Had an interesting conversation with a friend last weekend. We were watching YouTube showing each other different guitarists that we dig. I showed him some Michael Hedges and William Ackerman videos,
which then led us to a conversation about open tunings. I explained to him that Hedges and Ackerman used/use alternate tunings almost exclusively.
When I pointed this out, he seemed unimpressed and maybe even lost a bit of interest once I mentioned open tunings. The first thing he asked was why not just learn/write the song in normal tuning; adjust yourself to the instrument instead forcing the instrument to adjust to you. Interesting point but I had to disagree and explained that many of these songs would be impossible to replicate in standard tuning and if you could play it in standard tuning the mood or feel of the piece might be adversely affected. He nodded as if to agree but not totally convinced. His background is as a progressive metal guitarist and in his experiences, he has witnessed some players tune to an open tuning and just bar everything for every song. To him, that is a shortcut or cheating. I agreed with him to some extent but that person still needs to have rhythm and a feel for the changes, so there is some sort musicianship going on there. We went back and forth a bit more and I think he has more respect for alternate tunings but I don’t think I’ll see him playing any open C tunings any time soon.
So are alternate tunings cheating? I don’t think so. It’s just another tool at our disposal we can use to enhance our music and to, at times, make it easier for us to play. If we really want to nitpick, we would have to call capos, effects, amps, computers,etc… cheating as well. I guess I’m a cheater and glad I have all these resources to cheat with. How about you?
Links of Interest: