Category Archives: Open Tunings

OPEN 105 • How to Tune Your Guitar to Drop D Tuning

This lesson shows you how to tune your guitar to Drop D tuning, which from low to high (in pitch) is D-A-D-G-B-E.  Drop D is the most common alternate tuning – any tuning other than Standard tuning – and differs from standard only on the sixth string, which is tuned down (or dropped) to D.  Open D is great for playing songs in the keys of D, A, and G.  The tuning has been used by all types of players in all genres for all types of songs, but folkies and hard rock/metal people probably use it the most.  You also see Drop D used in a decent number of guitar arrangements in classical music.

OPEN 106 • Playing Chords in Drop D Tuning

This lesson shows you how to play some chords in Drop D tuning, including how to adapt shapes you already know from standard tuning.  Basically, notes you see on the sixth string in standard tuning are moved up two frets when you’re tuned to Drop D.  This can mean slightly revoicing the chord – for example, leaving the 5th string out of some common chord voicings.  

LIVE 071 • Green Tea (Fingerstyle Improv)

“Green Tea” is a fingerstyle improvisation based on the idea of toying with certain oft used open tuning tropes and seeing how they could be morphed. Listening back, I enjoy the sound of the dreadnaught guitar I recorded it on, even though I have been using predominantly smaller bodied guitars for the last 4-5 years or so. While small bodied guitars have a great balance that is perfect for many situations, sometimes there’s just something nice about the sound of a big boomy acoustic box. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 310ce (Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze) and a matched stereo pair of Shure KSM141 microphones in Holualoa, Hawai’i, 12/14/07.

LIVE 086 • Silver Threads – Slack Key Improv

Here is an improvisation I did based on Leonard Kwan’s famous slack key arrangement of “Silver Threads Among the Gold.” This classic tune is a popular piece in the slack key repertoire and often one of the first things people learn when exploring Drop C tuning. Most listeners of modern day Hawaii radio will recognize Silver Threads as the slack key passage quoted in the intro to Country Comfort’s Waimanalo Blues, a beloved song in the islands in its own right. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

GEAR 514 • Taylor 912ce Review and Demo

The Taylor 912ce is an easy to play guitar with a balanced eq that is ideal for fingerstyle or light strumming. The Grand Concert body gives it a balanced EQ, the advanced performance bracing and vibrant top give it a clear, articulate speaking voice, and the higher grade rosewood back and sides add complexity and richness to both single notes and chords. Gotoh 510 tuners offer greater accuracy and tuning stability – a welcome upgrade to those who use a lot of open or alternate tunings. With the addition of a beveled armrest, the compact guitar is the perfect companion for hours of comfortable play.
Of course, people often notice the cosmetics of the 900 series first, mainly the upgraded inlay work on the headstock, fretboard, and in the rosette & soundboard trim. Yet the inlay work is more subdued than previous incarnations of the 900 series and the upgrades are more tasteful than showy. The guitar does indeed look great, but more importantly it plays and sounds even better. In short, if you’re looking for a small-bodied guitar with upgraded features, the 912ce is a great choice.

Sound demos recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and an Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

GEAR 513 • TC Electronic UniTune

Most of you know I have been a fan of TC Electronic’s Polytune Clip for a while now (review linked below). The Polytune Clip does really well with alternate and open-tunings on acoustic guitar; it latches on to notes quickly, has good tracking, and even does well reading the lower bass notes we sometimes tune our sixth strings to which other clip-on tuners can have trouble with. So I still love the PolyTune Clip even though I spend most of my time in open tunings and hardly ever use the PolyTune function. Recently, I learned that TC Electronic had partnered with music retailer Sweetwater to produce the Uni-Tune, which is just like the PolyTune Clip in every respect but without the PolyTune mode. (Also it is about $15 less expensive.)

As with the Polytune Clip, I found that TC Electronic’s Uni-Tune clip-on tuner latches on to notes quickly and accurately, has excellent tracking, and picks up the low 6th string bass notes well (even down as low as Bb). So if you use mostly open / altered tunings, or can otherwise live without the PolyTune function and want to save $15, you might consider the almost identical UniTune clip-on tuner from TC Electronic.

LIVE 054 • Jonquils of Spring

An improvised portrait, Jonquils of Spring features a melody outlined with harmonics and played with a slightly wobbly tempo. A cool sunny spring day helped bring out the mood, and relatively fresh set of strings helped bring out the chimes. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.

OPEN 104 • How to Tune Your Guitar to Double Drop D Tuning

This lesson shows you how to tune your guitar to Double Drop D tuning (DADGBD), how to check Double Drop D tuning with harmonics, how to approach playing some “CAGED” style chords in the tuning, similarities with other tunings such as Open G and Drop D, and talks about when you might want to use Double Drop D tuning.

GEAR 508 • Elixir HD Light Strings Review

Elixir HD Light strings are made the same as other elixirs, but the gauge of the set is unique. Basically they married medium gauge treble strings with light gauge bass strings to find the optimal string gauge for small bodied Taylor guitars (GA/xx4 and GC/xx2).
The idea behind HD Lights is that both string tension and EQ would be more balanced across the strings, resulting in better playability and better tone.
On the high end, the thicker gauge treble strings give you more body, better definition, and improved action. The lighter bass strings keep the bass clear – it’s not muddy even when you tune down. Along with the balanced EQ and improved playability, you also get a more even volume resulting in easier to control dynamics.
Andy Powers at Taylor came up with the idea for these after redeveloping the 800 series, and these strings are indeed great with the revoiced 600, 800, and 900 series GC and GA guitars. The revoiced models have a stronger, more focused bass in particular, so using lighter bass strings helps keep the low end form being overpowering or becoming muddy. The revoiced models also have a livelier top – so the lighter bass strings still have enough presence without being boomy, and the thicker trebles still have snap, but without being too thin.
Overall, their more balanced EQ coupled with more balanced string tension make HD Lights especially conducive to alternate tunings and ideal for fingerstyle guitar.

Other notes:

Phosphor Bronze vs 80/20 Bronze:
⁃ 80/20 Bronze will be brighter with more zing.
⁃ Phosphor Bronze will be a little warmer with more heft or body. I prefer them for fingerstyle because of their combination of warmth, clarity, and detail.

Nanoweb vs Polyweb: HD Lights are only available in Nanoweb (as of now), which works fine for me, but prior to using this gauge I used Elixir’s Polyweb strings. Though they have slightly different characteristics, I have found both Nanoweb and Polyweb coatings to produce good sounding strings.

LIVE 042 • Star Waltz

One day in the fall of 2012, I sat down to record a set of improvised songs with a Taylor dreadnought acoustic guitar. I improvised five original songs and two versions of Amazing Grace. With only one or two false starts, they were mostly first takes. The set was nothing really mind altering, but it had some cool songs with good vibes – so I considered it a success. It’s not the kind of thing I do often – in fact I haven’t done the exercise since, haven’t played any of the original songs again, and don’t consider it the most incredible thing I’ve ever done. Yet somehow it stands out in my mind as a creative milestone, a memorable event. Sometimes it’s important to break out of the mold with such experiments to reach a new frame of mind, a new level. This was the fifth song in the set, “Star Waltz.”

Recorded with a Taylor 310 and a Tascam DR-40 in Louisville, Kentucky, 9/29/12.