Kent nishimura, i rarely see him used standard tuning. I want to know how does he get his Tuning for the songs he is arranging, i dont need to know how he arrange his songs since that seems to be impossible to answer.

But alot of fingerstylist uses custom tuning and i aspire to be like them especially kent, i know the purpose of custom tuning all and all, i tried to experiment by tuning the bass strings to open notes And by tuning the open strings to the lowest melody of a song but i just cant seem to get it right, so i figured i might need some help. And i made an account here

  • 2
    This seems very similar to music.stackexchange.com/questions/116518/…; perhaps the link there will help. There are some questions that aren't possible to answer here, including "how does Nishimura choose his tunings." But "what musical qualities in a song might suggest a certain tuning" is a good question that can be answered. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 17:35

3 Answers 3


In my opinion, there are two different types of non-standard tunings. They are

  1. "Easy play" tuning
  2. "Repertoire" tuning

Easy play tuning is fairly simple. Your want to play something that's really hard to finger, so you change the tuning to make it easier. In this case you just learn the song in that tuning and that's the end of it.

That's relatively easy to do: Picking up on Jared's answer: John Mayer's Neon is played in "C-A-D-G-B-E". However John has huge hands and I can't physically fret it that way. However if I drop the G-string to an F#, it becomes a lot easier, so I play it in "C-A-D-F#-B-E" which works fine (for me). That's easy enough to learn, but it's the only song I can play in this tuning .

A "repertoire" tuning on the other hand, is a tuning that you are fully functional in, i.e. you can play scales, all cords, solo and improvise. That requires a significant time investment. In this case you would chose a tuning that works decently for scales, solos and cords. Examples for that are open tunings,

Another example with full rationale the Frank Gambale tuning. Great video is here

(you may to have manually paste this into Youtube)


I should give two disclaimers: 1) I'm a violinist, and 2) unless there are specific instructions or traditions, no song has to be played in an alternate tuning. (E.g., thinking about violin literature, some pieces call for specific alternate tunings, like Biber's "Mystery sonatas." Some fiddle tunes have strong associations with a tuning, like the use of "Dead man's tuning" in "Bonaparte's Retreat" or "Midnight on the Water.")

Some songs would also be poorly-suited to an alternate tuning, like if they are highly chromatic or change keys.

For me, I feel drawn to alternate tunings for a number of reasons. One is if the song is very centered not just in a particular key but around a particular chord; for instance, this song's A section spends most of its time on the "I" chord, so I enjoy retuning to G D G D and using open strings as drones. In particular, many tunings are "open," that is, emphasizing the root and fifth of a chord and not the third (e.g., in that G major tuning, there are only Gs and Ds, no B strings). This would suit a song that's marked by what Judith Kuhn calls "fourthy-fifthiness" (https://www.google.com/books/edition/Shostakovich_in_Dialogue/FiUxDwAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=fourthy-fifthiness+shostakovich&pg=PT122&printsec=frontcover), a song that itself de-emphasizes the third of the chord.

I also turn to alternate tunings for reasons of timbre. Slackening or tightening a string changes its tone, and in particular you can get a lot of resonance by having matched sets of strings tuned to the same relative pitch (e.g. multiple Cs and multiple Gs). These can then vibrate "sympathetically," meaning that if you play a C on one string, any other strings tuned to a C will vibrate if they're not being touched. (You might want to adjust your left-hand technique to make sure you're not unintentionally damping unused strings.) This can provide some of the resonance that marks instruments with sympathetic strings like the sitar or nyckelharpa.

Finally, you might use a tuning to allow actual musical gestures. As a violinist, I'm almost always using alternate-tuned open strings as drones. You might choose to tune a bass string to a note that will be used as a "pedal point" (i.e. if that particular note "keeps going" through several chords).


Something you may want to think about is what kind of sonority you are going for in a particular piece of music. For example, if you wanted to try and capture the "minor 9 sound" you could tune to E - B - D - G - B - F#, which creates an open Em9 chord spelled 1 - 5 - b7 - b3 - 5 - 9 and play around with various shapes going up the fretboard.

You could also take a tuning like the C - A - D - G - B - E used in John Mayer's "Neon" and try to create chords using that tuning.

I hope this is helpful!

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.