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The Nashville tuning is a great way to enhance your productions when it comes to guitars. In this tutorial I’ll cover the basics and show you how to set it up and show you some of the cool things you can do with it.
What Is the Nashville Tuning?
The Nashville or ‘Hi-Strung’ tuning is basically the high strings of a 12 string guitar. The lower strings are replaced with the high string set while the top two strings (E and B) are left the same. It’s exactly the same as a standard tuning (you play it just like you would a regular tuned guitar) except the lower four strings are tuned an octave higher. The result is what you might describe as a ‘piccolo’ guitar.
When you first play the tuning it can seem a bit odd as regular chords sound totally different because of the higher pitches on the lower four strings. When used along side a regular tuning though the result is similar to that of a 12 string guitar.
So why not just use a 12 string guitar? Well, for a start do you own a 12 string guitar? Also this technique offers you more flexibility and creativity when it comes to double tracking and eventually mixing your guitars.
Setting It Up
Setting up the tuning should only take you about 5 minutes. If your the kind of person that has never changed the strings on your guitar (and wondered why it sounds bad!) then it might require some more time and dedication.
You can speed up the process by buying a ‘string winder’. Which is an essential piece of kit for any guitarist. Put it this way, if I’m doing a lot of playing or I’m on a big session I change my strings once a day (this usually involves more than one guitar).
This is only because I destroy strings pretty fast with a combination of playing quite hard and strange ‘Alien’ acid sweat that comes out of my fingers! Once the tone is gone, bin them! I do a lot of string changing! Buy in bulk!
String winders, worth every penny!
Don’t forget, if the strings are still in good condition you can save them so you don’t have to keep buying a new set every time.
It’s best to just go out and buy a set of ’12 string’ strings. You can make your own set if you like (and know what your doing) but buying a set means the gauges should be pretty well balanced. It also has the benefit that you get two sets in one. A regular gauge set and a high strung set!
I go for a Martin Light set. The high strung set works out as follows:-
E .030w A .020 D .014 G .010 B .016 E .012
Here’s how it sounds.
The G string needs to be a light gauge as it’s tuned pretty high (a minor third above the high E string) but you’ll find it rarely breaks and won’t put any real pressure on the neck.
A guitar strung in Nashville Tuning. Notice only the low E is wound.
When changing string gauges like this (especially when coming from a very heavy gauge) your guitar neck can change. If you plan on having a guitar set up permanently with Nashville Tuning you may want to get it set up.
This will also depend on the quality of the instrument. Guitars made from inferior woods are likely to react to tension change more than guitars made from quality stock. In any case the chances of any damage are pretty darn slim if using this tuning for the duration of a session. Guitars are pretty tough!
I know I shouldn’t have to say this but ‘DO NOT’ try this with standard gauge strings! It’s likely your guitar will snap in half!
Like I said earlier when used with a regular tuning the effect is very similar to that of a 12 string guitar. Here’s the Hi and Low tunings played together on the open strings.
When tracking strummed guitar parts the effect is not as dense as two regular tunings. What you get instead is a brighter version. This can really add sparkle to your mixes. I prefer this as it’s not just adding more of the same thing, what you get is a different texture. This may not be suitable for every track but it’s worth knowing if you want to add some extra zing!
It also has one very cool option that you don’t get with a 12 string guitar…. Panning! Having the tunings on different tracks means you can get a kind of stereo 12 string effect which can be great in a mix.
This can also work great on guitar parts that are more picked or fingerstyle orientated. Here’s an example using a DADGAD tuning (you can do the Hi Strung tuning to any open tunings you like as well!), the first is panned center as if to mimic a 12 string.
And hear it is in stereo which gives a more double tracked effect.
Using Nashville Tuning with a Capo
One thing I like to do to get big acoustic guitar parts is to use this technique with a capo.
The capo essentially replaces the barre you would make with you finger allowing you to play open chords higher up the neck. This is a common technique when double tracking acoustics. One pass is played using open chords at the nut and then another pass is played using the capo further up the neck using what are basically the same chords but in a higher inversion.
Here’s the low part. It’s just G, C and D played in their basic open chord shapes at the nut.
I then place the capo on the 5th fret and play G, C and D using open chord shapes as they appear at the 5th fret. In this case D, G and A shapes. I then double track that part using the Hi Strung guitar with the capo on the 5th fret. These higher inversions are panned hard left and right. Here’s what it sounds like.
Of course the higher you go you start to produce effects that sound like a mandolin, which can be really nice!
The low part and the stereo high parts are then combined to produce a whopping great acoustic guitar sound.
On a side note there is no way to cheat the Nashville Tuning using a capo, you have to restring the guitar. When using the capo to double track your essentially harmonizing the chord tones in the lower part instead of doubling them with octaves and unison notes, thus producing a more harmonically complex sound.
On the other hand they are very handy for placing chords in a certain pitch/frequency range in you mixes. If you don’t have a capo, go out and get one!
Not Just Acoustics!
This technique is not just for acoustic guitars. You can achieve some really nice effects with electric guitar too. It works great on everything from power chords to picked arpeggio passages, even solos!
Recording Shirley Bassey. My tele strung with Nashville Tuning.
When I do this on electric guitars I use a pretty similar string gauge as the acoustic. You can add different effects to the high version and all sorts. One cool thing is to delay the high part by either adding a delay at 100% wet or even shifting the audio file in your DAW. It’s like pitch shifted echo! Give this one a try!
I hope this has given you some ideas for your guitar tracks. Make the effort to try this out for yourself. The next time you need that chorus to sparkle this could be just the technique to make it happen! Till next time…