courtesy of
Melissa Stephenson

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A Lesson in C Tuning
Manuscripts by John Fahey

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The story of how this came to be...

John and I decided to go out to a Mexican restaurant one late afternoon. We had never eaten at this particular place located in Keizer's downtown area, such as it is. We walked in and were seated near the front window in a section of low-backed booths. John ordered a large iced tea, extra Sweet 'n' Low and said yes to the chips and salsa. We both agreed that melted cheddar sounded pretty good.

The general idea was to get a lot of cheese. Across the aisle from where we sat there was a young couple gazing so sullenly at one another it made me think they were there to break up but had perhaps decided to give it one more hour over a combination plate. In the booth directly behind us was a happy Hispanic family. They had two adorable children who were so small their chins rested on the table and the soda straws propped in their glasses were above them in thin air.

The restaurant was quite large and we were the only three parties in there. We were just crammed together like one big family with big hopes for cheese. Our complimentary chips and salsa arrived.

The children had bounced around and were now watching us eat chips. They were fascinated with John, whose gaze remained fixed on an imaginary point in the distance, over the tops of their heads, expressionless. John won the standoff when the children turned around for a sip of soda. We chatted about nothing in particular and after about ten minutes our food arrived.

Everyone had their food, and feeling more confident that their attention was on that, I said to John, "So John, what's this C Tuning you like to use so much?" What a great opening to some polite dinner conversation. For a split second I thought of the opening 8 bars of "Juana".

"What do you want to know?" Then after mulling it over for second, "The 6th string is C, the 5th string is G the 4th string is C the 3rd string is G, the 2nd string is C and the 1st string is E."

To me this was good stuff and I ventured another question that just popped into my head, "Is the 6th string the one at the bottom or the top?"

"The top".

I then realized we were in a classic communication dilemma and said, "Is the top the one with the highest pitch or the one closest to your nose? I mean, isn't the bottom string at the top?"

He rolled his eyes up toward the ceiling. But continued on with a mesmerizing, very intricate and thorough explanation of C tuning, using as an example, by my request, the "Southern Medley" one of my favorites.

Later, back at the house, guitar in hand, I said, "Okay, so how does that tuning go again?" He stomped off grumbling and waving his arms in exasperation. Fifteen minutes later he reappeared and handed me the pages featured here.

 Melissa Stephenson
 February 7, 2002