tunings for tunes

Not all the songs below are available on CD, but I  play them live. Note: I often use a capo too.

  • Standard : often tuned down 2 – 3 semitones
  • DADGAD : on about 40% of my songs
  • DADFAD : Autumn Leaves /  When / Summer Rain / Follow / Help (Prayer)
  • DADDAD : Talk To Me / Whistleblower Blues
  • Open D : May
  • DADDAC : Dark Eye Dog
  • DGDDAE : Traveller / Stand My Ground



tune to your voice

It took me years to realise I didn’t have to sing in the same key as the people I used to cover. Once I learned it was ok to adapt the guitar to my voice, not vice-versa, everything relaxed – especially my vocal cords.

Obviously you can just play in a different key to go lower. But when you’re picking in a non-standard tuning, that can change your guitar sound completely. If it does, consider tuning the guitar down instead. My Boucher sounds fine at D or even C# instead of E in standard tuning.  Often, I take DADGAD down a semitone too.

Just to be clear: I normally leave the guitars tuned lower, then use a capo if I need to go higher. Particularly on stage, frequent twiddling is not a good idea. Especially when the G-string goes ‘ping’.

Slightly thicker strings are a must if you’re tuning down to stay. They help with intonation, and will usually prevent string buzz. I generally use Elixir 12-53s or thereabouts on the Boucher and Martin 11-50s on the Martin Backpacker. For many fingerpickers that’s probably too thin anyway; to each his own.

Speaking of intonation, I use SOS plastic spacers at the zero fret on all my guitars. I like to think they help, especially in weird tunings.