Not too long ago we discussed the baritone tuned guitar: switching string gauges for a different dynamic and tonality. Now, rather than going lower, we’re going to change the strings for light, thinner ones allowing us to tuning the guitar up an octave.
Or, most of it up an octave. Due to physics and available string gauges, the higher B and E strings will remain at standard guitar pitch, but the lower four strings (G, D, A, E) will be strung so they sound an octave higher.
This is easily achieved by purchasing a 12-string guitar set of strings and discarding the lower strings of the octave pairs (again, these would be the strings for the (G, D, A, E). The higher strings in a 12-string set are identical and tuned in unison, so one string for each pair will be used.
It should be noted that several manufacturers package 6-string Nashville tuning sets, but most brick and mortar music stores don’t stock them regularly…however, most are more than willing to special order them for you. Of course, you can order them yourself online from juststrings.com or your other favorite internet retailer.
But, if you’re hot to do this, 99.99% of music stores stock the 12 string set.
Typically, stringing a guitar in such a way is called “Nashville Tuning.” This was very popular back in the 50’s and 60’s studio scene when two or more acoustic guitarists were called on a session. One guitarist would play in standard tuning, and one of the other guitarists would play a standard tuned guitar capoed up, or, swap guitars for one that was Nashville strung.
The resulting sound would be larger, sometimes spread hard left and hard right on the console, and gave each player a different niche in the tonal spectrum to call their own.
One common variation of the Nashville tuning is just having one string, the G string, changed so it could be tuned an octave higher. This gave an ever-so-slight variation when both guitarists were strumming guitars with the same fingerings.
If you’re liking this idea, be sure to check out Richard Gilewitz’ blog on the AddString, a way to add an additional 7th string to your guitar.
The sound is higher, obviously, often invoking in the mind of the listener mandolin, dulcimer or even harpsichord.
This chart shows the diameter of the Nashville High Strung set for D’addario. These are simular to the gauages used in the Martin SP 12-string set for the octave strings.
While typically this tuning is meant to double a standard tuned guitar, it has found its way into the spotlight. Most readers will recognize the sound of the Nashville tuned guitar (sometimes called the high-strung guitar) in the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.”
Perhaps the best part of the Nashville tuned guitar is it is a cheap way to transform a guitar that you’re not using into a valuable tool for both the stage and the studio. Most guitarists have moved on from the tonality of their beginning student instrument, but out of sentimentality or some other reason, they have kept this guitar in their collection.
Since the Nashville tuned guitar doesn’t require a full, rich sounding instrument (only the higher aspects of the guitar are used), a student guitar usually functions well in this forum.
So, for the price of a set of strings you can transform your spare guitar into something different…and return it to its original state by merely re-stringing it with regular strings again!
– Jake Kelly