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Bill Dutcher / Blog

Peace Love and Altered tunings

People often ask about how to get started with playing with altered tunings. If you Google “alternate tunings” you’ll find a multitude of resources to get started. Probably the easiest tuning to start with is Drop D. You simply drop the pitch of your low E-string one whole tone, down to D. Now when you strum a D chord you can strum all six strings and the result is a nice full timbre that really sounds full. The thing you have to pay attention to is that any chord shapes in this tuning that use the low E string have to be transposed up two frets. Once you grab this concept it’s pretty easy. Some tips on composing in altered tunings: Sometimes I’ll start twisting tuning knobs until I hear something interesting. The next step is to locate fingerings for the basic chord families: Major, Maj7, minor, mi7, Dom7, etc. Play these shapes and try to locate the scale tones within the shapes, most importantly 3rd’s, b3rd’s, 7th’s and b7th’s. Once you relate the ‘shape’ with the mood, color or sound of the chord name you’ll have a ‘road map’ in which to start composing. Next locate the I, IV and V chords, then the ii, iii and vii. Now you have the diatonic chords for the tuning. When I hear players write in altered tunings I tend to hear the I (one) chord as the lowest sounding chord in the progression. In other words they use the low E strings pitch as the I (one) chord. A suggestion is to try to play in a different key than the lowest note and save the low note for the IV or V chord….or whatever chord you like. Remember, the shapes for the chords stay the same, your just shifting things around. It’s less predictable and sounds more powerful when you play it . Some tunings I like to use. All are low to high (left to right) D-A-D-F#-A-D D-A-D-G-A-D D-G-C-G-A-D A-A-D-E-A-B C-G-D-G-B-D B-F#-D-F#-A-D Now if you really want to screw with things you can start adding partial capo’s to these tunings…But hey!…That’s for next time!

Guitar Players - Always be prepared!

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been getting ready to start a show and something either blows up or quits working. Simply put, always try to have two of everything. Extra cables, battery’s, strings, picks etc. Depending on how elaborate your rig, try to have a backup preamp for the guitar. If you have an internal preamp already in the guitar consider purchasing a magnetic soundhole pickup. There are many affordable models out there. If your internal system goes out you can pop in the soundhole pickup and at least get through the gig. I use a pendulum sps-1 which many consider to be the ‘holy grail’ when it comes to acoustic amplification. Even these high end pieces of gear have their problems. I recently purchased a Highlander PAMDI which is very similar to the pendulum but is small enought o fit in the accessory compartment of the guitar case. Here’s three things I always bring to a gig. 1. A small flashlight. 2. A mechanics telescopic wand with magnetic end. 3. Extra bridgepins. Why a flashlight? Try looking for small guitar parts that drop on the floor in a dark club without it! Mechanics telescopic wand with magnetic end: Great for finding small metal parts that drop either inside the guitar or between cracks in the floor. One time I dropped my keys outside a club when loading out and they fell through a sewer grate…Glad I brought the magnetic wand! Extra bridge pins: One time I broke a string on stage and looked down to see the bridge pin missing. Thank God it was on the last song. Lesson learned. I keep one taped to the inside lid of the accessory compartment of each guitar. If your going to consider yourself a professional player it’s good to be professionally prepared for any given situation. So always have a backup!