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This section provides access to tips and tricks related to Roots Instrument building that are intended as supplemental material to The Folk Art Instrument Builders Reference.


Building tips:


Instructional videos:

These video's are for 3 string cigar box guitars. The tuning is DGD

Stairway to Heaven

Hey Joe

Folsom Prison Blues

Johnny B. Goode

What Tuning do I use?

DGD using the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings from a regular light gauge pack of strings.

What is this tuning called?

I’ve heard some people discuss and refer to my 3 string tuning as an open D tuning. Is it though?  
Let’s explore this:
An Open D Major Tuning is DADF#AD with the actual D major chord being F#, A & D.
An Open G Major tuning is DGDGBD and the actual G major chord in that tuning is the G,B & D.

So, technically and literally, the tuning I use, when strummed open, is simply a G power chord with a D bass note. Not an incredibly catchy tuning name though is it? Let me know what you call it?
(FYI, A power chord is the name given to chords that consist of only two notes, the “root” note and a “fifth” note)
While I have not yet found anyone else that provides instructional videos utilizing this tuning, I have found that indeed many dulcimer players have done so but they use a diatonic rather than a chromatic scale fretboard. By the way, I think the DGD tuning for a dulcimer is awesome as well, so if you have a diatonically fretted instrument please give it a try too.

Why do I tune this way?

Keep in mind I do not read music. I play by ear and I basically remember chords and scales by shapes. Open tunings make no sense to me and DGD clicks with how my brain finds notes on a fretboard. I have experimented with numerous tunings for 3 string instruments and this is the one I kept coming back to.

For 6 string players, when faced with the limitation of playing a 3 string instrument you’ll often find that the quickest way to get to a note you need is to go to a lower string than you would have typically thought to go to. Since my ear is always listening for the note, it frees me up to “find” the note regardless of where I might “think” the note should be and DGD tuning puts everything in a fascinatingly close proximity.

Another benefit of this tuning is the tone range derived. Being limited to only 3 strings can make it a challenge to get a nice deep full sound for chords while also leaving enough high end tone for solos. Utilizing the DGD tuning with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings gives me the flexibility I seek in both tonal directions.

Charles Atchison

How to build a cigar box guitar and many other folk instruments
Hand spun aluminum resonating cones for cigar box guitars
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