Category Archives: Open Tunings

LIVE 144 • Sound and Solace (Original Fingerstyle)

This song was born of my desire to improvise around some familiar ideas and possibly discover some new ones. Using familiar shapes and runs, perhaps I would come to appreciate them from a new angle, or juxtapose them in a way that I hadn’t before. I wanted to explore textures, try to accent some of the notes in a different way, give the strings a staccato strum or two, play some lush harmonics. Sometimes rather than trying to come up with something totally new, you want to explore the familiar ground of existing templates, maybe change them just a little – not to the point they’re unrecognizable, but to explore how they can be tweaked and see if it suits.

In addition to trying out some musical ideas, I wanted to see how they would sound with a microphone I hadn’t used lately, recording with a different sound. The mic I chose sounds crisp, picking up all the harmonic details and giving clear note separation. It’s quiet, and also good at gathering room ambiance. The bass is not as bold and the mid-scooped rosewood sound isn’t as prominent as another mic I had been using lately, but this mic would provide a nice, hi-fi, detailed sound – one I might now want to explore even more. Anyway, sometimes it’s important to try something a little different with your sound, to record an improvisation and see what happens. Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 912ce (Rosewood/Spruce, with Elixir Nanoweb Phosphor Bronze HD Light strings) and a Neumann TLM 103 microphone.

LIVE 117 • Makalawena (alternate take)

Here is an alternate take of “Makalawena,” an original song I named after a charmingly beautiful and relatively isolated beach on the Kona Coast.  Makalawena is part of that long stretch of white sandy beaches you see right before landing at Kona International Airport at nearby Keahole Point.  The beach is generally accessible via a short hike from the neighboring Mahaiʻula Bay section of Kekaha Kai State Park.  I remember camping out at Makalawena as a kid, exploring the rare anchialine ponds with their delicate red shrimp, and swimming in the waters of the bay.  Today still, the neighboring marsh is a protected nesting ground, home to rare birds such as the Hawaiian coot.  The song’s bridge seems to capture the strange sense of converging energies that I feel in special places such as these.  Hope you enjoy.

Recorded with a Taylor 414ce-NR (Rosewood/Spruce grand auditorium nylon string) and a Neumann TLM 102 microphone.  

LIVE 118 • Lily (Original Slack Key, 912ce)

Here is an original fingerstyle tinged slack key song I wrote a number of years ago called “Lily.”  Hope you enjoy.  

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

LIVE 100 • Jewel Ponds

This improvisation is named for the beautiful anchialine ponds you find along the leeward coast of Hawai’i Island.  These ponds are an ultra rare and pristine habitat (please do not bathe in them) that host rare tiny red shrimp – ‘ōpae ‘ula – and can have a magnificent array of turquoise and opaline colors, like jewels.  Some of these ponds are tiny indeed, almost more of a puddle than a pond, and legends tell of ponds that would mysteriously appear to someone only to vanish when visited again.  There can be no denying the strange, quiet magic of Hawai’i’s  anchialine ponds.

Recorded with a Taylor 310ce (Elixir Polyweb 80/20 Bronze) and a matched stereo pair of Shure KSM141 microphones in Holualoa, Hawai’i, 10/08/07.

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.