Trey’s Open Tunings
Many people are unaware of one of the most essential elements of “Time Turns Elastic” – the fact that it is played in an alternate tuning. For those unaware of what that is, I will briefly explain. A standard guitar is tuned EADGBE (low to high). Variation of those pitch intervals alters the tuning, thus becoming an alternative tuning. There are several common alternative tunings, such as ‘open G’ often used in blues music as well as by Keith Richards, ‘drop D’ popularized by Jimmy Page, or ‘open E’ which was used by Duane Allman. This year at Festival 8 when Trey played Keith Richards’ guitar parts, he used two guitars – one in standard tuning and one in open G – and switched between the two for different songs.
Open tunings allow the guitar player to reach different sequences of notes than would normally be available, offering different sounding chord voicings, as well as unconventional licks and riffs. Blues musicians often employed the use of alternate tunings to allow for easier slide playing, as can be heard by Robert Johnson, who used a wide variety of tunings, but most notably ‘open G’. During the 60′s and 70′s, English folk guitarists including Bert Jansch (of Pentangle), who primarily played open tuning finger-style guitar, inspired rock guitarists to explore altered tunings. Jimmy Page, in particular, went on to create otherwise unobtainable musical textures using alternate tunings. Lou Reed has become well known for his use of “ostrich tunings” which tunes every string to the same note (as heard on VU and Nico). Robert Fripp, of King Crimson, has introduced a tuning known as New Standard Tuning, which he has used exclusively since 1984. Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo has also employed the use of numerous obscure tunings to achieve unique sounds.
Trey, likely inspired by Jimmy Page, went on to explore open tuning compositions of his own. The first was “Acoustic Army”, a simple enough piece, but using alternate tunings, Trey was able to create a rich sound using the open droning strings of the other member’s guitars. The style is very Zeppelinish, and served as the starting point for Trey’s open tuning composition. The second, was “The Inlaw Josie Wales”, which uses Jimmy Page’s well known “DADGAD” tuning, made famous for its use in “Kashmir”. Clearly growing in complexity, Trey continued to explore open tuning composition following the hiatus. In an interview during the hiatus, Trey mentioned how he enjoyed experimenting with open tunings as they forced him to abandon his conventional licks. Instead, with an open tuning, one is forced to experiment, often leading to new discoveries that would otherwise not have been made.
“Time Turns Elastic” is the next step in this compositional technique. Pushing forward in new directions, Trey landed on a very obscure tuning in which to compose his newest masterpiece. “TTE” is written in ‘open C6′ tuning (C-G-C-E-A-C), which sounds exactly as complex as it is. Without going into the specifics, this tuning allows for a wide variety of chord arrangements, using open strings. These interesting chord voicings can be heard all throughout the song, especially in the solo acoustic version (click here to watch the video). But, few realize how challenging, and how forward-thinking this new composition is, and have dismissed it for whatever reason. The reason the song has lacked a jam at the end, is likely because it would be difficult to have an entire jam in an alien tuning. As a result, Trey normally sticks to a single string in the brief jam section at the end. From “Acoustic Army” to “TTE”, it is clear Trey’s open-tuning compositional abilities have improved, and have become a major part of his creative process. We look forward to the next step…
Here are some of my favorite songs played in alternate tunings.
Duane Allman – “Little Martha”
Bert Jansch “Black Waterside”
Led Zeppelin – “The Rain Song”
Rolling Stones – “Rocks Off”
Robert Johnson – “Hellhound on my Trail”
Phish – “The Inlaw Josie Wales”
Sonic Youth – “Teenage Riot”