in between," as you say. In fact, he lived most of his life that way ... in between! But Wow, he could sure sing and play! CHEERS, Bob


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: PoppaGator
Date: 25 May 03 - 10:26 PM

Going back up to the top, Little Hark asked why some players . . . "play with a capo on the first fret all the time. Why? Does it make the action lower?"

Besides lowering the action (at least a little bit), the capo also makes playing easier by, in essence, pushing the frets closer together. All your stretches and reaches are easier and easier as you move the capo up the neck. I find that placing the capo at the second fret makes a big difference as I try to relearn some of the more difficult stuff I used to do. (Which in turn makes it easier to log the practice hours I need , if only to build calluses.) Even at the first fret, the capo makes each of those first-position chords and riffs a little less of a stretch.

You're right, if the guitar is "set up right' in the first place (i.e., with lowest possible action), the capo shouldn't make that much difference in regard to the action. If you play slide, though, you want a little more distance between strings and frets -- an instrument played exclusively or mostly with the slide may be set up almost too high to play conventionally, like a dobro or Fred McDowell's Sears Silvertone. So, maybe some of those guys are using the capo at the first fret when playing standard-tuning with little or no slide, then take the capo off to play slide (for which they would normally retune anyway, to an open-tuning that may or may not be a half-step lower than "normal.")


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: dwditty
Date: 25 May 03 - 11:10 PM

I tune my 12 string to a C# (standard tuning) which, if nothing else,seems to please to top of the guitar. I also have a Guild Jumbo that I keep tuned down 2 steps to a D (again standard tuning) with medium guage strings. Among other things, this opens a whole new world of songs as many do not lend themselves to transposing the chords...in other words, I use it as a negative capo.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Deckman
Date: 25 May 03 - 11:16 PM

Realizing just how far you can strech the range of the guitar by tuning it down, one or two or three half tones, and then using the capo, makes me wonder why we've yet to invent a capo for the human voice! Can you imagine the possibilities if we all had the range of Yma Sumac (sp?)? Oh well. Bob


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Chris C
Date: 25 May 03 - 11:34 PM

The responses here are good ones to an equally good question.
Tuning down is often considered to have many benefits
I can add this:
Sometimes players tune down to take some tension off the neck. This is especially true if heavier strings are used (higher gauge equals more tension), or on 12-strings (more strings equal more tension).
As you go lower, heavier strings tend to "tune up" better. On a decent acoustic (& often electric), you can tune "standard" tuning down as much as 2 whole steps (Elizabeth Cotton & probably many other folk/blues players; popular today with heavy rock players).
Don't expect the intonation to be great. Think about how much longer a bass neck is than a guitar's. 2 whole steps is a third of the way to the bass' register, so a standard guitar neck is a bit out of scale.
LH: I also find the lower keys easier to sing many songs in. I'm seriously considering a baritone guitar. I've played a few; they sound huge & happen to fit my vocal range for songs I need to play in a given position on the guitar.
Regards,
CC


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: PoppaGator
Date: 26 May 03 - 01:19 AM

What's standard tuning on a baritone guitar? I assume that the strings would have the same relationship to each other as EADGBE, but x number of tones lower -- something like C/F/Bb/Eb/Ab/C?


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Ed.
Date: 26 May 03 - 05:06 AM

PoppaGator,

Baritones are normally tuned a 5th lower: B-E-A-D-F#-B


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: van lingle
Date: 26 May 03 - 08:42 AM

Hey LH, For downward tuning I string one of my guitars with a D'Addario J19 Bluegrass set. These are basically light gauge on top (E= .012, B= .016) and they get progressively heavier from G on down to .056 at the Low E string. This takes out the fret rattle on the low strings where it seems to mainly occur while leaving the top action fairly soft when I tune to Open D or Dsus. Of course, this depends on your set-up and action preferences.vl


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Little Hawk
Date: 26 May 03 - 09:35 AM

Thanks for all the great info. I have a set of Elixir Light-Mediums here, and they go from .012 down to .056. This may yet tempt me to buy another guitar...

- LH


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: HuwG
Date: 26 May 03 - 11:36 AM

A singer-songwriter friend of mine, Eliza Pascoe, seems to do this as it changes the guitar tone, to a sound which suits her lugubrious and witty view of things (like marriage, taxes, chatlines etc).


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Cluin
Date: 27 May 03 - 12:15 AM

Stevie Ray Vaughan used to tune his guitar down a whole step, from E to D. This allowed him to use heavy strings for more radical bends with that high action that gave his leads that extra dimension to speak in. I believe it was the same "trick" Hendrix used. Not to say they weren't both musical wunderkind anyway.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Mike
Date: 27 May 03 - 09:22 AM

I used this technique a lot at one time - Why?
Lessens tension in the guitar
Lowers the action
Widens the 'playing area' in the neck that helped my fingers move around
Easier to 'bend' notes
I enjoyed the 'twangy' sound especially playing some 'old time' of 'folk blues' stuff
Could sing in G flat playing G chord structures if I wanted and that suited me with certain songs.
Didn't burn my fingers so much after 3/4 hours of playing or practice

I don't do it now I just stick ultra lights on a Martin D41 (sacrilege I know but so what) If it works for what you want then just do it. There's no 'right or wrong'??


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: RichM
Date: 27 May 03 - 10:25 AM

There's a website that has a chart of string tensions for different gauges of strings... But uncleverly, I have hidden it somewhere in a too complicated list of favorites.

Does anyone know what this website is?

Rich McCarthy


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Willie-O
Date: 27 May 03 - 11:50 AM

I'm going to the contrary position here, supported by both training and experience.

  • I was told in a luthiery course I took that strings sound best when closest to their breaking point. Tuned higher. Now of course I don't like breaking strings, but I break very few in standard A440 tuning (or DADGAD A440).
  • Sometimes, like when I have new strings on and have tuned without a reference, I find the guitar (or fiddle, or mando) is sounding in tune and OK, but only OK. When I get around to checking it, and bring it up to concert, it suddenly sounds GREAT. So I believe from experience the first point above.
  • As Chris C noted, when you tune low, "Don't expect the intonation to be great." In other words, you'll be, um, out of tune if you go anywhere up the neck. If you are Stevie Ray or Jimi, you could make a lot of micro-corrections on the fly, but if you don't have that acute sensitivity to pitch, you're just out of tune.   
  • And slack strings sound flabby and tend to go more out of tune.
  • Playing with a capo on increases tuning problems, especially if you bend strings much.



Now of course there are times when the most important thing is to avoid stressing the instrument--as with a 12-string or a vintage guitar with no truss rod--or you really want a different kind of sound. Fine. But mostly, I'll stick to concert.

I have a personal conflict--I like to play in DADGAD, and I like to sing in C. The two are not compatible unless you tune a whole tone down from concert. I guess that's one of the reasons I'm a two-guitar-lugger, one for standard, one DADGAD.

Play on regardless.
Willie-O


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Little Hawk
Date: 27 May 03 - 12:27 PM

I do the two-guitar thing also. One for standard, one for DADGAD. I prefer that to changing tunings on the spot. Besides, the Takamine is happy in DADGAD for some reason.

- LH


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Russ
Date: 27 May 03 - 03:22 PM

I have been told that Sarah Carter tuned her guitar down a few half-steps and then capoed up because she prefered the C chord fingerings. I personally know more than one guitarist who does the same thing.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Songster Bob
Date: 27 May 03 - 04:24 PM

That would be Maybelle Carter, and she typically tuned down as much as five frets (she must have used bridge cables for stringe, even with the big ol' Gibson L-5). She used C position, G position, and even F position, tuned down to match voices and the autoharp (which Sara played, when they had autoharp in the ensemble).

As for those who tune down one fret, I'm not sure what you get from it, other than matching the voice, but rock musicians these days do it a lot -- tune to Eb instead of E. Of course, an electric guitar has less need for significant string tension, since the string doesn't have to move very much mass (other than overcoming the eddy currents in the magnetic field, which is why rock guitarists are so touchy about pickup height), but some claim an increase in "pleasant sounds" from a tuned-down guitar. I'm not convinced, but then, so much of today's electric music has no "pleasant sound" in it that I may be biased.

Bob Clayton


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Jonathan Klass
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 03:44 AM

Hi All,
       his is a subject I'm addicted to , but which actually drives me nuts at the same time!!! I learnt 12-string off Pete Seeger's Leadbelly 12-string instruction manual and 2 record set. Pete alway's tunes 4 steps down to C. Leadbelly tuned down as much as five steps and Leo Kottke also tuned to C and C# sometimes even down to B. This seems to have come about as a result of the Stella type guitars with long scales and tailpieces, combined with heavy strings. For years I struggled with lovely 12-strings ruining them with all the experimentation with heavy to very light.The fact is most 12-strings work better with ultra light strings at concert pitch. I solved that problem by getting Bruce Taylor who builds Pete Seeger's Guitars based on the Stanley Francis guitars (not Bob!!!)to build me a Pete Seeger model 12-string with the heart shaped sound hole , but were also DESIGNED for low tuning. I am ashamed to say I have so many guitar banjos etc I have lost count and having an undertstanding wife I bought recently a Gibson B45 with a tailpiece that only works properly with light strings 10-47 or 50. That is why Leo Kottke had to abandon them for his style. I also like the clarity of concert pitch. The Seeger guitar uses a La Bella custom magde set y13-070!!! with wound 018's for the second pair.Harry Lewman the Leadbelly expert also has had special guitars and La Bella made for him. There unfortunately is your answer. If you want to tune down with heavy strings (light just go out of tune at low pitch and also buzz) get a guita made for the job After more tha thirty years playing 12-string and struggling with this problem I know!!
          Regards
            Jonathan Klass
             South Africa


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Fogie
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 12:47 PM

Oh for a guitar that would handle DADGAD in C - does a baritone??


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Richard Bridge
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 01:30 PM

I looked for a longneck in D (standard) once, and the only one I could find was an ovation, and it sounded awful! No "sing" to the voice, just a muddy growling mess.

Has anyone ever found a decent longneck D or baritone that rings and doesn't make the chords growl rather than sing?

My reason was to be able to play root chords rahter than capoing to the 9th fret and above, which resulted in the heel of the neck and the heel of my hand arguing!


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,reggie miles
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 02:54 PM

I went from an open E tuning, half a step at a time, down to open Bb before I realized that I could just tune up to open G. The string guages that I had to customize were costing me a fortune when trying to tune lower. The looks I would get from music stores when I'd inquire about the guages I needed coupled with their lack of interest in acquiring and stocking what I needed was driving me nuts. I had to run all over town just to buy a change of strings, checking for the availability of a heavy guage set at one of several locations and the custom low E string from a specialty bass shop miles away.

I may eventually customize a guitar to suit my needs for really weird tunings but for now I've managed with one guitar tuned two half steps low of standard, because it fits my voice, and my homemade Nobro (my Dobro/National hybrid) in and open E form but scooted up three frets to make it open G. I have another guitar tuned in open E and a fourth in the same form but down two frets to make it an open D and my plectrum banjo similarly tuned but in open C. There are enough git boxes around to mess with all kinds of tunings. I've only scratched the surface.

Keep scratchin'


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: jonm
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 03:20 PM

Can anyone help me, here: I have a left-handed Seagull in standard tuning. I like the action relatively low, but fancied tuning down a whole tone to DGCFAD; this made the strings rattle and would have required a truss rod adjustment.

Then I tried another guitar with a longer 25.5" scale, tuned down, and the intonation was all awry. I couldn't bear to hear it, though it was in tune etc.

Questions : 1) is this going to happen with every acoustic you tune down ? Maybe my ears are sensitive, but I can't bear the slight out-of-tune-ness

             2) is there anyone out there making acoustic baritones who might do one left handed?

Cheers, Jon

PS I'm an education professional (= poor)


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,reggie miles
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 05:48 PM

As was already stated by others, when you tune down, you must compensate for the lack of tension in the strings with heavier string guages or suffer the buzz and looseness. Just as a bass has heavier strings than a guitar, if you tune lower than standard pitch it can help to alter your string guages to maintain proper action and response from your particular instrument. Depending upon how low you go, this can also mean an alteration of the size of the cuts/grooves/slots in the nut and saddle so that the strings can ride and transfer sound properly without buzzing. If you fear toying with your stuff, bring it to someone you can trust to help you do the right job.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: wysiwyg
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 06:34 PM

LH, in our gospel and singleading band, we tune down a half step much of the time. This way, my autoharp can think it's in F but I can sing in E, and C becomes B in the same way, without my having to remake a single chord bar. I keep one harp tuned straight and one a half-step low. I use the straight-tuned one when we jam with other folks.

~S~


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Art Thieme
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 08:54 PM

By 1995-1997 I tuned a full step down and capoed at the 2nd fret to be able to press the strings down at all and to make up some for lost fine motor control in my fingers. It allowed me to keep pickin' a while longer. I went back to a 6-string 000-18.   The 9-string was in the closet.

Art


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Jeep man
Date: 24 Jun 03 - 10:56 PM

I've been told that Maybelle Carter tuned her guitar down to C. Anyone know how to do this? Jeep


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,Strollin' Johnny
Date: 25 Jun 03 - 07:48 AM

Jeep Man, do you mean Open C - CGCGCE? Beautiful low tuning, bottom 'C' rings fantastically on a big-bodied guitar like my Lowden O25. Used by, amongst a lot of others, Dougie MacLean ('Caledonia' etc.), Allan Taylor ('Standing At The Door' et al).
Johnny


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Steve Parkes
Date: 25 Jun 03 - 08:11 AM

I've mentioned this in other threads, but I don't miond repeating myself if anyone'll listen! A few years back I began tuning my 12-string down further and further so I could use C chords more often (I sing most songs around G-A), but working out string guages was very tricky. In the end I went down a whole five frets to B-E-A-D-F#-B. So now I move the strings up a notch -- lose the firsts, seconds across to first, thirds (unison) to second, and so on; then find a heavy bottom E. I shall have to find a custom maker somewhere close to home so I can have all the same brand & style across the fingerboard. Also, I'll have to widen some of the slots in the nut some time, asone or two of the heavier strings stick up a little too much. I find some people like it better, and others less than my 6-string, which is still in standard tuning.

Steve


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: saulgoldie
Date: 25 Jun 03 - 09:46 AM

Just wanted to thank LH for asking, and everyone for their very knowledgeable and helpful responses. I have learned a lot here. Great thread!


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,belerecords
Date: 25 Jun 03 - 10:09 AM

I find tuning the guitar down a whole tone then using a sawn off Schubb capo over the top 5 strings a great way of getting standard tuning (normal capo 2nd fret), drop D (5 string capo) or playing it open to get F & C with G & D shapes etc. My guitar is a Martin 00016GT and sounds grand with Elixir's light top, medium bottom set.
Cheers!


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: GUEST,William
Date: 20 Nov 08 - 08:30 PM

I have read all the posts and I am impressed. But I am also impressed by the fact that Maybelle Carter could not read music, so she probably did not know where she was tuning her guitar to (in what key). That is the beauty of playing by ear, you do not have to worry about technicalities, just matching the tone with the voice.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 20 Nov 08 - 08:47 PM

When you're on your own that's true enough. But when you're playing with others you have to be in tune with each other. And you don't have to be able to read music to do that.


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Subject: RE: Tuning guitar down in standard tuning
From: Murray MacLeod
Date: 21 Nov 08 - 03:24 AM

As Kevin says, just because you can play by ear doesn't mean you are musically illiterate.

I am quite sure that Mother Maybelle knew exactly where she was tuning her guitar, and in what key she was playing and singing.


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Mudcat time: 20 September 9:32 PM EDT

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