The C6th Tuning

Hello fellow players,

Bob Hempker standing in for Bobbe Seymour once again.

Let’s talk about C6th today. The original C6 tuning was developed in 1939 by Jerry Byrd. It was a six string tuning. E, C, A, G, E, C. Later on, Jerry added a seventh string which he tuned to a C# in order to get an A major chord open along with the Am and the C.

The tuning evolved to eight strings, then ten. Alvino Rey was credited with the standard pedal setup that we now know on the C6th neck.

Jerry was probably everybody’s hero at one time. I didn’t know him real well but we talked often and corresponded right up until he died.

The man who first taught me when I was a kid was Ron Dearth in Lima, Ohio. Ron knew Jerry very well. I don’t know what happened to the recording, but according to Jerry, Ron recorded him on an old wire recorder back in ’39 when Jerry first came up with the tuning.

I think the tuning has been somewhat stereotyped as a jazz/swing type tuning. In reality, the tuning can be used for many different things. Blues, rock n roll, even some country things and many Hawaiian things are played in C6th.

I use it a lot for different rhythm patterns when I’m in a small bar band and there’s no piano player because it makes the band sound fuller than it sounds with an E9th because that lower tuning adds body, fatness or whatever you want to call it. This alone is a good reason to learn C6th.

I’ve also used it to play a tick-tac guitar line with the bass. The old Nashville sound featured an upright bass and a baritone guitar playing tick-tac with the bass. This can be done easily on the C6th neck which is another good reason to learn C6th. You will be more versatile and thus have more to offer the band.

I remember watching Buddy Charleton with Ernest Tubb years ago. He would play part of a song on the C6th neck and then switch to the E9th neck while backing up Ernest Tubb. He would switch back and forth at will. You can’t get much more country than Ernest Tubb.

Some altered and extended chords are harder to play on the E9th because the string groupings are so different from what we’re used to playing. The C6th neck has the advantage that altered and extended chords are easier to play. You have to train your ear to listen for those intervals, but it will add color to your playing when you do. This is another good reason to learn C6th.

A good way to begin learning C6th would be to take the second string through the seventh string, not use any pedals and learn your string groupings, your scales and your chords before you go on. As you’re understanding and playing progresses on the C6th tuning, you can start adding other strings and pedals, gradually, one at a time.

We have to crawl before we can walk, whether it’s E9th, C6th or whatever tuning you use. It’s vital that we have an understanding of the instrument. Again, like any other instrument, we work on our scales, harmonized scales and arpeggios just like we do on the E9th.

You might start out learning a few simple songs like Harbor Lights and Remington Ride. These are songs you can play with no pedals that use the basic tuning and go from there. It’s like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it.

Some players down through the years have opted for an A6th or a Bb6th tuning instead of the C6th. They say that it’s a lower and fatter sounding tuning. It’s the same tuning, just tuned lower.

A few of Hank Thompson’s steel guitarists did this because Hank sang a lot of his songs in the key of C. They didn’t want to play the C chord open and used the lower tunings instead where they could play the C chord on the second or third fret.

Don’t be intimidated by the tuning. If you have a C6th neck on your guitar, by all means, keep it tuned and practice on it. You will find yourself wanting to use it more and more.

Again, let me repeat, you should check out Bobbe’s instructional DVDs on his website http://www.steelguitar.net/videos.html There are some excellent instructional materials that we didn’t have years ago when I was first learning and it would have sure made the learning easier. So take advantage of the material that’s available to improve your own playing.

In my opinion, you are the best gadget you can invest in.

Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.
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One Response to The C6th Tuning

  1. Don Benoit says:

    Just found your comments on C6th. Have been learning it for a couple of years. Just got C6th Texas style vol 2 by Herb Steiner. I like it because I know those songs in E9th and am practicing them on C6th. I have all othe available C6th courses but I like Herb’s tab because he plays songs in various ways (same licks in different places on the neck). Don

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