When it comes to alternate tunings, Will Ackerman is one of the most adventuresome guitarists out there—so much that he would not remember which tunings his compositions were recorded in if he were not in the practice of using careful documentation. Lucky for us, editor at large Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers recorded a video of Ackerman performing one of his latest compositions, “I Had to Go There” (Positano Songs), confirming the piece’s striking tuning of F C Eb Ab C Eb.
To get into this tuning from standard, raise strings 6, 4, 3, and 2 a half step each and string 5 three half steps; lower string 1 by a half step. The open strings should now form an Fm7 chord. As an easier alternative, starting with standard tuning, just raise string 5 a whole step and lower string 1 a step; to play along with Ackerman’s recording, use a capo at the third, rather than second fret.
“I Had to Go There” is short and simple, but rich in harmony. Strings 1–3, which form an Ab triad (Ab C Eb, due to the capo sounding as a Bb chord), are played as open throughout, with a series of different bass notes creating a colorful six-chord progression. Ackerman frets a majority of the chords by wrapping his thumb over the neck, in the manner of the late singer-songwriter Richie Havens, to barre the bottom two or three strings, but conventional fretting technique will work just as well.
In terms of the right hand, this is the first composition that Ackerman has recorded without fingerpicks. His preferred pattern is shown in the first two bars (p = thumb, i = index, and m = middle). Alternatively, you could assign your thumb to strings 6–4 and your index, middle, and ring fingers to strings 3, 2, and 1, respectively. Whichever two-bar pattern you use, be sure to play it consistently throughout.
Ackerman tunes to F C Eb Ab C Eb and uses a capo at the second fret. A simpler version of that tuning, with less raising of strings above standard pitch, is E B D G B D (or even D A C F A C). Use a capo if you wish, or just play open.
While you’re working on this piece, spend some time exploring Ackerman’s unique tuning on your own, whether improvising or composing. Note that the guitarist has issued a contest for readers to create new music in it.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.