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Voyage to Vestapol: Gigging in Open E


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In the past, I've mainly played slide in Spanish tuning, open G (DGDGBD) and sometimes open A (EAEAC#E). Though I've dabbled in Vestapol, I'd never really dug into it.

 

Last week, while staycationing, I dug into Vestapol in E (EBEG#BE). I made sure that all guitars in reach were tuned in Vestapol. After a week of messing around with it, I decided to use it exclusively at my two-hour lunch gig. Armed with my fav new capo (Planet Waves NS Capo Lite) and a coricidin bottle for slide, I visited Vestapol today.

 

Set list below. While I didn't play everything on this list, I wanted to make sure that I had enough tunes to make it through without have to retune to standard. I was able to play a wide variety of tunes: blues (of course), pop, folk, jazz. While I didn't play slide on every tune, I did slide on a majority of them (even the jazz ones). A few tunes I retuned to Vestapol Minor (EBEGBE).

 

The capo really made things interesting. In my version of the Cars' My Best Friend's Girl, which I play in C, I found out that I needed to capo 1 -- not capo 8, which is a more traditional way of playing in C (if you have cutaway access). The tune is three chords, C F G. With the capo at the first fret, you have the F there -- rather than the nasty sounding (for this tune) E chord. And the 2nd and 5th strings are the note C, which is a nice & safe note to have ready if ya panic.

 

I had a great time with it. Since I couldn't rely on my storehouse of stock licks in standard tuning, I had to really concentrate on rhythmic riffs and licks and grooves. Simple, solid grooves worked best for me today while I was singing as well as when I took instrumental breaks. It's revitalized the way I think about playing. In standard tuning I consider myself a guitarist who sings; in Vestapol, I feel more like a singer who plays guitar.

 

I played fingerstyle, hybrid and with a pick. All three have their merits.

 

I didn't play everything below, but almost everything was ready to go. If a song has (work), it means that I need to work on it. Numbers in parenthesis are capo; letters are reminding me that I'm doing the song in a different key than I normally do: for example, No Particular Place To Go (E) used to be played in D but now in E. If the song used Vestapol Minor, you'll see (min).

 

 

Ain

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Yeah, I've heard it called all kinds of things. Usually if it's not in D, I've heard "Vestapol in E" or "Vestapol in C" etc. Relationships are all the same: R5R35R.

 

I've even heard referred to as Sebastapol and Sebastapool. I'll leave the nomenclature to the lexicographers. :D

 

Just know that I'm talkin' 'bout open E. ;)

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Romance without finance...

That don't make sense!! : D

 

Sebastapol and Spanish Fandango were songs published in the mid 1800's I believe. They were in open D and G shapes respectively. The book they were published in was so widespread that the names of the tunes (sebestapol slanged to vestapol) became common names for the tunings (vestapol and spanish).

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Stack, I always have at least one guitar in open D (I prefer to tune down instead of up). I'll add a few songs to your set list

 

Sebastopol/Vestopol is the name of a song and my understanding is that is where the tuning name came from (yes, Spanish Fladango is in G and that is why open G is sometimes called "Spanish tuning"

 

Blues - Dark Was the Night, Cold was the Ground; Police Dog Blues; Dust My Broom (the great Elmo James lick), Paris Texas, You've Got to Move, many others (edit to add, lots of John Fahey and Ry Cooder)

 

Duane Allman's Little Martha

 

Kottkes's Watermellon and Echoing Guliwitz

 

Steel Guitar Rag, Careless Love, all of Kelly Joe Phelps slide work, much of David Lindley and Ben Harper.

 

When thinking about open G and D remember that the intervals are the same, only D has the root on top

 

open D 1-5-1-3-5-1

open G 5-1-5-1-3-5

 

The third interval kind of sets the mood of each tuning. Looking at those you can see that if you take anything you know in G and shift it one string away from the floor you can play it in D (or E). That immediately doubles the number of songs you can play. Doesn't work going from D to G, but it can be very effect in D.

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FK, thanks for the suggestions. You probably noticed that most of my set list isn't really focused on songs that are in open tunings, but there are some on your list that I may add! :thu:

 

Yes, those two families of tunings share some basic theoretical DNA.

 

D/E 1 5 1 3 5 1

G/A 5 1 5 1 3 5

 

I like how open E is real root based. Open G has that dominant fifth sound, and sliding up to the root on the first string is cool. Of course, sliding up to the root can be done in open E -- just gotta do it on the second string.

 

I've been transferring some of my licks/moves that I knew in Open G over to open E. I really like having the roots on the outside strings as well as on the fourth. It's also nice that the sixth, second, and first strings are the same as standard tuning -- it really helps when I'm getting into other keys.

 

When I played open G, I relied on the fourth, third, and second strings (just like standard) to navigate keys other than G. I played open G for an entire year solid in a Grateful Dead cover band, every song in that tuning for about three or more hours stage time (yeah, I know -- not all GD songs have slide ;)). And I played it in other bands, as well as getting picked up to go on tour due to playing slide. Doing so taught me a lot about playing in different keys when using an open tuning. At the time I didn't use a capo.

 

I've been playing in open G for about two decades. I've dabbled in Vestapol, but just decided to take the plunge. I tend to learn better when I throw something into a gig situation. It teaches me to think on my feet and trust my instincts.

 

So I'm not really approaching open tunings in the manner of what songs are originally played in so-and-so open tuning, but rather what songs can I play & arrange using an open tuning.

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Interesting stuff, thanks for sharing. I'm curious about the choice of Open E vs. Open D, particularly if you're willing to use a capo. I suppose Open E might be brighter and a bit louder, but the increased tension might make barre-based chords more tiring for a long gig. It also might put the G string at risk for snapping. On the other hand, I think I might envision the fretboard better if I have those familiar high and low E strings as guides, even if the middle strings are re-tuned.

 

I'm interested in the jazz pieces - I have not tried to translate my fairly basic jazz vocabulary to an open tuning (not until reading this post, that is). Recreating Freddie Green type voicings doesn't seem to work for me. 5x45xx in standard becomes 5x24xx in Open E, not fun. If we discard the 6th string bass rule, we can make a nice 7b9 chord, e.g., x5466x, but the standard version is still easier: x5454x. Or 5x454x.

 

Did you find any examples in which the Vestapol tuning makes a particular jazzy progression either easier or uniquely-voiced compared to standard? Any cool chord voicings you can share?

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brahmz, I'm playing in open E because I do have a lot of songs that I can sing in E. I'm also using a lighter gauge string with a lighter slide, though I still utilize higher action that I would in standard tuning. I find that I can lighten up on the string set when I tune up. (N.B., I'm mainly doing this on electric, but the similar principles have been working for me on acoustic while woodshedding at home). There's a certain brightness and tautness to open E that I like, and as you mentioned it helps me envision the fretboard a bit better.

 

As far as chord voicings go, I've been going through a process for the last several years of simplifying the changes to the standards. Take the Rhythm Changes, for example. The most basic RC is I-vi-ii-V (and there are a bunch of subs and permuations that can be done to these, of course). What I do is play E (000000), C#m (x20020) [or C#m7 (x20000)], F#m7 (x20120 or 555555), and B (x4234x or 777777). You'll notice that my F#m7 chord is rootless -- essentially it's an A chord. I could also play an A6 (555575, for example) instead of the A to get more of the F#m7 sound. The ii and IV are, to a certain extent, interchangeable. I-vi-ii-V also works as I-vi-IV-V especially if you play E C#m A6 B. YMMV.

 

I don't really use too many barre chords, but instead use a lot of partials. If I do barre, I'll use the slide. For minor barre chords, I'm fretting behind the slide.

 

Additionally, I could go even more basic. I consider the vi to be a sub for the I chord, and the ii to be a sub for the V chord. Dropping those subs (the vi and ii) gives you a real bare bones I-I-V-V. While playing in standard tuning, I was actually doing this while I was singing and then I drop in the more complex changes during the breaks. If I see a chain of 2-5, I've found that I can get rid of the 2 chords without really missing them.

 

In songs with a minor chord over several bars, it's common to do this minor line cliche: C#m, C#m(maj7), C#m7, C#m6. There's actually nothing wrong with just playing a C#m over that instead of the line cliche, and I actually dig the sound of just one chord with a solid groove. Jazz guys will tell you that the line cliche makes it more interesting, but I think they fear minimalism, are hopped up on speed, or suffer from ADHD. :p

 

I also don't worry so much about 7th chords (and, by extension, other extensions ;)). I've simplified everything down to basic triads. Again, this is something I've been doing over the past several years. I've been trying to play what I call roadhouse jazz: jazz standards but with a roadhouse blues feel. The roadhouse blues idea allows me to simplify the progession to its bare-bones harmonic structure, though I can still add in 7ths etc if the mood strikes. Often if an extension is present and absolutely necessary, it'll be present in the melody. So if I need a b9, I'll just play a dom7 chord and let the melody carry the b9. If that extension or altered note ain't in the melody, I don't fuss with it in the chord.

 

Concerning the Freddie Green shell voicings, there's an idea floating around that even Freddie Green didn't play the Freddie Green voicings. He used just one-note chords. He'd still make the shell chord shape, but he'd only play one note in that shell chord.

 

But taking your 5x45xx in consideration, here's what I'd do. If it's a Am6, I'd just simplify it to Am: x1x1xxx or xx545x. If it's a D7, then I'd simplify it to D: x321xx or xx213x. Or I'd keep it as D7 and play x121xx or xx211x. If it's Am7b5, I'd roll one of the Am chords up three frets: x4x4xx or xx878x. I do this (even in standard tuning) with any minor chord to make it a min7b5: just add three frets to the minor chord to imply the min7b5.

 

In a nutshell, I'm simplifying everything. I got fed up with the Real Book changes, especially when singing. Some of the changes sounded like jazz school homework rather than something I wanted to sing with or jam over. I'll still use RB changes in breaks (and I still marvel at how lovely they can sound), but I'm relying less on them and more on my ear and instincts. I decided to concentrate on melody, lyrics and swinging rather than trying to comp the hippest changes or burn on the most far flung mode of harmonic minor.

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I keep one of my acoustics in standard D (DGCFAD). I use it mainly for doing a few songs that I am more comfortable singing in a low key (like Bb) but which benefit from the more accessible passing notes and chords in an easier key like C.

 

However, I also use that guitar for the handful of songs I do in open tunings. From standard D it's easy to retune to either open D (DADF#AD) or open G (DGDGBD). It's also good for (what I call) drop and double-drop C (CGCFAD and CGCFAC) - that low C on the 6th strings sounds great.

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Stack, thanks for the detailed explanation. I think I share some of your interest in this 'roadhouse' style (if I'm envisioning it correctly), though not from being burned out on Real Book chords - I'm still in love with that language, even if I'm experiencing some of it through the eyes and ears of jazz pedants. But I've been interested in ragtime and stride piano much longer than, say, rootless bebop voicings - usually because I had to play piano solo without a bass player, and those styles had really strong moving bass parts which held down that register. Harmonically, these styles also seemed to have fewer extensions beyond 7ths and 9ths, though plenty of secondary dominant chains and diminished chords. But overall the voice leading was simpler and easier to follow for my classically trained mind.

 

In recent weeks I've been re-examining the piano-guitar collaborations of Benny Green and Russell Malone. Very different from the harmonic watercolors of Bill Evans and Jim Hall for example, but Benny Green has turned me into a believer with his impeccable sense of drive and groove - and Russell Malone's guitar playing keeps up perfectly. I wouldn't call their playing 'roadhouse' - though it shares plenty of DNA with barrelhouse / boogie-woogie.

 

So I definitely get the attraction to harmonically simplified, more rhythmically-oriented arrangements of jazz standards, though I haven't tried it much yet. Sometimes navigating the suggested Real Book changes is like eating an apple pie and discovering no less than a dozen surprise flavors / ingredients in the filling.

 

Getting back to the tuning discussion - everything you've said makes sense (i.e., reinterpreting a single Freddie Green voicing in 3 different ways based on the actual function of the chord), but I would still be at a huge disadvantage implementing these strategies in Open D or E vs. Standard. I can simplify chords in Standard tuning just as well. Other than the chance to stretch my musical mind a bit, it seems the primary advantage for me would be the slide option. But that 'advantage' pretty much cancels itself out because I lose a finger and gain lots of out-of-tune rattling noises.

 

It's definitely a useful exercise for my mind. At work I have a few short scale electric guitars that are actually tuned up to Vestapol G - easier for kids to strum. Sometimes I do end up with that guitar in my hands, so it would be useful to gain some additional functionality. But I can't see myself showing up to a swordfight using my left hand, and I can't see myself going to an actual gig with this tuning - at least not yet. My hat's off to you for undertaking this challenge and succeeding.

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brahmz, I love the RB/apple pie metaphor!

 

The slide offers not a loss of a finger but the gain of much more. Let me explain.

 

Since I still have three fingers free to fret (one more than Django) when using a slide, I can still explore various chord shapes with those three-fretting fingers, though it does limit some possibilities -- and the slide can be used as a "fretting finger" on a single string (index finger barre all the strings on the fifth fret and use the slide to "fret" the seventh fret first string for an Aadd9).

 

Or I can use the slide only, and just use my other fingers for dampening (or not dampening). This works for chords and single notes, of course. And with the slide on single notes, I'm not bound by equal temperament. I can make my blue notes even bluer. Naturally, this can be done by bending strings with fingers, but for me slide offers a bit more subtlety (a comment on my own bending ability than on bending).

 

Another possibility is fretting behind the slide: I can slide barre at the 5th fret and then fret the fourth fret third string to get an Am (there are even more possibilities).

 

A fourth possibility is not using the slide at all and just going back to four-finger grips, and note that this is the only possibility for non-slide players.

 

And another one is the ability to combine fretted notes with slide notes on runs. For example, if I were to play the fifth fret and then seventh fret on each string across all the strings, I could fret the fifth fret and then slide the seventh fret. This is really a wonderful sound.

 

By using the slide I increase the ways in which I can use my fretting hand, not decrease them. My fretting/slide hand has more avenues of expression: three-finger fretting (limits can be good), fretting in addition to "slide fretting," slide only, slide with fretting behind the slide, four-finger fretting (which allows for perhaps more chording possibilities than the three-finger mode), combining fretted notes with slide notes on runs. Add in the fretting thumb and you have more ways to skin a cat.

 

Note that I wear my slide on my pinky. Were I to wear it on my ring or middle finger, another possibility opens up with the ability to fret in front of the slide. I haven't even begun to explore that at all.

 

I'm been exploring these options for years, though I put some of the ideas on hiatus for a bit and I'm just picking them back up again. I'm still in the woodshed working all this out, but I'm also living and dying by it at gigs.

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Stack, your comments on the slide are interesting. As you probably know, a good dobro player using "high bass G" can play in every major key, plus some minor ones by slanting the slide. Obviously he/she can't fret anything, but they still manage to play almost anything that doesn't involve a lot of the funky jazz chords.

 

(I just noodle with dobro playing so I really don't knwo what I'm talking about here LOL)

 

I also am reminded about those players who use something likd DADGAD exclusively - again, I don't know how they do it, but they do.

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Thanks, FK.

 

When I played in Open G for bottleneck, I learned how to play in every key. I'd even go to blues jams and some of the jammers would give me the cold-shoulder and try to stump me by calling blues in Gb.

 

The slant can be used with bottleneck, though it really only works for me way up the neck where the frets are closer together. It's not a technique that I've worked on too much. I've played some lap steel, but not enough to really call myself a lap steel player. I'd love to work on it more. I do have a cheapo Wish-N-Born that I should pull out of the closet. Not sure if I'd use open E or G. I've always wanted to try out C6.

 

There are also some three-fret rules to get minor chords. Using that High G Dobro tuning (GBDGBD), just play a two

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