New standard tuning and its discontents

Picture Robert Fripp in a sauna in 1983 trying to get a new sound out of his guitar without losing chops, well, don’t picture that, listen to some of his music, this track made with Andy Summers shortly before the invention of NST (maybe). This is the same guy who invented his own system of tape loops, Frippertronics, based on the tape loop systems of Terry Riley among many many others (see MINIMALISTS) in the avant-classical world of the mid 20th century, so it is only natural that his new tuning system is a variation on a classical theme (listen to Fripp post-NST with League of Gentlemen). Instead of EADGBE, New Standard Tuning (NST) is CGDAEB (actual tuning experience not for the faint of heart), Fred Frith tunes his CGDAEG “to prevent physical injury” from that top string thwacking you in the face, and I am with the venerable Mr. Frith on this. The fifths progression of the tuning is the same as that on a violin, cello, or other classical stringed instrument (not to mention mandolin, and many more), making this tuning actually easier for some multi-instrumentalists to play.

I must acknowledge Cobzilla for noticing the lack of available information, especially now that the GuitarCraft lessons aren’t being taught anymore, and he does a pretty good job of laying out what it looks like to play in NST in his post that’s mostly about intervals. Another great place to go is the FraKctured Zone, especially if you like King Crimson.

I’ve made a chord chart for those of you that might be hesitant about NST and want to be able to experiment with the way it feels to your fingers. Try playing some Bob Dylan, maybe it will be rewarding.

I highly recommend anybody with a guitar giving this tuning a shot, it brings larger intervals closer together (literally) so one can get to things like the “mean intervals” John Gilmore mentions here from Sun Ra‘s work more easily (assuming Gilmore means intervals beyond the 13th, the standard end of the road for jazz-based harmonic investigations). The interval expanding work of bebop and free jazz seems to have petered out over the years into a mushy place where the third-based harmonies of the standard guitar tuning are where soloists end up inevitably. NST makes it much more difficult to use thirds, sixths, and tritone harmonies, forcing the player to play new things and tougher intervals. The worlds of metal, improvisation, and classical agree with NST!


  1. Dan said:

    Hey there – any music and any tuning is better than no music. But take a peek at your E chord on your Chart. Based on the tuning, it seems to have the open G on the 5th string whereas you’ve raised the 1st string open to the G# on first fret. The next chord, E7 does shows the 5th string 1st fret G#. Leave the natural G’s and you have a lovely minor chord, but probably best not to mix the natural and sharp together. Have fun!

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