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Thread: DGBE tuning

  1. #1
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    Default DGBE tuning

    I was wondering if anyone had any experience or insight into tuning a bouzouki/octave mandolin/tenor guitar in a DGBE tuning? DGBE (low to high) is the same tuning as a baritone uke and the same as the 4 highest strings of a guitar. Also called "Chicago Tuning".

    Seems like double course strings tuned DGBE would be a way for someone already familiar with playing baritone uke to get more volume out of an acoustic instrument in that tuning.

    I don't know if there would be any issues with double course strings in this tuning, since it seems more common to tune an OM or 'zouk in 5ths GDAE or almost 5ths like GDAD.

    What scale length would work best? Perhaps between 22" to 24" since you would be using guitar/uke chord shapes instead of mandolin chord shapes.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    With tenor guitar I do believe DGBE was alternate standard tuning back in the day. (Someone correct me if I am wrong.)
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    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Nevermind.....I'm transposing letters....

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I would just get a 12 string guitar and be done with it.
    Steve

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Original poster here: I think this is where semantics gets in the way. Is a mandolin only an instrument tuned GDAE or is a mandolin a mandolin regardless of the tuning? Oldtime fiddlers and banjo players use all kinds of different tunings and yet everyone still thinks of them as playing fiddle and banjo.

    All I'm talking about is taking a fretted instrument with a 22" to 24" scale and stringing it up with 4 double course strings (8 strings total) tuned DGBE. Note: DGBE is not a mandolin tuning and is not in 5ths, it is the tuning found on a baritone ukulele.

    You might call this hypothetical tuning an 8-string tenor guitar, or an octave mandolin in an alternate tuning. Another way of thinking about it is a 12-string guitar minus the two lowest double course strings.

    As far as the body shape, it could either be the pear shape found on an octave mandolin or 'zouk, or the guitar shape found on a tenor guitar.

    I was just wondering if such an instrument is feasible? Mainly concerned with any potential issues of having double course strings at this scale length tuned DGBE.

  7. #6
    Purveyor of Sunshine sgarrity's Avatar
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I thought that was a weird question and then it dawned on me that it was weird because I was reading it wrong! HA!

    What you're asking is fairly simple. You can tune an Octave/zouk however you like. There's much more freedom with tuning on the larger bodied mando-family instruments. People use GDAE, GDAD, ADAD, etc.... I seem to recall a few of the Hollywood session players using the DGBE trick when they needed to play banjo or mandolin for something. The only thing you'd need to work out are the appropriate string gauges.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    As the OP noted, DGBE tuning, sometimes called "Chicago" tuning, mimics the top four strings of a guitar. Some tenor guitar players use it. As Shaun says, some session guitar players also use it to "double" on another instrument without having to relearn the guitar's fretboard. (Tommy Tedesco the LA session musician, described this trick in his book on session playing published in the 1970s) I've never heard of any mandolin or OM player using it (other than Tedesco). Doesn't mean it can't be done, with suitably-chosen string gauges. It's certainly "feasible."
    EdSherry

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Another way of looking at it is that you are tuning a tetrachordo Greek bouzouki up one step. The Cc Ff aa dd tuning of the Greek bouzouki with roughly a 26.5" scale could easily translate to a capoed at second fret scale somewhere between 23" and 24" for a Dd Gg bb ee tuning. Find a 23 - 24" Irish bouzouki, string it up with a set of Greek bouzouki strings (Greek bouzoukia are fairly lightly strung), and unabashedly refer to it as a bouzouki since it shares heritage of both the Irish and the Greek. Or if you really want to play with some minds, call it an o'zoukitara: o' from the Irish; zouk from the Greek; itar reflecting its guitarish tuning; and a for a nice flourish at the end of the word. Keep thinking outside the box and enjoy creating the music however you can.

    Ron

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by klaezimmer View Post
    Another way of looking at it is that you are tuning a tetrachordo Greek bouzouki up one step.
    Yes! I love it. Exactly.
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I haven't tuned my OM to DGBE but I have played alot of guitar. One of things I really like about mandolins is the 5ths tuning. Chord voicings, double stops, and melodies have a certain character because of the 5ths tuning compared to the guitar tuning. For example the guitar is very conducive to playing 3rds on adjacent strings which is harder on the mando, whereas the mando is better at voicing 6ths. As for melodies guitar tuning is more layed out for "horizontal" playing across the fretboard leading to familiar guitar "licks" and blues playing, whereas mando entices you to stretch out more vertically and sing with it IMHO

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I think one of the major factors is how one intends to use the instrument.

    Fourths-and-a-third tuning, "Chicago" tuning or DGBE, seems well-suited (to me, anyway) for chordal use, vocal accompaniment etc. The chords are "denser," fuller, almost invariably including the third and the fifth. But you trade off a lot of the instrument's range, losing the whole low-G-to-D segment of the GDAE tuning.

    Fifths tuning, "standard" or GDAE, seems better suited for melody playing; you have a greater range, and the uniform intervals between strings make it easier to lay out fiddle tunes etc. Chords are "sparser," sometimes just double stops indicating chords -- first and fifth, third and fifth -- without the whole chord voicing.

    I'd be more focused on this if I played more tenor guitar; when I want a four-string chording instrument, I'm more likely to reach for a baritone ukulele, though I do have both Gibson and Dobro tenor guitars. So I second jmp above in preferring the more "open" fifths tuning, though I can see the appeal of making more familiar chord shapes if one's really familiar with DGBE.

    As to "what's a mandolin," generally I think of (1) smaller size, (2) double string courses, (3) fifths tuning. But of course there are multi exceptions and "mandolin family" instruments that are differently constructed.
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Popping in late to this thread.

    I tune my mandolin to open C tuning or chord-melodic C, or some might call it Richards' mando tuning: GCEG... It requires heavier gauge strings for course 1 and 2; I'm using .015 for course 1 (high G) and .017 for course 2 (E), with course 3 (C) and course 4 (G) using the normal wound mandolin strings for those courses.

    For me this allows more full chord support for melody backgrounds; it sort of makes the instrument sound more full for true solo work. With this tuning you do get the low G, while giving up about an octave of the very highest note range, of standard GDAE mandolin tuning.

    And yes, I do play 5-string banjo, so the intervals allow me to take an arrangement from either mandolin or banjo and apply it to the other instrument. I did play GDAE mando tuning for many years back in the 70s and 80s, but this time around, I feel much more at home and comfortable with GCEG.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I would suggest just getting a set of 12 string guitar strings, put them on the octave, and have a go with them. D'Addario EJ-37s or EJ-39s look like they might just work.
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    One of my friends tunes his Irish bouzouki this way. He says that he simply doesn't want to learn new chord shapes and different approach. It is ok, although to my mind tuned like this a CBOM instrument looses a world of possibilities. And it's a bit too high pitched, because the lowest string in this tuning is higher than G in GDAD. Anyway it is worth a try.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by allenhopkins View Post

    Fourths-and-a-third tuning, "Chicago" tuning or DGBE, seems well-suited (to me, anyway) for chordal use, vocal accompaniment etc. ........
    Fifths tuning, "standard" or GDAE, seems better suited for melody playing; you have a greater range, and the uniform intervals between strings make it easier to lay out fiddle tunes etc.
    My experience as a jazz banjo player using both tunings is similar, but I find the DGBE best suited to chord-melody playing, the all-fifths for ensemble chord playing.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    My experience as a jazz banjo player using both tunings is similar, but I find the DGBE best suited to chord-melody playing, the all-fifths for ensemble chord playing.
    I have been using DGBE tuning on my Irish zouk to entertain for over 5 years and have had nothing but interest and compliments.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by klaezimmer View Post
    Another way of looking at it is that you are tuning a tetrachordo Greek bouzouki up one step. The Cc Ff aa dd tuning of the Greek bouzouki with roughly a 26.5" scale could easily translate to a capoed at second fret scale somewhere between 23" and 24" for a Dd Gg bb ee tuning. Find a 23 - 24" Irish bouzouki, string it up with a set of Greek bouzouki strings
    I missed this first time around.

    Exactly - and BTW that is the Bulgarian tambura tuning, too.



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  23. #18

    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by DavidKOS View Post
    My experience as a jazz banjo player using both tunings is similar, but I find the DGBE best suited to chord-melody playing, the all-fifths for ensemble chord playing.
    I concur. I use DGBE (as well as variants) for plectrum banjo. I've never altered from 5ths on tenor banjo.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve L View Post
    I would just get a 12 string guitar and be done with it.
    Great big neck - too big for my old hands these days. Lots of reasons to go with a narrower-necked instrument (why I went to plectrum banjo..)

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Good thread. I have been experimenting with similar tunings on my cittern. With a G on the bottom and DGBE on the top four it does have the chord forms similar to guitar. I have also tried banjo tunings like standard G, GDGBD and Sawmill, GDGCD, AKA mountain minor. I really like that one. I built my cittern and the 24 inch scale I used turned out to be a bit too long for the zouk-similar tuning in the tune book I bought, GDADG. The high G strings tended to break and when I used smaller gauge strings the tone disappeared.

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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    My Martin D12-18 [1972] has been strung as a "10 string" for some time now. Single String on the low E and A and unison for the D/g/b/e.
    I like the "body" of tone and lack of jingle jangle, although there is enough in the natural harmonics that there is still a bit of the "12 string sound" when chording. For playing melody lines that abrupt change from the octave courses EADg to the unison b/e is gone and much better to my ear.

    Also completely eliminates the dreaded capo issues with octave courses of getting a "clean nut" on both strings with a minimum of pressure. No dead octaves or over streched "main" strings and able to capo right at/on the fret little or no retuning every time you apply or move the capo.

  29. #22
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I'm lucky to be the proud owner of a Martin 0 18t Tenor Guitar which I keep in DGBE tuning all the time. Its fantastic for playing the old standards from the 20s/30s Aint misbehavin etc.. I also play bouzouki GDAD. I've never considered changing this to DGBE but theres no reason why it wouldnt work. Also use DGBE tuning on the tenor banjo sometime. I stick an old t shirt behind the skin and take the resonator off. you get great old timey sound, great fun........

    John

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    Registered User Richard Singleton's Avatar
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    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I seem to remember reading some years back that Phil Cunningham used to play an Irish zouk sometimes when not playing accordion and that he employed DGBE tuning.
    Richard Singleton

  31. #24

    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    Hi

    If you wanted to pursue this, a "blarge" might be an option? This has five pairs and could be tuned A D G B E, thus giving access to more bass notes. Low G might also be an option?

    The main disadvantage of D G B E from a conventional Irish trad bouzouki point of view would be that the instrument would sound very trebly.

    Cheers
    Mark

  32. #25

    Default Re: DGBE tuning

    I also use DGBE on my converted 5 string into plectrum. I play with a guitar and we mainly do gospel. Works out really well and most people listening love it. The only critics are the guys playing mostly bluegrass. This tuning is a fairly bright mellow tuning for this kind of playing and singing.

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