Article written by Jim Wright
When someone decides to take up the touch-guitar, choosing the tuning can be a very confusing decision. There are so many tunings, and so many different string arrangements, that getting a grip on what tuning will work best for you can be a real task.
Here are some FAQ's that may take some of the guesswork out of deciding what tuning is the best for you. Any reader taking this article seriously is advised to become familiar with theTouch-style Tunings page here at the WarrZone.
Highlighted names of the artists will take you to see videos of the tunings in action.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF BEFORE YOU DECIDE
1. Do I want a mono instrument, or a stereo instrument?
Most touch-guitars are stereo, with the bass strings and guitar strings using separate outputs. Only 8-stringers are typically mono, but they can also be stereo, split 4 x 4.
10-stringers are usually split 5 x 5, but can be 4 bass/6 guitar.
11-string Warrs are always split 5 bass/6 guitar.
12-stringers are usually split 6 x 6 (Randy Strom or Kai Kurosawa) , but can be split 5 bass/7 guitar (Brian Kenney Fresno).
The Phalanx 12 is always split 6 x 6 (Jim Wright, Brendan Brossard), and the Phalanx 14 is always split 7 x 7 (Ron Fairchild, Jimbo).
Should you want a mono option, it is possible to have a mono switch installed on any stereo Warr that does not have piezo/MIDI options. Or use a "Y" cable at the outputs.
2. Do I want to play guitar and bass, or guitar only, or bass only?
If you have no desire to play bass, both sides of a stereo instrument can have guitar string sets. This allows one to easily tap chords with one hand, and play melody or chords with the other. Look at Jeff Moen to see this tuning in action.
By the same token, if one wishes to have two bass string sets, this is also possible. See Rev Jones, or the semi-hollow Artisan model that Trey Gunn sometimes uses. Half of this instrument is fretted, and the other half is fretless.
If you want to play guitar and bass, proceed to number 3.
3. Do I want to play guitar and bass simultaneously, using my left hand for bass, and my right hand for guitar, or do I want to use both hands to execute the same idea, and be able to choose to play guitar or bass at any given moment?
Most tappers play guitar and bass at the same time, using the instrument as a kind of piano for guitarists. See the You Tube videos of Randy Strom, Brian Kenney Fresno, Jim Wright, Kai Kurosawa, who all play 12-stringed guitars.
Now it gets confusing.
All four players mentioned above use different tunings, or different methods of playing their tunings.
Randy, Brian, and Kai use standard tunings or variations of standard tunings. This means that the bass strings are inverted, and in 5ths. (please refer to theTouch-Style Tunings page for details). Randy and Kai's 12-stringers are split 6 x 6, and Brian's is split 5 bass (inverted)/7 guitar. I believe all of them have the bass from low C, and a high D for their guitar strings, but am glad to be corrected if this is not true. This covers almost all of the usable range on a 34-inch scale.
Randy and Brian play with the left hand tapping bass, and the right hand tapping guitar. This is the traditional way.
Kai found this did not work well for him, so he plays the bass with his right hand, and the guitar with his left. This is called playing "uncrossed", as he is not reaching over one set of strings to play the other, as Randy and Brian do. This allows him to do things that can't be done with crossed hands in standard tuning, and keeps him from doing things common in standard tuning techniques, though it is always possible for any of these players to switch hands and use any of these methods. As a result, Kai's playing is quite different from Randy and Brian, even though they all use essentially the same tuning.
Jim Wright plays "uncrossed 4ths" tunings on 12-strings, a tuning which has no inverted strings, and the bass and guitar are on opposite sides of the fretboard as in standard tuning. The Phalanx models are made to take advantage of this tuning, but it can be had on any 12-string Warr Guitar. This means that certain techniques available in standard tunings are not possible, and vice versa.
For example, it is easy to play an uncrossed 4ths instrument like a standard bass, using the fingers of the right hand to pluck, pop, strum, and slap the strings, as well as tapping to play notes. This is not nearly as easy in standard tuning, as the bass strings are on the other side of the neck, and inverted. On standard tuning, it is easier to pluck the guitar side, because of it's position on the fretboard.
There is a technique in standard tuning, where the left hand plays the root with the index finger, and the other fingers of the left hand play notes of a chord on the guitar side, allowing the right hand to play melody above these notes. This technique is not very easy on uncrossed 4ths tuning.
True unison lines between both hands are simple on uncrossed 4ths, and nearly impossible on crossed standard tunings. In other words, every tuning has it's strong and weak points, and understanding what they are is the key to choosing the correct tuning for you.
At the moment, Trey Gunn is playing 10-string Crafty tuning. He rarely plays both sides of the instrument at the same time, and rarely (if ever) plays chords. He usually uses both hands to execute the same idea, playing either bass or guitar, depending on what is called for at the moment. Using this method, Trey can play lightning fast lines on his Crafty (mostly 5ths) tuning, in a manner similar to the way that Eddie Van Halen uses both hands when he taps on a 6-string guitar. Since the instrument is stereo, Trey can have two different sounds ready to go at any moment.
Trey also has developed new methods to vibrate the string by striking it, and is constantly looking at new techniques and methods. He previously used the 8-string Crafty tuning, but doesn't seem to play it much these days, though there are many players who continue to use it exclusively, such as Markus Reuter and Kuno Wagner.
Bill Burke uses an 8-string Warr tuned in 4ths like an extended range bass, but his musical style is more like a progressive guitarist, in the manner of Michael Hedges. Bill can be bassist, guitarist, and extended-range player at any moment.
The point of all this is to show the incredible variations possible in playing methods with touch-style guitars, and give some examples to help new players decide which tunings will suit them best.
4. Do I want a tuning similar to an instrument I already play, or something different?
Some people are comfortable with their technique on standard guitar or bass, and are looking for a challenge to spur their creativity. They want a tuning different from the instruments they already play, which will lend a different flavor to the music they make. Others want something similar to an instrument they already play to facilitate learning the new technique more quickly. For example, if you play standard bass, and want something similar, uncrossed 4ths tuning may be the ticket. The bass side is tuned exactly the same as a 6-string bass, and the guitar side is an octave above (or a major ninth), making pattern visualization on the neck extremely facile, and second-nature.
If you play standard guitar, and want something close to this tuning, an 8-stringer with a similar tuning will be easy to play and visualize. (see 8-string tuning #3 on the Touch-style Tunings page). Also, the radius on the 8-string Warr fingerboard will feel very comfortable to standard bassists/guitarists. All Warrs over 8 strings have flat fretboards.
If you have experience with cello or 5ths-tuned instruments, maybe a standard or Crafty tuning is what you are after.
If you want something new and different, there are many odd and custom tunings possible within the range available on a 34-inch scale. Warr will even build custom guitars with other scale lengths if a shorter (or longer) scale is desired.
5. Why are the 8-string guitars the only instruments with tunings that go from low to high as normal guitars and basses do?
With metal strings on a 34-inch scale length the entire range can be had on a 9-stringed instrument tuned in 4ths. Don't ask me why we don't make such a model, 'cause I don't know. The Crafty 8-string tuning covers the entire useable range on 8-strings, and still has to shorten the intervals on the higher strings to make it fit.
Anyway, we sometimes get requests for instruments of 10-strings and more to have the strings go from low to high. This is something we try to discourage, though we have done it on occasion. The reason for this is that it is a long way to reach across a 10-string neck to play the low strings with your left hand. A 12-string neck is about 3.5 inches wide at the nut. This makes it very hard to play the low bass strings, and almost impossible to play any kind of chords above the low notes with the left hand, since you are also reaching across all the other strings. It leaves the left wrist at an uncomfortable angle, and can lead to physical problems. This is one of the reasons for the inverted bass strings on the standard tap tuning, and for uncrossed playing styles and tunings. It is possible to play such an instrument in the uncrossed fashion, with the right hand playing bass, and the left playing guitar, but most right-handed players want their more facile right hands playing melodic lines.
6. Am I left-handed?
Left-handed models are available.
7. Am I crazy?
It's possible, but the tap-guitar world is full of some wonderful crazy people who are inventing their own genres of music, and making tracks in virgin musical territory.
Think you got what it takes?