Sunday, November 23, 2008

some cigar box guitar basics - tuning

I Just thought it was time to go back to a few basics. I've probably said these things before in older posts but it's worth mentioning again for any newbie CBGers. All my guitars so far, have been made specifically for slide playing so they don't have fretwires. They just have markings as a guide, so all these comments relate specifiaclly to slide guitars and playing them.

First let's look at tuning. The bridges on most of my guitars are 'floating'. In other words they aren't glued or fixed to the body. That allows them to have fine adjustments made to the 'intonation', which is the first thing we need to check. Play a note on an open string (I usually start with the 1st). Listen to it carefully then place your slide directly over the 12th fret position and play that string again. It should be exactly an octave above the open note. You'll find it easier to get this accurate if you use a narrow metal rod such as the shaft of a screwdriver. If it's not correct, then move the bridge back or forward slightly until it is. De-tensioning the strings a little will take pressure off it and make it easier to move. If you have to change the strings, it's easier if you do one at a time. That way the bridge will stay where it is and avoid you having to do this each time.

Now to tune up - I normally tune to an open chord such as E, A or D. You can't change the tunings very far by winding the machine heads up or down so if it's currently in low open E and you want it in A, you need lighter strings. You need to make sure the tension on them is right. So how do you know what to use, this is how I do it and it works well. Think about standard tunings EADGBE. Now think about the popular open D tuning on a six-string - DADF#AD. Now if I wanted the guitar in low open E and only have three strings I would tune it to (low)EBE. Look at the standard tuning on the bottom three strings - its E(low)AD. So it makes sense to me that if I use the 6th, 5th and 4th strings from a standard set (I usually use 12s for CBGs), the tensions are going to about be right to give me my low open E chord. Tune the 6th as standard to E and the 5th and 4th can comfortably be tensioned up two semi tones to give me the B and higher E.

So using this principle I would use the 5th 4th and 3rd strings (ADG) from a 12 guage set to give me an open A which would be AEA. I just need to tune up two semi tones on the 4th(D) and 3rd(G) to get me there. This tuning up on some strings is the main reason I make my guitars with a short scale. Using standard strings on a short scale guitar means they need slightly lower tension to put them in true concert pitch, so that gives me some scope for over tensioning them slightly to get my open chords.

Lastly, a word about the necks. If you were buying a standard guitar, one of your main priorities would be making sure the neck was dead straight. These CBGs don't have anything as sophisticated as struss rods and so you will see there is often a substantial bend in the necks. Also that the action is incredibly high. This is perfectly fine for slide playing, in fact it's an advantage so don't be concerned about it. I use hard woods such as oak, mahogany, beech etc so there is no danger of them snapping under normal use.

Hope you found this helpful. Next post will be slide playing basics.