open or alternate tuning's help

Discussion in 'Tab, Tips, Theory and Technique' started by pchilson, Oct 11, 2014.

  1. pchilson

    pchilson Friend of Leo's

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    Hi,

    Been a while since I've been on the site. About 2 years ago I started to develop severe pain in my thumbs. I don't suspect playing the guitar caused the problem but I do know it helped exacerbate it. I cut back my playing time to see if it helped. It did and I eventually stopped playing altogether. Hard to maintain interest in playing when it is causing physical harm and pain. I haven't played since but recently my I have been getting the itch again as my thumbs have felt "not to bad" in the last months. In fact better than they've felt in years. I will never be free from pain again but I've have to find out if my guitar playing days are gone for good.

    A friend and I were chatting about this the other day and he mentioned open tunings as a possibility of allowing me to play again with simplified chording or fingering that would be less strainful on my hands. I have no real knowledge of alternate tunings other than the fact of them.

    Is there a particular tuning that I could try that would indeed allow simplified chording patterns that would lessen the strain on my fingers, thumbs and hands in general?

    Any thoughts or experiences appreciated.

    Thanks
     
  2. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

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    Welcome back! I'm sorry to learn that your thumbs suffer from playing; I have the same problem. Yes, alternate tunings can be helpful, and so can playing with a slide.

    There are literally thousands of alternate tuning possibilities. All of them have strengths, and all of them have weaknesses. It would be helpful in narrowing them down to know your primary musical objectives. Do you want to accompany your own singing? Play lead in a band? What sorts of music? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera...

    With the strings you already have on your guitar(s), you can easily retune to open D (D A D F# A D, low to high) and open G (D G D G B D, low to high). These are widely used by blues men and women and Hawai'ian players, and the G tuning has a long history in Russia. Keith Richards has gotten a lot of mileage out of the G tuning with the 6th string (low D) removed. Since a barre at any fret yields a full major chord, these tunings work well for playing with a slide, either bottleneck style or lap style.

    In my own case, the pain in my thumbs has pretty much killed conventional fretting. Fortunately for me, I've been playing steel guitars for 40 years, so it was natural for me to try to learn how to accompany my singing and to play both rhythm and a bit of lead while playing lap style. I started four years ago, and it's still very much work in progress, but I have in fact made a lot of progress.

    Though I own four Fender steel guitars, I do most of my playing on conventional six string guitars with extension nuts. (I use these, but this type should work as well. I have no connection with either manufacturer or vendor.)

    I keep one guitar in D tunings: The aforementioned open D, D minor (D A D F A D), and D minor 7 (D A D F A C). Most of my song accompaniments use open D; I use the others for solo instrumental tunes I've worked up since fretting became more pain than pleasure. (Discovering that I seem to have a knack for perpetrating solo instrumental tunes has been a silver lining.)

    My second "main" guitar stays in a somewhat unusual F7 tuning: F C Eb F A C, with the low C string tuned down a fourth below the low F (and below the low E of standard tuning). How I arrived at this tuning is a long story, which I'll gladly type if it's of interest, but you'll have to ask first. :p I use this tuning primarily for solo instrumental stuff, but it also works for accompaniment of a few of the songs I sing. Tritone substitutions enable me to make the music harmonically more interesting than triad tunings allow.

    Try D and G, both with your fingers and with a slide (Lowell George always used a socket wrench; Danny Gatton famously used a full beer bottle, with foam gushing over the guitar neck; for test purposes, use whatever's handy), and get back to us. I'm confident we can help you find a way or ways to make music again while minimizing the suffering. And we may be able to help you find tunings that better suit your musical objectives.

    In the meantime, perhaps you can take some encouragement from the music of Tom Doughty, who refused to let crippling spine injuries keep him from playing.

     
  3. pchilson

    pchilson Friend of Leo's

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    Wow! That was thorough and exhaustive writing syrynx. I appreciate your input.

    You are quite far over my head. I am just a basement doodler. I don't read music, I don't play songs. What I play is of my own creation. It is the love of the guitar and the sounds I can produce that give me what I need. I don't do it to impress anyone or even for anyone to hear. I'm a hack.

    I know little to nothing about theory and notes. I can play chords. I can play power chords. I can play runs. I just can't seem to play without the pain ruining my fun.
    The bit of exploring I've done up to posting here, I find your explanation of the thousands of alternate tunings to be ascribed. I fear I can't explain any reason to use one over the other for some prescribed purpose.

    I really do appreciate your input. What I really need is someone to just say "try this one becasue it simplifies fingerings". I would have to learn how to play all over again with a new tuning. The goal would be that this is possible because of reduced strain in the hands while playing. I don't know if this is possible.

    Thanks
     
  4. String Tree

    String Tree Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Maybe your guitar needs lighter gauge strings.
    The right set-up can take a lot of stress off of your fingers and Thumb.

    ~ ST
     
  5. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

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    Cool! Then you're not chained by anybody else's chord changes or expectations, and you're free to find combinations of sounds that please you, regardless of what others might think. :twisted:

    Try this: Put a guitar in standard tuning across your lap, and see what you can do just by pressing down with your fingertips. Worked pretty well for Jeff Healey...



    ...and Thumbs Carllile.



    You might not need a different tuning at all.

    You might also try DADGAD tuning; from standard tuning, just drop the 6th string to D and the second string to A. I've never really explored it myself, but there are a bazillionty YouTube videos showing what can be done with it, using fairly simple left hand fingerings.
     
  6. pchilson

    pchilson Friend of Leo's

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    syrynx,

    These are all good suggestions. Thank you for the effort.
    DADGAD tuning. This is open D?
     
  7. toomuchfun

    toomuchfun Tele-Afflicted

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    Also sorry your thumbs are keeping you from playing. Even with open or alternative tunings you still need to "grip" your neck with a thumb on the back of the neck. I know of no alternative tuning that would make conventional playing easier since all involve gripping the neck with your thumb.

    I think syrynx was offering the alternative of lap steel using a slide instead of gripping the neck. Of course you still need your thumb to hold the steel, but your index finger on top of the slide is applying most of the pressure to the strings and your middle finger is helping to hold the slide too. It might be less stressful on your thumb. Slide guitar is mostly done in open tuning so the slide at any given fret produces a chord. You can slant the slide to get certain chords but that's getting advanced. If you have a round bar or tube made of hard material (1/2 to 3/4 inch is ideal) the width of the neck you can try this. An actual steel usually has a groove on top to keep your index finger in place. Also your ring and pinky finger are used to mute the strings on the nut side of the neck. And as noted it helps to have the strings raised at the nut with an extension.

    He also gave another alternative ala Jeff Healy style, where your hand is only on the string side of the neck. I'm a big fan of the late Mr. Healy and have fooled around with this style. It may be a good alternative for you, but I think Jeff used his thumb a lot to slide notes and other fretting that may actually hurt your thumb. Still worth a try.

    Playing lap steel guitar is an art in itself but could be the solution to your problem.
     
  8. pchilson

    pchilson Friend of Leo's

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    I've sort of resorted to a ham fisted style to lessen the tip of my thumb being the backstop. This works to an extent but there are chords you just can't do that way.

    I am no sophisticated guitar player so simple chord progressions are good with me. Strumming and chording is my thing.

    Thanks
     
  9. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

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    No, open D is D A D F# A D. But D A D G A D is just a single wrist twist away, so I'm suggesting that you try both.

    The problem which I have, and which anyone else has, in trying to make suggestions, is that we can't feel what you're feeling in your thumbs, so we can't really know which suggestions might be practical for you and which might merely be different ways of inflicting pain on yourself.

    So, even before we get into the question of alternate tunings, you have to do some homework, to find out whether alternative ways of holding and playing the guitar will eliminate or reduce the pain. I've suggested three (bottleneck slide, lap slide, and fretting with fingertips with the guitar across your lap). Try 'em, and if any of them seems like a possible solution, then we can try to figure out the best tuning or tunings to make it work.

    You don't need thumbs to play guitar. You don't even need hands...



    ...or arms...





    Got desire? Got dedication?
     
  10. pchilson

    pchilson Friend of Leo's

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    You are right. It is about desire and dedication.
    Thank you for your time. It is kind and generous of you to try and help.
    I think I already know what my fate is, just not wanting to accept it. Trying to relight the fire and all that...but the wood is wet.
     
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