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  • Downtuning an acoustic: a fool's errand?

    I'm mainly an electric player, but I do own a cheap Silvertone acoustic guitar. I'm trying to record a cover song, and to avoid playing the F chord, I decided to try downtuning a whole step, I guess this would be called "D standard tuning"? (D-G-C-F-A-D) The guitar doesn't like it. It doesn't want to stay in tune at the lower tuning, and it's not helped by the incredibly cheap and sloppy tuning keys this guitar came with. When it does seem to be in tune, according to a clamp-on Snark tuner, chords still sound warbly and sour. I know the intonation won't be perfect if the tuning in changed, but we're talking open chords in the first position. Tune the guitar, try to play, sounds like junk, tune again, repeat...

    I expected to be more straightforward because I'm always reading about acoustic players using open tunings.

    Should I:
    1) Quit trying to cheat and play the barre F chord
    2) Quit trying to play an acoustic like an electric and just play the top 5 strings of the F chord
    3) Try again with heavier gauge strings
    4) Downtuning a whole step shouldn't be a problem, get a better guitar
    5) Replace those cheap tuners
    6) Downtune 3 frets and put a capo at the first fret
    7) Capo at the 11th fret.


  • #2
    Tune it back up to standard tuning, so it sound good or ok
    Put a capo on the 5th fret and the F will be like a C chord.

    Might work. IDK.







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    • #3
      When you go changing the tuning, you change the tension loads that the strings put on the guitar. Less tension means less neck relief, less pull on the neck joint, and less pull on the bridge. All this tends to make the strings sit lower... closer to the frets. Couple that with the strings that swing wider because of less tension, and you likely have some string buzz.

      More importantly, you're trying to produce notes below the guitar's resonant frequencies... at pitches the guitar was not designed for. I guess a baritone guitar is out of the question.

      Heavier strings might help.
      Doing a little setup work (loosening the truss rod, raising the saddle, etc.) might help.
      It's likely a losing battle tho.

      There are other keys to play that tune in. Find one below standard tuning and capo up... or live with a partial F.
      Last edited by FretFiend.; 02-26-2018, 08:42 PM.
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      • #4
        Originally posted by Mr.Grumpy View Post
        I'm mainly an electric player, but I do own a cheap Silvertone acoustic guitar. I'm trying to record a cover song, and to avoid playing the F chord, I decided to try downtuning a whole step, I guess this would be called "D standard tuning"? (D-G-C-F-A-D) The guitar doesn't like it. It doesn't want to stay in tune at the lower tuning, and it's not helped by the incredibly cheap and sloppy tuning keys this guitar came with. When it does seem to be in tune, according to a clamp-on Snark tuner, chords still sound warbly and sour. I know the intonation won't be perfect if the tuning in changed, but we're talking open chords in the first position. Tune the guitar, try to play, sounds like junk, tune again, repeat...

        I expected to be more straightforward because I'm always reading about acoustic players using open tunings.

        Should I:
        1) Quit trying to cheat and play the barre F chord
        2) Quit trying to play an acoustic like an electric and just play the top 5 strings of the F chord
        3) Try again with heavier gauge strings
        4) Downtuning a whole step shouldn't be a problem, get a better guitar
        5) Replace those cheap tuners
        6) Downtune 3 frets and put a capo at the first fret
        7) Capo at the 11th fret.
        I'm probably missing something. But why tune a whole step down?

        Are you playing the song in the same key but just changing chording for
        your fingers? A full-step down -- the same F could be held as a G. Is that
        what you're doing? Or are you actually lowering the pitch?

        You might try transposing the song to a key that's easier to play - keeping the
        standard tuning. OR you could transpose to a half-step down? The F becomes
        an E.

        I'm confused I guess.

        You could tune a half-step down? A lot of bands do that.

        That tuning would be:

        Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb or if you prefer,

        D# G# C# F# A# D# Same thing.

        FINALLY, there are easier ways to play an F chord. Using triads, a D position
        on the 5th fret works. Or just finger the F position & deaden the 1st fret, 1st string.
        Last edited by Etienne Rambert; 02-26-2018, 10:31 PM.
        He has escaped! Youtube , ​Murika , France

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        • #5
          Playing an F chord is a pain, largely because it's hard to barre that close to the nut. A couple of possibilities exist:
          1. As Fretfiend says, play a partial F:
          1
          1
          2
          3
          3
          X
          2. Have the guitar set up, including having the nut slots filed
          3. Put a capo behind the 1st fret in Standard and play in E
          4. Put a capo behind the 3rd fret in Standard and play in D (I do both of those last two occasionally)
          5. Buy a better guitar. Yamaha, Alvarez, Epiphone, Cort and others all make decent guitars for not a lot of cash. I checked your local (Dallas, according to your profile) CraigsList and found several possibilities. Here's one: Yamaha dreadnaught, unknown model, $80 https://dallas.craigslist.org/dal/ms...503797592.html.
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          • #6
            did you say what guage strings you had on at the minute ? i wouldn`t worry about tuning down a tone just put an heavier guage set of acoustic guitar strings on ,i have my Eko tuned down to D G C F A D, it has 12`s on and feels and sounds nice .
            Consternoon Aftable

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            • #7
              I agree with FretFiend - the geometry changes if you reduce the tension that much, plus the strings have more travel so they flap around a bit. Either heavier strings to compensate or loosen the truss rod to restore the relief. You may even need a taller bridge saddle.

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              • #8
                I have 4 old Harmony (Silvertone is just a Harmony with a different name on the headstock) Parlor-sized guitars. I keep all of them are tuned down a full note - D G C F A D - and I use light gauge strings on them. (Old Harmony are notorious for warping and becoming unplayable, so I try to keep the tension down.) Anyway, I have not had the problem you are describing. The guitars I have all have floating bridges. If your Silvertone has a floating bridge then you need to check your intonation. If the bridge is off even a little bit then it will affect your ability to keep the tuning true.
                The way to set the intonation is to hit the Harmonic at the 12 fret and then strike the note at the 12th fret. Keep moving the bridge until the note and Harmonics are exactly the same on all the strings. It is a simple process that takes about a minute. Once I had my Harmonies where I wanted them, I penciled around the bridge to give me a reference point. Everything is perfect up and down the neck.
                If your guitar has a glued on bridge then, oops, never mind!

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                • DeepEnd
                  DeepEnd commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Current Silvertone instruments have no connection to Harmony. AFAIK they're made by Samick and they're pretty cheap and low-end. The model I've seen is a standard dreadnaught with a normal pinned bridge.
                  Last edited by DeepEnd; 02-27-2018, 03:38 PM.

              • #9
                Originally posted by Mr.Grumpy View Post
                I'm mainly an electric player, but I do own a cheap Silvertone acoustic guitar. I'm trying to record a cover song, and to avoid playing the F chord, I decided to try downtuning a whole step, I guess this would be called "D standard tuning"? (D-G-C-F-A-D) The guitar doesn't like it. It doesn't want to stay in tune at the lower tuning, and it's not helped by the incredibly cheap and sloppy tuning keys this guitar came with. When it does seem to be in tune, according to a clamp-on Snark tuner, chords still sound warbly and sour. I know the intonation won't be perfect if the tuning in changed, but we're talking open chords in the first position. Tune the guitar, try to play, sounds like junk, tune again, repeat...

                I expected to be more straightforward because I'm always reading about acoustic players using open tunings.

                Should I:
                1) Quit trying to cheat and play the barre F chord
                2) Quit trying to play an acoustic like an electric and just play the top 5 strings of the F chord
                3) Try again with heavier gauge strings
                4) Downtuning a whole step shouldn't be a problem, get a better guitar
                5) Replace those cheap tuners
                6) Downtune 3 frets and put a capo at the first fret
                7) Capo at the 11th fret.
                Why not use standard tuning and put a capo at the first fret and play it as an E instead of the F?

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                • #10
                  I usually use standard tuning, but sometimes I downtune as much as a step and a half, no problem. When I visit my sister in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I've found that a lot of her friends have their guitars permanently tuned down a step. They keep a capo on the second fret until someone says "Blues in D!" Then all the capos come off.

                  I also use light strings. They sound good for my purposes.

                  As for your tuning problems, there might be a new set of tuners in your future. There are plenty of low-price tuners that would work just fine.

                  But . . . . you want to retune your guitar just so you don't have to make F chords? That points to three possible problems, all of which are easy to solve:

                  1. Your action is much too high.

                  Some nut and saddle adjustments might be in your future. Talk with a guitar shop repair person about it.

                  2. You're new to the guitar.

                  Learning the F chord separates the forever-wannabees from future guit pickers. If that's the problem, retuning is not the answer. Working at the F chord till you get it right - no matter how awkward and painful it might be at first - is your only choice. Otherwise, you're doomed to wannabee-dom. There's no way around the F hurdle. The good news: We all did it, and you can, too!

                  3. You learned on electric first and are now trying to shift to acoustic.

                  It's remarkable how common that is these days. Most older players started on acoustic. So when we tried electrics, we said, "Wow! This is like playing cobwebs!" Baseball players warm us with a weighted bat or several bats. Then, when they're up at bat, what they're swinging is a lot lighter and easier to swing. Imagine them doing it the other way around: warming up with a drumstick, then picking up a heavy bat for the game.

                  Everything I play I learn on acoustic. I only plug in an electric when I play out. Same principle. When I go to bat, it's easy swinging.

                  There are other drawbacks to learning on electric. Amps and pedals and switches and knobs add distraction and expense to the process. But if that's you, don't despair. There's hope. You just need to build up your left hand muscles. One way is simply to play acoustic at home until your hand is ready to fall off - and do it every day. In two weeks, you'll start to notice improvement. In two months, you'll wonder what your problem was.

                  There are also finger exercise gadgets that I hear work if you remember to keep at it.

                  Bottom line: There's no good detour around the F chord. Is the fault is in our guitars or in ourselves? It doesn't matter. The answer either way is to make the F chord work for you.
                  Last edited by Delmont; 03-03-2018, 08:42 AM.
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                  • Queequeg
                    Queequeg commented
                    Editing a comment
                    I think you covered everything, Delmont.

                • #11
                  THANK YOU for all the thoughtful replies, it's appreciated. I was really trying to get some tracks down last night, so I ended up putting my guitar back into standard tuning. It stayed tuned and the intonation is much much better. I don't remember what gauge strings I have on their, but they're obviously not heavy enough for down-tuning.

                  The song I'm trying to track is Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", I'm able to play in both C and D, but I'd like to play it in C so I can double the rhythm guitar with my autoharp. (I'm odd that way...)

                  In C, the chords are C, G, F, // C, G, F, // Dm, F, C// Em, G, C

                  In D, the chords are D, A, G// D, A, G, // Em G, Bb// F#m, A, D

                  You just need to build up your left hand muscles. One way is simply to play acoustic at home until your hand is ready to fall off - and do it every day. In two weeks, you'll start to notice improvement. In two months, you'll wonder what your problem was.
                  That's ace advice, I'll take it.

                  Yes, I'm an electric player, and have been for 30+ years. I've never played acoustic in a band situation, but it's really nice to have for recording. Did you know RECORDING an acoustic is sort of a hassle? Topic for another thread if not another forum.

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                  • Queequeg
                    Queequeg commented
                    Editing a comment
                    How have you managed to avoid F chords for 30+ years?

                  • DeepEnd
                    DeepEnd commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Queequeg: It's not hard for an electric player to avoid playing F chords on an acoustic for extended periods of time. I went for decades rarely playing any chords on an electric.

                  • Grant Harding
                    Grant Harding commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Recording an acoustic isn't that tough. I prefer 3 mics if possible - 1 on the 12th fret, 1 on the bridge, and 1 on the room. Between those you can usually find a good sound.

                • #12
                  The adjustment from electric guitar to acoustic guitar can be tough for some people. An acoustic guitar tends to have thicker gauge strings and usually a thicker and wider neck. I also started with electric guitar than started acoustic guitar a couple of years afterward. Barre chords were a pain to do on an acoustic, especially the F chord at the 1st fret. At first your hand might get sore easily, but with regular practice and use you can build some endurance. Any idea what gauge of strings you are using? Maybe switching to a lighter gauge of string might help.
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                  • Delmont
                    Delmont commented
                    Editing a comment
                    My point exactly!

                • #13
                  I'm going to add to Delmont's list and say that the height of the nut is the most common F-killer. They have to cut them at least high enough for any style and this is usually too high for most. Too low and you have to start over with a new nut, so I'd take it to a pro.

                  The improvement in playability near the nut can be staggering.

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                  • Delmont
                    Delmont commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Actually, that's a friendly amendment, since my first suggestion was having someone look at the nut and saddle.

                    You're right, the problem is more often the nut than the saddle. I have a mandolin that just went from unplayable to magical when I had my friendly neighborhood luthier do some wailing on it.

                  • Grant Harding
                    Grant Harding commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Happy reinvigorated mandolin day! I love it when that sort of thing happens!

                • #14
                  Originally posted by Mr.Grumpy View Post
                  . . . Yes, I'm an electric player, and have been for 30+ years. I've never played acoustic in a band situation, but it's really nice to have for recording. Did you know RECORDING an acoustic is sort of a hassle? Topic for another thread if not another forum.
                  The normal recommendation is to aim the mike at the 12th fret, which is nice since it makes it easier to avoid whacking the mike with your picking hand. Some of the others can give you better advice.
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                  • #15
                      • DeepEnd commented
                        02-27-2018, 04:37 PM
                        Current Silvertone instruments have no connection to Harmony. AFAIK they're made by Samick and they're pretty cheap and low-end. The model I've seen is a standard dreadnaught with a normal pinned bridge.
                        Last edited by DeepEnd; 02-27-2018, 04:38 PM
                    • Oh. Never mind then.
                    Last edited by Nabisco; 02-28-2018, 04:31 AM.

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