Gerry O'Beirne

Guitar tunings

Cloned back from my old web site by popular demand (well a few people have asked me about it) I hope this is helpful. Warning: If you don't play guitar you may find what follows excruciating. Even if you do... Guitar tunings from my Half Moon Bay album and elsewhere: I'm not a full-time guitar nerd--I don't buy the guitar magazines for example--but I’ve always had fun with tunings. I started out with some for slide guitar : DGDGBD and DADF#AD which I still use, but curiousity led me further afield. Perhaps too far - I remember tuning the 12 string to 12 different notes and writing a piece for it which luckily I’ve managed to forget… I always imagine i know enough tunings to keep me busy but every now and then a new one emerges and gives me new colours, new architecture…. Anyway on the Half Moon Bay album, The Holy Ground is in a dropped D tuning – DADGBE. Dropped D tuning has the advantage of familiarity but has a grandeur about it and the additional bass notes are nice especially the droning low D. 1874, another old song of mine, is in this tuning. Then Off The Rocks At Clahane is on the National Steel in DADF#AD which is also the tuning for Darkness Now and Silver Line Sarah and Caperucita. There’s something about this tuning that encourages melody writing on the top strings as well as bright poppy harmony. And fingerpicking is good and propulsive with it. I think John Fahey used to use this tuning a fair bit so it must have been popular too with the old country blues guitarists. Then Long Beating Wing and Western Highway and Half Moon Bay are all in C tuning – CGCGCE. C tuning has been fertile ground for me, particularly on the 12 string. It seems to bring out a lot of momentum and melodies that turn and hinge on the dominant chord. It makes you want to tell a story, to write a song. Angel Angel is in EEEEBE, believe it or not, a very rocky sound which sometimes tends towards Middle Eastern music. I once had about twenty guitarists jam on this tuning at a festival workshop in New Zealand, a splendid sound and just a tad anarchic. Like a pipe band without the, um, pipes. Another variation on that is EEBEBE If you can’t have fun with this one, well, maybe fun is not your thing. Shades Of Gloria is in normal or, as you might say, missionary tuning. So is When you're Gone I Say Your Name. and The Days Of Joe O’Dowd , another old song I’ve been doing recently. The ukulele for The Glass Boat is in normal uke tuning where the first string is a B - ADF#B. I tune the Tiplé to this as well for a piece called Fergus River Roundelay which will be on the new album. A new one for me is BABEAE and I wrote a song with it about Ned Kelly the outlaw which is called The Burning Ground of Glenrowan and also a song called Sekou Camara about an immigrant to Ireland from Guinea . And I’m working out some instrumental passages with this tuning for the next album. Winter Sun, a long 12 string instrumental piece is in a modified C tuning, CGCECE. So is a new piece, Cloneycavan Man, which is inspired by one of the two new bog bodies on display in the National Museum in Dublin. The other new bog body piece, Old Croghan Man, is in regular C tuning. Some guitar music I wrote for the film “Shannon – River of Dreams” is in DF#DEAD. When I’m accompanying Irish traditional music, I most often use a CGDGBD tuning which if you capo on the 2nd fret, gives you an open A chord with a D bass note. From there you can reach all the usual keys without all that annoying moving around of the capo. Even if you use a Drop D tuning and are always moving the capo I think it’s a shame that you’re not getting all the voicings that a guitar can give you. The same with DADGAD. Well there’s always more tunings but that’s plenty to be going on with. It’s all about pursuing your own journey in music. If you get lost, just keep going. And be sure to write.