This page is divided into two sections:
The following information has been gathered to help sort out options for instrument tuning. It is intended to serve the following purposes:
- To determine what the normal – standard tuning is for a variety of instruments.
- To provide options for alternate tunings for various instruments.
- To provide a reference for some odd tunings used on recordings from various artists.
The guitar list is cataloged as follows:
- Guitar Family Tunings
- Classical Guitar Tuning
- Harp Guitar Tuning
- Open Tuning
- Taro Patch Tuning
- Slack-Key Tuning
- Major Tunings
- Crossnote Tuning
- Modal Tuning
- Extended Chord Tuning
- Steel Guitar Tuning
- Dobro (Slide) Tuning
- Miscellaneous Artist’s Tunings
- Terz Guitar Tuning
- Requinto Tuning
- Vihuelita Tuning
- Tenor Guitar Tuning
- Plectrum Guitar Tuning
- Mandolin Tuning
- Bouzouki Tuning
- Ukulele Tuning
- Tiple Tuning
- Dulcimer Tuning
- Lute Tuning
- Other Guitar Family Instruments
6 String Guitar Standard Tuning:
- E-A-D-G-B-E, Low to high.
12 String Guitar Standard Tuning:
- EE-AA-DD-GG-BB-EE, Low to high – strings tuned in octaves.
This tuning is not only used by metal and rock bands, but also folk musicians. It allows power chords (also known as bare fifth chords) to be played with a single finger on the lowest three strings. It is also used extensively in classical guitar music and transcriptions since it allows open strings to sound the tonic and dominant as part of the bassline in the keys of D and D minor. Some guitarists choose to use a capo on the second fret with this tuning so that they can retain the ease of playing power chords without the darker sound created by the D tuning.
This tuning is the same as dropped D, but each string is lowered an additional whole step, or two semitones. Technically a “drop C” tuning would be C-A-D-G-B-E’. However, the tuning technically known as “Dropped D tuned down one whole step” is commonly referred to as “Dropped C” tuning, as very few people drop only the sixth string. This gives the guitar a very low and heavy sound, and usually requires extra-thick strings to maintain tension. This tuning is frequently used by hardcore and metalcore bands as well to achieve a lower sound. Tuning a standard, non-baritone guitar any lower than this is difficult.
- B-F#-B-E-G#-C# or
- B-Gb-B-E-A-D or
This tuning is the same as dropped D and C, but lowered from dropped C an additional semitone, or half step. This tuning is very popular with alternative metal/post-grunge bands. It has also become popular with doom metal/post-metal bands. Heavier gauge strings are required for this tuning, which may also require widening the string grooves in the nut of the guitar as well as re-adjusting the tension in the neck.
- A-E-A-D-F#-B or
A very low drop tuning used in metal and death metal bands. As with the Dropped B tuning, heavy gauge strings are required, and even minor modifications to some guitars.
This tuning is achieved when all the strings are flattened by a half step. This can be combined with other tuning techniques such as dropped D tuning and makes no difference to fingering. Often the key will be considered by the players as if played in standard tuning. This tuning can be used for a number of reasons: to make larger strings bend more easily, to make the tone heavier, to better suit the vocalist’s range, to play with saxophone family more easily, or to play in Eb pentatonic minor formed by the black keys of a keyboard. Guns N’ Roses favoured E flat tuning because it allowed Axl Rose’s voice to be accentuated on the high notes. It is also used by Metallica to compliment James Hetfield’s voice.
Also known as “One Step Lower” and “Whole Step Down”, this tuning is basically E Standard with all six strings tuned one whole step down. Although mostly utilized in heavy metal, one sometimes find this tuning in Blues, where guitarists use it to accommodate string bending.
Black Sabbath used this tuning on many of their earlier albums.
C tuning (guitar):
C standard tunes the strings of the guitar to produce a low tone. This tuning is commonly used by metal and hard rock artists as it is two whole steps below standard tuning. This tuning can also be written as C-F-A♯-d♯-g-c. It allows for a low, heavy sound, while still maintaining the intervals present in standard tuning.
Also known as “B Standard” or “Baritone” tuning, this tuning is a common tuning of seven-string guitars, which are tuned B,E,A,D,G,B,E (however this is just an extended version of E standard tuning). On a six string guitar, the tuning is modified to B,E,A,D,F#,Bb tuning takes B Standard on either a six or seven string guitar down a semitone (or half step). For example, guitarists such as Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel fame has utilized this on seven string guitars. The tuning result is (from low to high) Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb. However, on a six string guitar (from low to high) it would be Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, F, Bb.
Classical Guitar Tunings:
The classical guitar developed over a period of 500 years and a number of guitar tunings are commonly used, some based upon historical practice. Unlike other musical styles where alternative tunings are used by artists largely as a matter of individual preference, in classical guitar styles, the decision to employ alternative tunings comes from composers and arrangers of musical transcriptions. Classical guitarists performing known transcriptions are assumed to be using predetermined and carefully defined tunings.
- A A# B C C# D then E A D G B E (last 6 are standard guitar tuning)
1909 Gibson Style R & R-1 – 12-String Harp Guitars:
- D down to F chomatically – 1 octave below lowest ‘F’ on 6 string guitar. (last 6 are standard guitar tuning)
1909 Gibson Style U – 18 String Harp Guitar:
- Eb down to E chromatically – 1 octave below lowest ‘E’ on 6 string guitar. (last 6 are standard guitar tuning)
1921 Gibson Style U – 16 string Harp Guitar:
- A# B C C# D D# F F# G G# then E A D G B E (last 6 are standard guitar tuning)
The 10 additional strings of the Gibson Style U Harp guitar tuning listed above is noted as standard harp guitar tuning from the Gibson 1921 catalog – credited to Walter A. Boehm, “one of the most competent Harp-Guitarists in America”.
An open tuning has the strings tuned for an open chord without fretting. Other chords may be played by simply barring a fret or by using a slide.Notable players who have made extensive or exclusive use of open tunings include Kim Thayil, Robert Johnson, Mark Tremonti, Bukka White, Skip James, Nick Drake, Jack White, Nic Jones, John Fahey, Bob Dylan, Alexander Rosenbaum, Keith Richards, Duane Allman, Lowell George, Mick Taylor, Ry Cooder, Richard Thompson, Martin Carthy, John Martyn, Blind Blake, Leo Kottke, Richie Havens, Joni Mitchell, Jonatha Brooke, Mark Kozelek, Michael Hedges, Ted Hawkins, Jimmy Page, Rod Price, Alan Sparhawk, Barry Gibb, Joe Walsh, John Butler, Derek Trucks, Kevin Shields, Sonic Youth, Ricky Wilson, Keith Strickland, Devin Townsend, Dan Auerbach, Ani DiFranco, Don Ross, Johnny Marr, Rich Robinson, John5, Jimmie Spheeris, John Rzeznik and John Butler.
Open tunings are common in blues music and some rock and folk music. They are particularly used in steel guitar and bottleneck guitar playing. The names of some tunings vary between genres, for example in Hawaiian Music, for slack-key guitar, an example would be the taro patch, or open G tuning, with strings low-high D-G-D-G-B-D. But in bluegrass music, open G can mean G B D G B D.
or open G tuning: D-G-D-G-B-D
Hawaiian Music, for slack-key guitar:
Open G: G B D G B D
- Major open tunings (giving a major chord with the open strings) include:
- Open A: low-high; E-A-C#-E-A-E
- Alternatively: low-high; E-A-C#-E-A-C#
- “Slide” Open A: low-high; E-A-E-A-C#-E (note that this tuning is identical to Open G tuning but with every string raised one step or two frets)
- Open C: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-E
- Open D: low-high; D-A-D-F#-A-D
- Alternatively: low-high; D-A-D’-A’-D-D
- Open Dm: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-D (Used on Opeth’s Ghost of Perdition)
- Open E: low-high; E-B-E-G#-B-E (use light gauge strings because three strings must be raised)
- Open F: low-high; F-A-C-F-C-F (rare)
- F-Sharp Tuning low-high; F#-A#-C#-F#-C#-F# (Used only by Curtis Mayfield)
- Open G: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-D
- Dobro Open G: low-high; G-B-D-G-B-D (occasionally adopted for ordinary guitar, but requires lighter fifth and sixth strings; Only square-necked resonator guitars can hold this tuning with standard gauges).
- Russian Open G: low-high; D-G-B-D-G-B-D (the standard tuning for the Russian seven string guitar).
Open tunings versus altered tunings
Generally, Open Tunings refer to the changing of string pitches to reproduce common Major and Minor chords. One might consider broadening this definition to include more obscure or less used tonalities / chords such as the ones listed below. But these are in kind of a “middle ground” between standard Open Tunings and Altered Tunings. Altered tunings are tunings that don’t really reflect any specific chord name. An example would be the tuning Jimmy Page uses on Led Zeppelin’s Rain Song (D,G,C,G,C,D). Even though some tunings could be named by “theory” they might lack the gravity or musical cohesion to really represent that chord.
The above open tunings all give a major chord with open strings. Since it is highly likely guitarists will need to play minor chords as well, open tunings must be adapted to allow this by lowering the pitch of one of the strings forming the open chord by half a step. To avoid the relatively cumbersome designation “open D minor”, “open C minor”, such tunings are sometimes called “crossnote tunings”. The term also expresses the fact that, by fretting the lowered string at the first fret, it is possible to produce a major chord very easily.
- Crossnote tunings include
- Crossnote A: low-high; E-A-E-A-C-E
- Alternative: E-A-C-E-A-E (rare)
- Crossnote C: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-Eb
- Open D: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-D
- Crossnote E: low-high; E-B-E-G-B-E
- Crossnote F: low-high; F-Ab-C-F-C-F (extremely rare)
- Alternative: low-high; F-C-F-Ab-C-F (used by Albert Collins; requires extremely light gauges
- Crossnote G: low-high; D-G-D-G-Bb-D
Sometimes a guitarist will want a tuning that will permit very easy chords but not be definitively minor or major. In this case, modal tunings can be used. They can be especially effective with droning open strings, and give “suspended” second or fourth chords:
- Modal tunings include:
- Asus2: low-high; E-A-B-E-A-E (very rare)
- Asus4: low-high; E-A-D-E-A-E
- C6: low-high; C-A-C-G-C-E (used in ” Bron-Yr-Aur ” & ” Friends” by English rock group Led Zeppelin)
- Csus2: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-D
- Csus4: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-F
- Dsus2: low-high; D-A-D-E-A-D
- Dsus4: low-high; D-A-D-G-A-D (very popular in Celtic music and referred to as “Dad Gad”)
- Esus2: low-high; E-A-E-F#-B-E
- Esus4: low-high; E-A-E-A-B-E
- G6: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-E (Used by Billy Gibbons in “Tush”)
- Gsus2: low-high; D-G-D-G-A-D
- Gsus4: low-high; D-G-D-G-C-D
Extended Chord Tunings
These tunings allow a guitarist to play an open seventh, ninth, eleventh or thirteenth chord. One or more of the strings is retuned to the appropriate note of the required scale. Such tunings may be either minor or major.
- Examples are:
- Open Dmaj7: low-high; D-A-D-F#-A-C#
- Open Dmin7: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-C
- Open Emin7: low-high; E-B-D-G-B-E (same as standard except raised 5th string which needs lighter gauge)
- Open G6: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-E
- Dobro open G6: low-high; G-B-D-G-B-E (two lowest strings tuned up and require lighter gauges)
- Open Gmaj7: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-F
- D-G-D-F-B-D (both very rare presumably because of tritone between adjacent strings)
- Open Gmaj7: low-high D-G-D-F#-B-D (see slack key)
- Modal G7: low-high; F-G-D-G-C-D
- Open G6min7: low-high; F-G-D-G-B-E
- Open Cmin7: low-high; C-G-C-G-Bb-Eb
- Open Cmaj7: low-high; C-G-C-G-B-E
Nearly infinite. These open tunings offer much room for experiment, but can only be used in a few keys.
On table steel guitar and pedal steel guitar, the most common tunings are the extended-chord C6 tuning and E9 tuning, sometimes known as the Texas and Nashville tunings respectively. On a multiple-neck instrument, the near neck will normally be some form of C6, and the next closest neck E9.
Noted country player Junior Brown plays his trademark Guit-Steel in a C13 tuning, which is a C6 Chord with an added 7th above the high A (the Steel has 5 strings instead of a pedal’s 7)
Necks with 12 or more strings can be used with universal tunings which combine the features of C6 and E9. On a 12 string pedal steel guitar, all 12 strings are tuned and played individually, not as 6 double courses as on the 12 string guitar.
On lap steel guitar there is often only one six-string neck. C6 tuning is popular for these instruments, as are E6 and E7 tuning, there being an insufficient number of strings to represent the notes of an E9 chord.
Dobro – Round Neck
- EADGBE – standard guitar tuning for rhythm or fingerstyle
- GBDGBD – for slide (many possible options here)
Dobro – Round Neck
- EADGBE – standard guitar tuning for rhythm or fingerstyle
- GBDGBD – for slide (many possible options here)
Miscellaneous Artist’s Tunings
All fourths: E-A-D-G-C-F
This tuning is like that of the lowest four strings in standard tuning. It removes from standard tuning the irregularity of the interval of a third between the second and third strings. With regular tunings like this, chords can simply be moved down or across the fretboard, dramatically reducing the number of different finger positions that need to be memorized. The disadvantage is that not all major and minor chords can be played with all six strings at once.
Keven Chambers’ Custom Open E: E-B-E-F#-B-E
Used by Guitarist Keven Chambers this is just an alternate version of the Open E Major tuning using an F# on the third string instead of a G#.
All fifths: C-G-D-A-E-B
This is a tuning in intervals of fifths like that of a mandolin or a violin. Has a remarkably wide range, though it is difficult to achieve (the high b” makes the first string very taut such that it will break easily), and may not play well on an acoustic guitar (the low C is too low to resonate properly in a standard guitar’s body). Luthier Todd Keehn claims to have been the first guitarist to adopt an all-fifths tuning, his being arranged G-D-a-e-b’-f#’, and he has made an all fifths tuned guitar. The guitar is able to intonate in this radical tuning by slanting all the frets and the nut, and allowing each string its own bridge; and thus its own scale length.
D modal tuning: D-A-D-G-A-D and D-A-D-A-D-D
Popularised by Davey Graham, who had been inspired by Arabic oud tuning while living in Morocco. D modal tuning D-A-D-G-A-D is now encountered in Celtic music and contemporary music.
Another similar modal tuning is D-A-D-A-D-D from low to high respectively. Used by guitarist Stephen Roy, it makes chords simpler to play. Having a “dropped D” effect in the bottom bass strings makes one finger chords easier. The top two treble strings can be slightly out of tune from each other, creating a chorus double guitar kind of effect.
Hardcore tuning: C-G-C-F-A-Bb
A rather uncommon tuning, “hardcore” tuning is used by bands of hardcore, grindcore, and even some metalcore. It much resembles dropped C tuning, except for the high strings, which, depending on what is most useful for the guitarist, are tuned one semitone (a minor second) apart. This allows the guitarist to easily create the very harsh dissonance of the minor second.
Robert Fripp’s “New Standard Tuning”: C-G-D-A-E-G
This is a tuning devised by Robert Fripp of King Crimson, used by most Guitar Craft students around the world. The tuning is similar to all fifths except the first string is dropped from b’ to g’. Some guitarists maintain that the term ‘New Standard Tuning’ is a misnomer and consider it to be a source of controversy, but the name appears to have stuck due the absence of viable alternative designations. Time will tell whether the tuning is in fact accepted outside of GC as a viable all-purpose tuning.
Billy Corgan’s “Mayonaise” tuning: Eb-Ab-Ab-Gb-Bb-D
Corgan utilizes this unique tuning on Mayonaise. The A is raised by a half step, while the D is lowered by 2 whole steps. This allows for Corgan to play the chord formations with all strings being played.
John Rzeznik’s “Iris” tuning: B-D-D-D-D-D
John Rzeznik of the rock band Goo Goo Dolls uses this tuning on the studio recorded version of his song Iris, an international hit featured on the soundtrack of City Of Angels. It creates a very shimmer-like ringing sound similar to a twelve string guitar. To tune to this tuning on a standard six string guitar the low E string is lowered to a B; the A string is lowered to a D, the D string is left the same, the G string is lowered to a D, the B string is raised to a D, and the high E string is lowered to a D. On some guitars this may require obtaining a thicker low E string than is usual to obtain a full sound when tuned down to B, and avoid the string slapping the fret board. John Rzeznik uses a different tuning for an acoustic version of “Iris”, tuned at D-A-d-g-b’-d’. This allows the above song to be played solo with an acoustic guitar and to retain a fuller sound than is achievable with the B-D-d-d-d-d tuning. Yet this tuning also retains a slight ringing sound due to three strings being tuned to D, the piece being in the key of D major.
John Rzeznik’s song “Black Balloon” is tuned at Db-Ab-Db-Ab-Db-Db. The song can also be played as Db-Ab-Db-Db-Db-Db, although it won’t sound the same.
Jars of Clay’s tuning: E-A-B-E-B-E
Jars of Clay uses this unique tuning, especially on their older material, especially found on their self-titled album. Noted songs are “Worlds Apart,” “Flood,” “Love Song for a Savior,” and “He.” The tuning gives a shimmery 12-string sound, while limiting chords to mainly suspended type chords. To achieve this tuning, one should tune the D and G strings down until they are an octave below the B and E strings in standard tuning.
Terz Guitar: G-C-F-Bb-D-G
Tenor Guitar: G-D-A-E
(one octave lower than a mandolin)
D G B E (1st four strings of the modern guitar)
D G B E (same as above, with the 4th string tuned an octave high, in a re-entrant tuning)
To tune a guitar to “lute” tuning, use a Tenor Lute (see below) tuning from “E”: E A D F# B E, for “old” tuning, or just leave it as it is, for “new” tuning.
- CGBD – like a plectrum banjo
- DGBE – like the top 4 strings of a guitar
The tunings below apply as instrument tunings for a Mandolin Orchestra:
- Mandolin: G D A E (same as violin)
- Piccolo Mandolin: A D G C (1/4 higher than a regular mandolin)
- Soprano Mandolin: G D A E (Same as a regular mandolin & violin)
- Tenor Mandolin: A D G C (1/5 lower than a regular mandolin)
- Cello Mandolin: A D G C (1 octave lower than a Tenor Mandolin)
- Mandola (tenor): C G D A
- Octave Mandolin: G D A E (one octave lower than a Mandolin)
- Mando-Cello: C G D A (one octave lower than a Mandola)
- Mando-Bass: E A D G
- D A D A Standard
- D G B E
- G D A E
- D A F C
- Soprano standard tuning:
- G C E A (4, 3, 2, 1) – ‘G’ is closest to you. (4th string, in higher octave, re-entrant tuning)
- Soprano optional tunings:
- F# B D# G# 1/2 step down
- F A# D G Full step down
- G# C# F A# 1/2 step up
- A D F# B Full step up (4th string, “A”, in higher octave, re-entrant tuning)
- G C E A
- G C E A (The ‘G’ can be an octave lower)
- D G B E (Like the upper 4 strings on a guitar)
Tiple: (Pronounced TEE-play)
- C E A D
- (South American version. 4th string, “C”, is octaved)
- Tiple: (Pronounced TIPPLE)
- A D F# B
- (North American version. 2nd, 3rd and 4th, “A”, “D”, and “F#”, are octaved)
- The strings and tunings on a Martin tiple are as follows:
- .010 tuned to B
- .010 B
- .013 F#
- .027 F# (octave lower)
- .013 F#
- .015 D
- .029 D (octave lower)
- .015 D
- .009 A
- .025 A (octave lower)
All strings are unwound except for strings 4, 7, and 10, which are phosphor bronze wound. The tiple string tunings are a fifth above the corresponding guitar string (like a ukulele). When playing with a guitar in standard tuning, you can read the guitar chords and play the standard ukulele chord patterns. If you do not want to learn the ukulele patterns, transpose the guitar chords up a fourth and use standard guitar patterns on the tiple (i.e., the guitar plays C major, the tiple plays F major).
- DAD & DAA
Common Lute Tuning: G-C-F-A-D-G
This tuning also matches standard vihuela tuning and is often employed in classical guitar transcriptions of music written for those instruments.
Renaissance Lute Tuning: E-A-D-F#-B-E
This tuning may also be used with a capo at the third fret to match the common lute pitch: G-C-F-A-D-G; see Common Lute Tuning above.
“Pseudo Russian” or G Tuning: D-G-D-G-B-E
A versatile tuning examples of which can be heard in Choro de Saudade by Agustín Barrios and also in well known transcriptions of La Maja de Goya by Enrique Granados and Sevilla by Isaac Albéniz.
New Lute Tunings: “new” tuning: 8-course E# B A D G C# E A (descant tuning: see below)
- “new” tuning (Virdung ca. 1500): G C F A D G (the “viel accord”)(alto)
- “old” tuning: 8-course E# B A D G C# E# A (descant tuning: see below)
- “Sharp” tuning: G C F A C E
- “Flat” tuning: G C F Ab C Eb
- “Accord Nouveau”: A D F A D F (17th Cent.)
- Small octave Lute: D or C
- Small descant Lute: B
- Descant Lute: A
- Choir or alto Lute: G
- Tenor Lute: E
- Bass Lute: D
- Large octave bass Lute: G
- Arch Lute: same as Descant Lute, with extra bass strings tuned descending diatonically
Braguinha (Madeira Island):
- D G B D (also known as machete de braga)
Rajo (Madeira Island):
- D G C E A (Re-entrant tuning: G is octave higher. True forerunner of the ukulele (G C E A, or on US mainland and England, A D F# B)
- G G B D (Gs are in unison, same octave) This is the Portugese mainland version of the braguinha.
- D E A D G C
- Cümbus can also use any Oud tuning
Oud: (Turkish style):
- D G A D G C
- Standard Egyptian/Arab: D G A D G C
- Old Turkish Classical: A D E A D G
- New Turkish Classical: F# B E A D G
- Turkish/Armenian: E A B E A D
- Turkish/Armenian Variant: C# F# B E A D
- F G A B C D E F G C F A D G (or the same intervals one tone higher)
- C G C G C
- C F C F C
- C G C G C
- C F C F C
- G D G D
- C D G C E A
- G C D G C E A
- G C F A D G (a seventh course was added to the bass after 1600; it may also be tuned like a Lute)
- G D A E mandolin tuning: (same as Octave Mandolin)
- D G B D (open “G”, same as modern Plectrum banjo)
- D G C D (“G Dorian mode”)
- G D G B D (open “G”) five-course
- G D G B D (open “G”, with the 5th string as a re-entrant, the same as a modern 5-string banjo)
- C D G B D
- A D G A D
- A D G B E (same as Gittern)
- D G D G D
- A D A D A
- A E A E A
- D G D A E
Lafranco (1533): A C B G D E
Adrian LeRoy (1565): A G D E
Virchi (1574): D F B G D E
Cetarone (bass cittern): Eb Bb F C G D A
- E B G D E (a re-entrant tuning is also mentioned, but no intervals are given, by Agazzari in 1607)
- A D G B E (same as modern guitar, but without the low E string)
- A D G B E (re-entrant: 4th string an octave high)
- 4-Course Guitar: Probably similarly to the 5-Course Guitar, but without the 5th string(s) (see below)
- 5-Course Guitar: ca. Mid-1500’s
- D D G B E (4th and 5th, “D”, tuned in same octave as 1st, “E,” in a re-entrant tuning)
- A D G B E (5th string one octave lower than 1st thru 4th)
- A D G B E (same as first five of modern guitar)
Vihuela de Mano:
- G C F A D G
- C F Bb A D G
- C F Bb A D G (note: tune to the same sound as a ukelele, with the 4th string, the Bb, in the next octave higher than the 5th and 3rd. This is known as a “re-entrant” tuning and is very period.)
- You may also use any standard Lute tuning.
- D G B E (re-entrant: 4th string (D) in higher octave similar to the ukelele. I dare say you could use a tenor ukelele, or even a tenor guitar, to stand-in for this instrument.)
- G D G D (in bass range. A mando-cello will work here quite well)
- I suggest tuning it like a Cittern, as the descriptions of it’s sound from period Ms. would seem to indicate a “5th” relationship tuning.
- Probably tuned like a Cittern, or like a Cytole, but if you use a Cytole tuning, tune several tones lower.
- Eight wire-strung courses tuned like a Lute, plus about 15 diatonic bass strings on a harp frame, similar to the Harp-Guitar of the early 1900’s in the USA.
- Seven wire-strung courses tuned in “old” Lute tuning, plus 8 open bass strings on a harp frame.
Banjo Family Tunings
5 String Banjo
- (Low to High)
- G – DGBD – Standard ‘G’ tuning for bluegrass
- G – CGBD – ‘C’ tuning for bluegrass
- G – CGCE – ‘C’ tuning: open
- G – DCBbB – G minor tuning
- (Low to High)
- DGBE (‘Chicago’ tuning)
- GDAE (‘Irish’ tuning)
- DGBE (‘Guitar’ tuning)
- (Low to High)
- (Low to High)
Alternate Banjo Tunings:
Open-G + 2 aEAC#E
The most usual tuning for accompanying fiddle tunes in A.
Open-G + 3 eBEG#B
Dock Boggs, Peggy Walker, key of E (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”).
Open-G + 2 fCFAC
Rufus Crisp often used open-G tuned down to F.
Ron Mullenex, Barker’s Creek (“Taking Yesterday Along”). Rick Abrams, Abner’s Shoes, fiddle tuned GDAC (“The Piney Creek Weasels: Squirrel Heads & Gravy”). Stu Jamieson, Pretty Polly (fretless banjo) (” Banjos, Lamas & Bagpipes”).
Open-G, raised 5th string aDGBD
Mostly for tunes in the key of D or F. More common in bluegrass than old-time playing.
John Burke, Eight More Miles to Louisville (Tab, BNL, Oct 1982). Bill Keith, Footprints in the Snow (“Muleskinner”; tab, BNL, Jan 1989). Ken Perlman, from Johnny Morissey, Darlin’ Nelly Grey, key of F (Tab, BNL, Nov 1994). Tom Glazer, The Days of ’49 (A-minor). Peggy Seeger, Lonesome Road Blues. Stu & Gloria Jamieson, What Shall We Do With the Baby-Oh? (capo-2) (” Banjos, Lamas & Bagpipes”).
Open-G, raised 5th string bDGBD
Earl Scruggs, Lay Me Down in Dixie (“Top of the World”; tab, BNL, Jul 1990). Anthony Shostak, The Changeling
Open-G, raised 5th (octave above 1st string) dDGBD
Pete Seeger suggests this for Green Corn ( “How to Play the 5 String Banjo”).
Open-G, raised 5th string g#DGBD
Open-G, lowered 5th string eDGBD
Buell Kazee, Lady Gay; Roving Cowboy (“Buell Kazee”). Art Rosenbaum suggests it for Pretty Little Miss or Little Rabbit, using the 5th string for melody notes (in “Old Time Mountain Banjo”). Ken Perlman, Devil’s Dream (tab in “Clawhammer Style Banjo”. Joel Mabus, Little Rabbit (“Clawhammer”). Stu Jamieson, The Wicked Wife (” Banjos, Lamas & Bagpipes”).
Open-G, lowered 5th string
Indian Creek Delta Boys, Wolfe Creek (“Indian Creek Delta Boys”). Mark Rader, from Joe Mullins, The Blues Are Still the Blues, key of B (Tab, BNL, Feb 1994).
Open-G, lowered 5th string fDGBD
Danny Barnes, Stevejames, G-mixolydian (“The Bad Livers: Horses in the Mines”; tab, BNL, Aug 1995).
Open-G variant. A “guitar tuning” gDGBE
Equivalent in F is fCFAD .
Retta Spradlin, Wild Bill Jones (“Gettin’ Up the Stairs”). Barry Hall, Lady Gay (“The Virtuoso 5-String Banjo”). Ray Stewart (Aberdeen, Scotland) likes it for Forks of Sandy among others. Reed Island Rounders, Big Scioty (“Wolves in the Wood”).
Open-G variant gDGBC
Tony Trischka, Kentucky Bullfight (“Country Cooking”). Buzz Fountain, Southern Rose Waltz (“Old-Time Banjo in America”).
Open-G variant gFGBD
A Rufus Crisp tuning, according to Pete Seeger ( “How to Play…”).
Open-G variant gEGBD
Molly Tenenbaum, Charming Betsy, capo 3 for G-minor (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered in Cakes”).
G variant gDGDD
Or dDGDD. A Peggy Seeger “dulcimer” tuning. The same principle of tuning several strings to the same note & playing on one string against the drone of the others can be applied in various combinations & keys.
G variant gBGBD
Low B on 4th string.
Hank Sapoznik, President Garfield’s Hornpipe (tab in Ken Perlman’s in “Melodic Clawhammer Banjo”). Morgan Sexton, London City Where I Did Dwell (“Rock Dust”).
G variant gDGAE
In “Old-Time Mountain Banjo” Art Rosenbaum suggested this tuning for Sugar Hill and Willie Moore.
G modal/minor variant gDFAD
An unusual tuning evidently invented by Miles Krassen to fit Frank George’s fiddle version of The 28th of January. Krassen uses the tuning to play in the key of A (i.e. aEGBE). See Miles Krassen’s books, ” Clawhammer Banjo” and “Appalachian Fiddle”. I don’t believe Frank George has recorded this tune, but versions of it may be found on: “The Fuzzy Mountain String Band”; The Bing Brothers, “Just For the Sake of It”; The Ill-Mo Boys, “Fine As Frog’s Hair”.
G variant dDGAC
See under eEABD .
G variant eEGBD
“G-bass”, “low-G” gGGBD
4th string tuned an octave below 3rd string.
Fred Cockerham, Long Steel Rail (“Clawhammer Banjo”, where it is claimed that Cockerham invented this tuning). Paul Brown, Roundtown Gals (“A Tribute to Tommy Jarrell”). Dwight Diller, Yew Pine Mountain “Just Banjo”). Rufus Crisp is also said to have used this tuning. Bob Carlin lowered it to open-E for his version of Chilly Winds (“Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo”).
“Tommy Jarrell’s Open-A” aAAC#E
The G-bass tuned up to the key of A. (On another County recording, Tommy Jarrell’s Banjo Album: “Come & Go With Me”, it is claimed that Tommy was responsible for this “fantastic tuning”. Perhaps Fred invented it in G, and Tommy in A.)
Tommy Jarrell, John Brown’s Dream (“More Clawhammer Banjo”). Tommy Jarrell & Paul Brown, Roundtown Gals (“Appalachia, The Old Traditions, vol 2”). Jont Blevins, Train 45 (I can’t find my source). Art Rosenbaum, John Henry (“Five String Banjo”). John Herrmann, Polly Grant; Brushy Fork of John’s Creek (“Dirk Powell & John Herrmann”).
G-bass variant gGA#CD
Frank Proffitt, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (“High Atmosphere”).
Rufus Crisp G-bass variant gGDAD
Pete Seeger ( “How to Play…”) mentions this as among the tunings Rufus Crisp used.
G-bass variant cGGAC
This could be my misinterpretation of a weird & wonderful tuning that Jody Stecher came up with for his banjo/vocal rendition of Snake Baked a Hoecake. I only have this on a tape passed on to me by a friend; the original LP (“Jody Stecher & Friends: Snake Baked a Hoecake”) was recorded in 1974. On the tape I have, the banjo is tuned even lower, to something like bF#F#G#B. Stecher seems to be playing it as a slide-banjo.
“G-modal”, “Mountain Minor”, “Sawmill” gDGCD
One of the most common banjo tunings for tunes in Dorian & Aeolian modal scales. E.g. Cluck Old Hen; Pretty Polly; Shady Grove; Little Sadie; The Cuckoo; East Virginia.
Also sometimes used for D-centered tunes: e.g. Dock Boggs, Sugar Baby (“Dock Boggs: 12 Original Recordings”; “Dock Boggs, Vol 2”). Heath Curdts, Boll Weevil (“A Tribute to Tommy Jarrell”) Curdts says that Jarrell used it for Chilly Winds.
In BNL, Dec 1988, Ken Perlman discussed the use of this tuning for playing in B-flat and E-flat.
Mountain Minor + 2 aEADE
Changed up mainly to accompany A-modal fiddle tunes.
G-modal, raised 5th string aDGCD
Art Rosenbaum, Frankie Was a Good Girl, key of F (Tab in “Old Time Mountain Banjo”). Rosenbaum suggests trying Cumberland Gap or Buck Creek Girls in this tuning or the variant fDGCD.
G-modal, lowered 5th string fDGCD
Equivalent, for the key of F, of gEADE.
Roscoe Holcomb, The Hills of Mexico (“The Music of Roscoe Holcomb & Wade Ward”). Kimble Family, Goin’ Down to Raleigh (Silly Bill) (“Carroll County Pioneers”). Brad Leftwich, Linda Higginbotham, Are You Getting There, Rabbit?, from Matokie Slaughter (“Say, Old Man”). Bob Carlin, Trouble (“Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo”). Greg Jowaisas, Harlan County Farewell Tune (“Old Time Banjo Pieces”). Joel Mabus, Kitchen Girl; Hen House Door “Clawhammer”). Molly Tenenbaum, Long Time Traveling Here Below, capo 3 (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”). Darrell Hensley, Whiskey Before Breakfast (Tab, BNL, Feb 1987). George Gibson likes to play Shady Grove and Cumberland Gap in this tuning. Dwight Diller, Sail Away Ladies (“Harvest: West Va. Mountain Music”).
John Cohen, Buck Creek Girls, fretless bjo (‘New Lost City Ramblers: There Ain’t No Way Out’). John gives his source for this as Banjo Bill Cornett’s performance on ‘Mountain Music of Kentucky’ CD version.
G-modal variant gFGCD
Sidna Myers, Twin Sisters; Shady Grove (“Clawhammer Banjo vol 2”; also “High Atmosphere”). Rufus Crisp, Shady Grove (“Rufus Crisp”). George Gibson says that his father played Big Jug of Liquor in this tuning, and that he knows of only one other old-timer (also from Knott County) who played this song.
G-modal variant fFGCD
Matokie Slaughter, Big-Eyed Rabbit; Sidna Myers, Shady Grove (both on “Clawhammer Banjo vol 2”). Clyde Davenport, Shortenin’ Bread and Untitled Tune (both on “Puncheon Camps”). Allen Hart, with Kerry Blech, Will Davenport’s Tune, learned from Clyde Davenport (“The Young Fogies, vol. 2”). Brad Leftwich, Kitty Wells, tuned to eEF#BC# (“Say, Old Man”). George Gibson also likes this tuning.
G-modal “accident” eFGCD
Mike Seeger, Little Betty Ann (“Music from True Vine”). I read somewhere that Seeger picked up this tuning from an old country banjo player he encountered on his travels. Later he ran into that man again and learned that the tuning was an accident; the 5th string peg had been slipping. Seeger uses the “E” as a melody note, very effectively.
“Willie Moore” G/D Tuning gDGAD
This produces a cross between a G-chord (DGBD) and a D-chord (DF#AD). I don’t know if it is traditionally called the “Willie Moore” tuning; Art Rosenbaum (in “Old-Time Mountain Banjo”) suggested that this song falls into it naturally. George Gibson calls this the “Moonshiner” tuning, and says it’s good for songs like Knoxville Girl, as well as Moonshiner.
Gaither Carlton, Pretty Saro (“The Watson Family Tradition”). Pete Seeger, Jinny Git Around ( “How to Play…”). Barry Hall, Peggy-O (“Virtuoso 5-string Banjo”). Morgan Sexton, Little Sparrow (“Rock Dust”). (Although the liner notes say Sexton is playing this in fCFCD, key of F, I’m 99 & 44/100% sure he’s in gDGAD; and certainly in the key of G. Anyway, a very beautiful performance.) Bob Clayton, Bill Cheatham (Tab, BNL, Jan 1980).
A “Dock Boggs” D tuning f#DGAD
Though there are more recorded examples of this tuning in the Dock Boggs canon than I’ve found elsewhere, Dock clearly didn’t “invent” it. George Gibson lists it as a variant of the “Moonshiner” gDGAD tuning; he plays in it a version of Texas Rangers that he learned from Mel Amburgey, a Knott County old-timer.
Dock Boggs, Danville Girl (“His 12 Original Recordings” and “Dock Boggs Vol 2”). Dock Boggs, Pretty Polly (“His 12 Original Recordings”; “Dock Boggs”). Dock Boggs, Glory Land (“Dock Boggs Vol 2”). Dock Boggs, Cuba; Prayer of a Miner’s Child (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”). John Hilston, Bonaparte’s Retreat (“A Tribute to Tommy Jarrell”). Molly Tenenbaum, Little Birdie, in E (“And the Hillsides…”).
Another favorite Dock Boggs tuning f#CGAD
Dock Boggs, Country Blues (“His 12 Original Recordings”; “Dock Boggs”). Dock Boggs, Oh Death; Prodigal Son; Drunkard’s Lone Child (“Dock Boggs”). Dock Boggs, The Death of Jerry Damron (“Dock Boggs Vol 2”). Dock Boggs, Loving Nancy; Calvary (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”). John Cohen, John Johanna (“Old Time Banjo Project”). Mike Seeger, Pretty Polly (“Mike Seeger & Alice Gerrard”).
What George Gibson calls “Oma Wise” tuning, from his father’s playing of this song.
Dock Boggs, Little Black Train (“Dock Boggs Vol 2”). Mike Seeger’s liner notes say Dock usually plays this “with 5th string tuned to F#. Probably forgot to tune it”. Whether he did or not, it’s effective, and does not sound like a mistake.
Art Rosenbaum, Little Sadie, from Hobart Bailey (tab in ” Old-Time Mountain Banjo”).
Benji Aronoff, Red Apple Juice (Sugar Baby); St. James Hospital (“The 2 Sides of Benji Aronoff”).
A Tony Trischka D/G tuning
Tony Trischka, Garlic and Sapphires (“Psychograss: Like Minds”; tab, BNL, Nov 1996).
G-bass variant of ..GAD
Known both as “Wade Ward’s Fox Chase Tuning” and “Rufus Crisp’s Brighter Day Tuning”.
Wade Ward, Wade’s Fox Chase (“Fields & Wade Ward”). Rufus Crisp, Brighter Day (“Rufus Crisp”). Hank Schwartz, Brighter Day (“Old Time Banjo Project”). Art Rosenbaum, Got a Little Home to Go To (“5 String Banjo”).
A “Cumberland Gap” Tuning
See also under the equivalent fDGCD. Traditional esp. in Kentucky. Good, among other things, for accompanying fiddle tunes in G (e.g. if your banjo is already tuned up, sans capo, to A or D). From gDGCD (“Mountain Minor”), capo-2, leaving 5th string as is. Or from aEADE, tune 5th string down. Often heard in this tuning: Cumberland Gap; Sandy River Belles; Stoney Point.
Walter Williams, Wild Horse (Stoney Point), tuned down one tone (“Library of Congress Banjo Collection”). McKinley Asher, Hand Me Down My Old White Hat (“Library of Congress Banjo Collection”). Andy Cahan, Hello Raccoon (“Old Five-String”). Kimble Family, Troubles (Sugar Babe), (“Carroll County Pioneers”). Bob Clayton, Barlow Knife (Tab, BNL, Jan 1979). Art Rosenbaum, Stoney Point; Buck Creek Gals; Harlan County Farewell Tune ( Tabs & also LP, “The Art of the Mountain Banjo”). Bob Carlin, Trouble (“Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo”). Cathy Fink, Cumberland Gap; Miss McLeod’s Reel (“Banjo Haiku”). Molly Tenenbaum, Sail Away Ladies (on Mark Simos, “Race the River Jordan”). Mike Seeger, Shady Grove, fretless bjo tuned down to d#CFA#C; with Tracy Schwarz’s fiddle tuned to FCDG (‘New Lost City Ramblers: There Ain’t No Way Out’). Mike gives his source as Lee Sexton, on ‘Whoa Mule’.
Variant of gEADE
Frank Dalton, Rich Mountain (Stoney Point); Hop Light Ladies (“Old Originals Vol 1”). N.B. Dalton called this tuning “high bass, high second”. Matokie Slaughter, Big Eyed Rabbit (“Saro”). W. Guy Bruce, setting Art Rosenbaum, Shady Grove (Tab, BNL, Dec 1982).
“Old G”, “Sandy River Belle” tuning
Gaither Carlton, Rambling Hobo (“High Atmosphere”). Doc Watson, Rambling Hobo (“Memories”). George Stoneman, Sandy River Belle (“Clawhammer Banjo”).(The sleeve notes on this recording mistakenly, I believe, give the tuning as fCFAD.) Oscar Wright, Sandy River ( “Clawhammer Banjo”). Blanton Owen, Cumberland Gap (“Old Originals, vol 2”). Ron Mullennex, Dead Man’s Piece (“Old Five String”). Bob Carlin, Walk Along John; Big Footed Man in the Sandy Lot; Little Boy, Little Boy (“Banging and Sawing”). Bob Carlin, Ain’t Gonna Get No Supper Here Tonight (“Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo”). Bob Carlin, Ten Yards of Calico; Hosses in the Canebrake (“Banging & Sawing”, CD reissue only). Bob Carlin, with John Hartford, Shortnin’ Bread (“The Fun of Open Discussion”). Bill Mansfield, Wild Horse (Stoney Point) (“Root Hog or Die”). Gene Brown, Blackberry Blossom (Tab, BNL, Jan 1983).
DGDE variant, lowered 5th string
Chords: D/G/Bm. Bob Carlin, Ninety Degrees, capo 2, to eEAEF# (“Banging & Sawing”).
Dirk Powell, Dirk’s Escape (on Mark Simos, “Race the River Jordan”).
“Last Chance”/ alt. “Sandy River Belle” tuning
The equivalent of fDFCD .
Hobart Smith, Last Chance (“Hobart Smith of Saltville, Virginia”). Albert Hash, Rambling Hobo (“Albert Hash & the Whitetop Mt. Band”).
Open G-minor tuning
Austin Harmon, John Hardy, tuned down to eAEAB (“Library of Congress Banjo Collection”. Pete Seeger, All the Pretty Little Horses ( “How to Play…”). Dick Weissman, The Parting Song (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”). Jane Keefer, Ghost Riders in the Sky (Tab, BNL, Aug 1979). Jane Keefer, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho (Tab, BNL, Mar 1980). Molly Tenenbaum, John Hardy (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”). The Bunch of Keys (“Banjo Picker’s Fakebook”). John Roberts, Paddy on the Turnpike (Tab, BNL, Mar 1984). Jack Marcovitch, King William’s March (Tab, BNL, Apr 1990). Bill Barclay, Star of the County Down (Tab, BNL, June 1993). Mike Seeger, Free Little Bird, fretless banjo tuned down to eAEAB (‘New Lost City Ramblers: There Ain’t No Way Out’).
Tunes often played in Mountain Minor tuning (e.g. Shady Grove) can be effective in the open G-minor.
Jack Bunch, Not a Flower on Dogwood Flats (“Old Time Banjo Pieces”). Ron Lunceford, Jerusalem Ridge, A-minor (Tab, BNL, Dec. 1996).
Mike Seeger, Roustabout (“Solo”). Seeger plays this on a gourd banjo, tuned down. He gives his source as “Josh Thomas of Hollins, VA, an exceptional blind black banjo picker and singer”, who was recorded in 1970 by Cliff Endress.
“Standard-C”, “Single-C”, “Drop-C”,”C-tuning”
Used to be one of the most widely used banjo tunings, and is a “standard” in bluegrass as well as old-time music. C-tuning was the basis for most of the 19th century banjo methods and the written banjo literature. Nowadays, many old-time pickers use “Double-C” for tunes that were formerly more often heard in “Standard-C” (e.g. Mississippi Sawyer, Soldier’s Joy, Arkansas Traveler, Turkey in the Straw, to name a few in the canon). Tuned up to D, this becomes aDAC#E.
Just a few examples: Wade Reedy, Old Jimmy Sutton (“High Atmosphere”). Buell Kazee, Black Jack Davy (“Buell Kazee”). Hobart Smith, Cindy; John Greer’s Tune; Soldier’s Joy (“Hobart Smith of Saltville, Va.”). Fred Cockerham, Roustabout (“Clawhammer Banjo vol 2”). Dock Boggs, Turkey in the Straw (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”). Pete Seeger, Cumberland Mountain Bear Chase; Hard, Ain’t It Hard ( “How to Play…”).
Standard-C – 3
A tining in the minstrel-style era (early to mid-19th century). John Cohen says that “19th century banjoists wrote all of their music in A notation, although after 1870, they generally actually performed the pieces in the absolute key of C.”
Wayne Shrubsall, Do, Mr Boker Do (Johnny Booker) (Tab, BNL, Feb 1985). Bob Winans, The Grapevine Twist (“Old-Time Banjo in America”). (There will be many more examples on recent minstrel-style recordings.)
Standard-C – 5
Apparently the tuning used by Thomas Briggs.
Wayne Shrubsall, Darkey Money Musk; Darkey Fisher’s Hornpipe (Tabs, BNL, Mar 1987). Ken Perlman (from Briggs’ “Banjo Instructor”, 1855), Dance, Boatman, Dance; Old Zip Coon (Tabs, BNL, Feb 1988).
Standard-C, lowered 5th string
Muller & Koehler, Morpeth Rant, from “Allan Block & Ralph Lee Smith” (tab in Mel Bay’s “Frailing the 5-String Banjo”).
Standard-C, raised 5th string
Douglas Wilson, Fur Elise (Communication to Banjo-L Internet Discussion Group, 12 April 97)
Art Rosenbaum, Texas Rangers, 3-finger picking (“Five String Banjo”). Also see his tab in “The Art of the Mountain Banjo”).
A Tony Trischka C-tuning, lowered 5th string
Tony Trischka, River of Steel (“Skyline Drive”).
“Double-C”, “Two-C”, “C-modal”
Now one of the commonest tunings in clawhammer style, above all for playing with “D” fiddle tunes. Also used by Tony Ellis in many of his lovely bluegrass-cum-old-time 3-finger style tunes, and perhaps by other bluegrass musicians. For all I know, this tuning may have a history reaching at least as far back as the Standard-C (gCGBD) recorded in so much of the 19th C literature. Blanton Owen’s liner notes for “Old Originals Vol 2” say that the Virginian Stuart Carrico considers the Double-C tuning to be older than the Standard-C. (Stuart was born at the turn of the century.)
Tuned up to D, this becomes aDADE. Tuned down to B-flat, fBbFBbC.
Double-C, lowered 5th string: Wade Ward’s “High Atmosphere” tuning
Wade Ward, Half Shaved (“High Atmosphere”). Pete Steele, The Train A-Pulling.(“Pete Steele: Banjo Tunes & Songs”). Art Rosenbaum, Heavy Loaded Freight Train (Tab in “Old-Time Mountain Banjo”). Bob Fulcher, Lost Indian (“Old Five-String”). Clyde Davenport, Sugar in My Coffee-O (“Puncheon Camps”). Joel Mabus, Briarpicker Brown/ Spider Bit The Baby; Soldier’s Joy (“Joel Mabus, Clawhammer”). Molly Tenenbaum, Jack O’ Diamonds (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”). Hank Bradley, Ducks on the Millpond (Tab courtesy of Ray Stewart. I’ve no recorded example). Dwight Diller, Callaway (“Harvest: West Va. Mountain Music”).
Double-C, lowered 5th string
Molly Tenenbaum, Wilson’s Clog, capo 2 (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”). Molly Tenenbaum, Roscoe’s Gone, from the tune Hank Bradley made up in honor of Roscoe Holcomb (“And the Hillsides…”; Hank Bradley, “Hassle the Caller”).
Double-C, raised 5th string
John Burke, Forked Deer (Tab, “Old-Time Fiddle Tunes for Banjo” ). Carl Baron, Rye Straw (Tab, BNL, Jul 1986).
C-minor variant of Double-C
Or aDADF for D-minor.
Bill Mansfield, Bonnie Prince Charlie, D-minor (“Root Hog or Die”). Dick Weissman, Music Box (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”). Michael J. Miles, Greensleeves (Tab, BNL, Feb 1985). John McEuen, Miner’s Night Out (Tab, BNL, Nov 1990).
1st string an octave above 2nd.
Ken Perlman, Reuben’s Train (Tab, BNL, Mar 1984). E. Sweeney, The Star of County Down (Tab, BNL, July 1984). Dick Weissman, Laredo Fantasy (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”). Molly Tenenbaum, Georgia Railroad (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”).
“Darling Cora” tuning
First string lowered to play in unison with 2nd.
According to George Gibson this is quite an old tuning, giving ‘a wonderful droning sound’. His father used it for Darling Cora, and GG believes that B. F. Shelton did as well.
B.F. Shelton, Darling Cora, 1927 (“Music of Kentucky Vol 1″;”Old Time Mountain Ballads”).
Uncle Dave Macon used this tuning a lot; so did Frank Proffitt. Some frailers/clawhammerers and old-time finger-pickers (e.g. Tom Paley) consistently use Open-C rather than Double-C. Ray Stewart says it makes far better sense for The 8th of January and Turkey in the Straw than Double C. Tuned up to D, this becomes aDADF#, and as such has the name of “Quince Dillon’s High D”.
A few examples: Dave Macon, Way Down The Old Plank Road; Rise When the Rooster Crows (& many others). Frank Proffitt, Bonnie James Campbell; I’ll Never Get Drunk Any More, 2-finger style (“North Carolina Songs & Ballads”). Dock Boggs, Little Omie Wise; Sugar Blues; I Hope I Live a Few More Days (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”. At any rate, it sounds to me as if Dock is using the Open-C on these songs). Taj Mahal, Colored Aristocracy (“De Old Folks at Home”). Reed Martin, Snowdrop (“Old-Time Banjo in America”). Bob Fulcher, Redbird (“Old Five-String”). Ken Perlman, Billy in the Lowground (tab in in “Clawhammer Style Banjo”). Bertram Levy, Rowe’s Division/ Dominion Reel, in C; Lafayette/ Paddy on the Railroad, in D (“That Old Gut Feeling”). Fuzzy Mt. String Band, Quince Dillon’s High D (“Summer Oaks & Porch”) Tom Paley, Wolves Howling (Tab, BNL, Nov 1984). Ray Stewart, Four Cent Cotton (no recordings). Don Stover, Things in Life (“Things in Life”). Bob Carlin, Pretty Polly Ann – tuned down to A: eAEAC# (“Banging & Sawing”).
‘Open-C’, raised 5th string
Stu Jamieson, The Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase (capo-2) ( “Banjos, Lamas & Bagpipes”). Stu’s liner-notes tell us that one day he cornered Uncle Dave Macon backstage at the Grand Ol’ Opry and obtained the tuning for this song, along with some ‘handy hints’ – which Stu does not divulge. See also under gA#FA#D
“Open-D”, “Graveyard”, “Reuben” tuning
As common among bluegrass as among old-time players. Old Ruben or Reuben’s Train is traditionally played in this tuning.
A few examples: McKinley Asher, Shortnin’ Bread (“Library of Congress Banjo Collection”). Pete Steele, Coal Creek March (“Pete Steele”). Dock Boggs, Coke Oven March; Ruben’s Train (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”). Buell Kazee, Look Up Look Down That Lonesome Road; Jay Gould’s Daughter (“Buell Kazee”). Wade Ward, Peachbottom Creek, capo 3 to F (“The Music of Roscoe Holcomb & Wade Ward”). Fred Cockerham, Little Satchel (“High Atmosphere”, on CD reissue, not on original LP. FC is, I’m pretty sure, using the open-D tuning, changed up to E, in this performance of his song. But see also under f#BEAD). Fred Cockerham, Frankie Baker (“High Atmosphere”, CD reissue only. But see under f#DEAD). Snuffy Jenkins, Lonesome Road Blues (“American Banjo, Scruggs Style”). Earl Scruggs, Mama Blues (“Carnegie Hall Album”; tabs, BNL, Nov, Dec 1989). J. D. Crowe, Reuben (“Lonesome Rubin: Tony Rice, Guitar”; tab, BNL, Jan 1988). Ola Belle Reed, Boat’s Up the River; Doney Where You Been So Long (“Old Time Banjo in America”). Pete Seeger, Darling Corey (“Darling Corey”). Jack Bunch, Shortnin’ Bread (“Old Time Banjo Pieces”). Rick Abrams, Little Nell, fiddle tuned GDAD (“Piney Creek Weasels: Squirrel Heads & Gravy”). Art Rosenbaum, Tennessee Line Hard Times, tuned down to C: eCEGC ( Tab & LP, “The Art of the Mountain Banjo”). John Herrmann, Dirk Powell, Rosalee McFall, in E (“One Eyed Dog”).
Alternate Open-D, raised 5th string
Ralph Stanley, Hard Times. Merle Watson, Wreck of the Old No. Nine. Eric Mintz, Peachbottom Creek (Tab, Ken Perlman’s in “Clawhammer Style Banjo”). Dick Weissman, Down in Denver (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”). Bill Ogden, The Wagoner’s Lad (Tab, BNL, Nov 1975). John Hartford, Gentle On My Mind (Tab, BNL, Apr 1992).
Open-D, raised 5th string
Dan Gellert, Johnny Booker, tuned up to aEG#BE (“Forked Deer”).
Open-D, lowered 5th string
Ray Stewart, Dry and Dusty (no recording).
Bertram Levy, A Shamrock in the Galax (“That Old Gut Feeling”). Levy wrote the tune. Chesley Chancey, Mole in the Ground, finger-picking (“Folk Visions & Voices, vol 2”).
Eric Weissberg, No Title Yet Blues (“New Dimensions in Banjo & Bluegrass”), tuning courtesy of Donald Zepp. I’ve a note that Fred Cockerham may have used this tuning, but no reference.
Mac Benford, Maggie Walker Blues, in E (“Highwoods String Band: No. 3 Special”). Benford discusses this major/minor tuning in BNL, May 1977. John Hermmann, Rosalee McFall, also tuned up to E, with Dirk Powell’s fiddle tuned BEBE (“One Eyed Dog”). Blanton Owen’s notes for “Old Originals Vol 2” say that Jont Blevins used this tuning for Reuben.
Dick Weissman, Blues for Dock Boggs (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”).
Hank Schwartz, with John Cohen, Banging Breakdown (“Old Time Banjo Project”).
D variant: “John Henry”, “Dead Man’s” tuning
See also g#BEBE, below.
Roscoe Holcomb, Old Smokey (“The Music of Roscoe Holcomb & Wade Ward”).. Greg Jowaisas, Valley Forge (“Old Time Banjo Pieces”). Bob Carlin, Payday (“Where Did You Get That Hat?”). John Les, Elkhorn Ridge (not recorded). Dwight Diller, John Henry Blues ;Washington’s March (“Piney Woods”). Paul Brown, The Old Man’s & Old Woman’s Quarrel (Grumbling Old Man…), from Fields Ward (Tab, BNL, Aug 1994). Stu Jamieson, Georgie Buck (fretless banjo) (” Banjos, Lamas & Bagpipes”). Dwight Diller, John Henry Blues (“Harvest: West. Va. Mountain Music”). Ernie Fasse (communications to Banjo-L) has also, on his fretless banjo, been delving into this tuning, e.g. for Dance Boatman Dance; Say Darling Say; If I Lose Let Me Lose; Billy Wilson…
Bruce Molsky, Wild Bill Jones (“Lost Boy”).
See also eBEBE.
Reed Martin, Off to California (“The Young Fogies, Vol. 1”). Reed notes that the banjo on which he recorded the tune “belonged to the ‘Cox’ family of Hillsville VA…It was tuned to dADAD when found so it stays in that tuning.” (Communicated to Banjo-L by Jeff Chumley, 23 March 97)
Dick Weissman, Country Blues (“New Directions in Folk Music”).
Try: Mole in the Ground
Dick Weissman, Snowbird (“Old Time Banjo Modern Style”).
Jim Connor, Ragtime Annie; Columbus Stockade (“Alabama Old Time Music”).
Ray Andrews, Meadowlands, in Bm (Tab, Ken Perlman’s in “Clawhammer Style Banjo”). Robb Goldstein, Bonaparte Crossing the Delaware (Tab, BNL, Oct 1986).
Virgil Anderson, Miner’s Dream, in the key of E, aEGCE (“On the Tennessee Line”).
Tony Trischka, China Grove For You, D (“Bluegrass Light”). I don’t recall where I heard about this
Bob Clayton, Reuben’s Train (Tab, BNL, Jan 1980). Alec Slater, Frost and Snow, A-Dorian (Tab in “Clawhammer Banjo Solos…”).
Tommy Jarrell’s open D-minor “Reuben” tuning
Tommy Jarrell, Reuben (“Come and Go With Me”).
“Nashville Blues” D-minor variant
Earl Scruggs, Nashville Blues. Bill Evans, Native and Fine (“Native and Fine”). Don Borchelt, Greensleeves (Tab, BNL, Dec 1994).
Open D-minor variant
Dick Weissman, East Virginia (“The Things That Trouble My Mind”). Dick Weissman, Ode to Amuse (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”).
“Cumberland Gap” F-tuning
Equivalent of gDGDE, “Old G”.
George Landers, Cumberland Gap (“High Atmosphere”). Gaither Carlton, Rambling Hobo (“The Watson Family Tradition”). Doc Watson, Rambling Hobo (“The Essential Doc Watson”; “The Doc Watson Family”). Dock Boggs, Davenport, tuned dADAB; i.e. fCFCD – 3 (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”. The tune belongs to the “Last Chance” & “Rambling Hobo” group). Morgan Sexton, Little Frankie; John Henry (“Rock Dust”). The Kimble Family, Gypsy Girl (“Pine Knots School Rowdies”). John Cohen, Cumberland Gap (“Brandywine 1976”). Bob Carlin, Ladies on the Steamboat; The Last Time (“Where Did You Get That Hat?”). Bob Carlin, Big Scioty ,tuned down to eBEBC# (“Fiddle Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo”). Bob Carlin, Bruce Molsky, Old Blue Sow (“Take Me As I Am”). Cathy Fink, Wild Hog in the Woods/ Safe Harbor Rag (“Banjo Haiku”).
“Last Chance” F-tuning variant
Equivalent of gEGDE , see above.
Land Norris, Charming Betsy (“Mountain Banjo Songs and Tunes”). Chesley Chancey, Mulberry Gap; a tune belonging to the “Last Chance” group (“Folk Visions & Voices, vol 2”). It sounds to me as if Chancey is also playing Shoot the Turkey Buzzard in this tuning, slightly lower pitch (same recording). However Art Rosenbaum has said that Chancey was playing in fCFCD (Tab, BNL, Dec 1982).
Matokie Slaughter, Big Eyed Rabbit (“More Clawhammer Banjo”) Mike Seeger, Bowling Green, tuned down to E (“Mike Seeger & Alice Gerrard”). Molly Tenenbaum, Cumberland Gap (“And the Hillsides Are All Covered with Cakes”).
An F-bass tuning
John Les, Farewell My Home (adapted from Tony Ellis. No recording.)
“Cumberland Gap” tuning
John Cohen’s notes for “High Atmosphere” state that “Amongst many old time banjo players from widespread parts of the mountains, this is the “Cumberland Gap” tuning – which can only be used for this tune. (In fact Fred Cockerham uses it for Frankie as well.)” To obtain the D-chord, fret 4th string at 3rd fret and 3rd string at 2nd fret.
Frank Proffitt, Cumberland Gap (“High Atmosphere”). Rufus Crisp, Cumberland Gap (“Rufus Crisp”). Dock Boggs, Cumberland Gap (“Dock Boggs Vol 3”). Fred Cockerham, Little Satchel, tuned up to the key of E (“Down to the Cider Mill”; “Brandywine 1974: The Galax Sound”. The Wandering Ramblers also use this tuning for Fred’s Little Satchel, on “Rambling & Wandering”; as does Dirk Powell on “If I Go 10,000 Miles”.) Jont Blevins, Cumberland Gap; Sugar Babe (mentioned in notes for “Old Originals Vol 2”). Kyle Creed, Cumberland Gap, tuned up to E (“Liberty”). The Kimble Family, Cumberland Gap (“Kimble Family Vol 1: Carroll County Pioneers”). Bob Carlin & Bruce Molsky, Cumberland Gap (“Take Me As I Am”). Morgan Sexton, Mexico (“Rock Dust”). Dan Gellert, Liza Jane (“Old-Time Banjo in America”). Paul Brown, Shortnin’ Bread (“Old Five-String”). Bob Carlin, Old Sledge (“Banging & Sawing”). Cathy Fink, New River Train (“Banjo Haiku”). Larry Unger, Two Rivers (Tab, BNL, Nov 1988). N.B. In the article accompanying the tab of Unger’s original composition, Ken Perlman discusses some features of the f#BEAD tuning & notes that Unger’s tune manages to avoid its usual cliches. The chord sequence for the A part of the tune is Bm/F#m/Bm/G/A/D/F#m/Bm/A/G…
f#BEAD, raised 5th string
f#BEAD, raised 5th string
A “Cumberland Gap” variant.
f#BEAD, lowered 5th string
Variant of f#BEAD or f#DF#AD
George Landers, Rolling Mills Are Burning Down (“High Atmosphere”). Fred Cockerham, Frankie Baker, tuned up to E (“High Atmosphere”, CD reissue only. Although John Cohen claims that FC is using f#BEAD here, I think he’s either tuned to f#DEAD or to the open D, f#DF#AD. But f#BEAD also works.) Paul Brown, Half Shaved (“Old Five-String”. For Wade Ward’s “Half Shaved” tuning, see under eCGCD ). Kimble Family, Pennsylvania Rambler; High Paper Collar (“The Kimble Family Vol 1: Carroll County Pioneers”). Rick Abrams, Yeller Cat (“Piney Creek Weasels: Squirrel Heads & Gravy”). George Gibson, considering this a variant of the open-D tuning, mentions that his father used it for Frankie and Albert, holding down the 2nd string at the 2nd fret and the 3rd string at the 3rd fret. He comments that Morgan Sexton used a similar rhythmic picking-pattern in his own version of the tune, Little Frankie (on “Rock Dust” and “Shady Grove”. BTW, I highly recommend the 2 Morgan Sexton recordings listed in my discography, especially for anyone interested in old-time finger-picking styles.)
f#DEAD, raised 5th string
Virgil Anderson, Wild Goose Chase (“On the Tennessee Line”). Dee & Delta Hicks, The Lost Gander (Wild Goose Chase) (“Ballads & Banjo Music From The Tennessee Cumberland Plateau”).
f#DEAD, lowered 5th string
Benji Aronoff, Shady Grove (“The Two Sides of Benji Aronoff”).
“Little Birdie” C-tuning
“There ain’t no tune played in this tuning except Little Birdie” said Pete Steele. For the C-chord, fret 1st string at 2nd fret, 2nd string at 3rd fret. The equivalent tuning for the key of D is f#DABE.
Pete Steele, Little Birdie (“Pete Steele: Banjo Songs & Tunes”). Gaither Carlton, Little Birdie (“Clawhammer Banjo”). Willie Chapman, Little Birdie (“Mountain Music of Kentucky”). Roscoe Holcomb, Little Birdie (“The Music of Roscoe Holcomb & Wade Ward”). Art Rosenbaum, Little Birdie (“Art of the Mountain Banjo” and tab). Burl Hammons, Singing Birds (“Shaking Down the Acorns”; “Visits”). Morgan Sexton, Little Birdie; Omie Wise (Dm) “Rock Dust”).
“Little Birdie” variant
Lily Mae Ledford, Little Birdie (“Coon Creek Girls”). (Sounds like Lily Mae plays it in this tuning.)
“Little Birdie” alternate tuning
If you change the “Little Birdie” eCGAD tuning up one whole step, except for the 1st string, this is what you get. George Gibson says he learned this tuning from Clay Engle of Knott County, who in turned had learned it from an old black man. Here, “Little Birdie” is played out of the D-chord made by holding the 1st string down at the 4th fret and the 2nd string down at the 3rd fret. G. Gibson comments that “Little Sparrow” also sounds great in this tuning.
Oscar Wright’s “Dead Man’s” E-tuning
Equivalent of f#ADAD (see above).
Oscar Wright, Shaving a Dead Nigger (“Clawhammer Banjo Vol 3”). Fuzzy Mt. String Band, Protect the Innocent, from Oscar Wright (“Fuzzy Mt. String Band”. The “Shaving” tune was renamed by Fuzzy Mountain, via Claude Keaton, a guitarist & flat-foot dancer. “Mr Keaton was listening to the tune on a cassette recorder one day at work when a co-worker, who was black, asked him its name. Thinking of the TV program Dragnet, he said…”) Ron Mullenex and Gerry Milnes have also recorded this tune as Shaving a Dead Man.
Ron Mullennex, Turkey in the Straw; Houston (“Sugar in My Coffee”). (N.B. I think ‘Turkey’, played in the key of E, sounds great in this tuning. Mullennex says he got ‘Houston’ from Burl Hammons; the fiddle is tuned EEBE in this performance.)
Alternative “Dead Man” tuning
See also dADAD
“Dead Man’s” variant
Eli Shapiro, Protect the Innocent (Tab, BNL, Sept 1978).
“Dead Man’s” variant
Or aADAD . Jane Keefer, Sweet Sunny South (Tab in BNL, Sept. 1989).
Hammons family “Sugar Babe” E-minor tuning
Sherman Hammons, Sugar Babe (capo 3, key of G. “Shaking Down the Acorns”). Dona Gum, Sugar Babe, capo 1, key of F (“Old Time Banjo Anthology, Vol 1”. Dona Gum is kin to the Hammons family). Reed Island Rounders, Sugar Babe (“Wolves in the Wood”).
Two steps down, this becomes dDGAC , a tuning which Howie Bursen said he got from Reed Martin, claiming that it’s used “for just a few tunes in the key of G”. Bursen has used it for Indian Nation. For the G-chord, fret the 1st & 2nd strings at the 2nd fret. (BNL interview, Nov 1980.)
Another E-minor tuning
Mike Seeger, Sugar Baby, tuned down to f#DGCD (“Mike Seeger & Alice Gerrard”). Dan Gellert, Red Rocking Chair (Sugar Baby) (“Forked Deer”). Joel Mabus, Darling Corey, tuned to eCFA#C, key of C (“Clawhammer”).
Dick Weissman E-minor tuning
Dick Weissman, If He Had Stayed in Oregon (“Old-Time Banjo Modern Style”).
An E-minor tuning
Mentioned in Muller & Koehler, “Frailing the 5-String Banjo” ; no examples given. Ernie Fasse, Flora McDonald (Communication to Banjo-L, 11 July 97). Ernie comments: “The Scottish reel ‘Flora McDonald’, which is technically either E-dorian or E-aeolian (I forget), is much easier to play in gEGBE than gDGBD. It works for that particular tune because (1) the melody never goes below E, and (2) the melody does go fairly high up the first string…”
1st string fretted at 2 gives the Em chord.
Clyde Troxell B-flat tuning
Clyde Troxell, Wild Bill Jones (“The Troxell Brothers: Troxsong”). Although the song is in B-flat, it starts on the G-minor chord. (Without retuning from open-G, one could play along with this & get the main idea, although not the “atmosphere”, by capoing at the 3rd fret & leaving the 5th string at G.) Apparently Troxell learned the song from Retta Spradlin, although making it (remarkably) his own; see under gDGBE . Whit Mead, Backside of Buncombe (Tab, Bubba Hutch, BNL, Jan 1992. This is taken from a nifty B-flat fiddle tune made up by Chirps Smith; it can be heard on “The Volo Bogtrotters: Backside of Buncombe”).
“French Waltz” B-flat tuning
Equivalent tuning is aCGCE (“Open-C”, raised 5th string).
Clyde Troxell, French Waltz, (“The Troxell Brothers: Troxsong”; also”Trad. Music from the Cumberland Plateau, vol 1″). “Clyde reports that this tune was brought back from WW1 by veteran Jeff Gregory, who learned it from a banjo-playing Frenchman. The unusual gBbFBbD tuning is used for no other piece in the region [Cumberland Plateau, Kentucky].”
The chord progression (I think) is B-flat/E-flat/F (= G/C/D). (1) 1st string at 3rd fret, 2nd at 4th fret, 3rd at 5th fret; (2) Barre at 5th fret; (3) Barre at 7th fret; (4) 1st at 8th fret, 2nd at 7th, 3rd at 9th. 5th string used for melody notes.
Also, Bob Fulcher, French Waltz, in aCGCE (“Old Five String”).
(Bob Carlin) B-flat tuning
I.e. fBbFCD. Bob Carlin, Bob Carlin’s Dream/ Briar Picker Brown; Tippy Get Your Haircut (“Where Did You Get That Hat?”). Bob Carlin, with James Bryan, Geese Honking (Wild Goose Chase) (“Banging & Sawing”). (Clyde Davenport, their source, fiddles “Wild Goose Chase” in B-flat on “Gettin’ Up the Stairs”.) Try: Mole in the Ground…
A B-flat tuning
A-minor modal tuning
Shorty Ralph Reynolds, Want to Go to Cuba But I Can’t Go Now (“Old-Time Banjo in America”). On sleeve notes for this recording, Art Rosenbaum says that Reynolds learned this archaic tuning, dating from the Spanish American War, from his father.
An open A-minor tuning
Mentioned in Muller & Koehler’s “Frailing the 5-String Banjo”; no examples given.
Mentioned in Muller & Koehler’s “Frailing the 5-String Banjo”; no examples given.
Fm9 Jazz Tuning
I.e. gFAbCEb. Tune to gEGBD (see above) and capo at 1st fret. There was a discussion, which I haven’t seen, (BNL, Sept 1985) of this tuning by Kenton McPeake. But see his tab for How High the Moon (BNL, Oct 1985; recorded source, “Fascinating 5-String”).
Sonny Osborne “John Henry Blues” tuning
Sonny Osborne, John Henry Blues (“Bluegrass Instrumentals by the Osborne Brothers”). Fred Geiger has commented to me (15 July 97) that this is the “most radical” Sonny Osborne tuning he’s aware of. “The tune is played in the key of Eb and sort of toggles between Eb and its relative minor, Cm. Sonny said he conceived of this tuning in the studio when another tune was needed (‘Don’t ask me how I thought of it, it just seemed the right thing to do’). The tuning, going up in fourth intervals, is the opposite of fiddle/mandolin tuning, which goes (4th to 1st) downward in fourths, or upward in fifths. The open strings, which Sonny ‘chimes’ at the end of JHB, spell a ‘jazzy’-sounding Eb6 add9 chord (or Eb6/9). The cycle of fifths put to very good use, I’d say.”
Don Stover, Footprints in the Snow ( “My Blue Ridge Memories”, w/Herb Applin, Red Rector, Art Stamper, Tom Gray, and Roger Williams).
Mike Seeger, with Tracy Schwarz and John Cohen, Miner’s Lament, key of B (“New Lost City Ramblers: There Ain’t No Way Out”). Seeger cites as their source the LP “Home on the Range: Folksongs from the Univ. of Arizona Archive 1945-1955”, produced for the Ariz. Friends of Folklore. Of the song’s origin, nothing is known; it was sung, unaccompanied, on the recording by 2 U. Ariz. graduate students. – It looks as if Mike Seeger will never run out of new banjo-tunings.
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