In October 2020, Bob Minner was in a Zoom songwriting session with the singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, who frequently plays guitar in DADGAD tuning. As a formidable flatpicker, Minner spends most of his time in standard or dropped-D tuning, but so that he and McKenna would be in the same headspace, he got into DADGAD for the meeting.
After that, Minner felt inspired to use the tuning in composing a solo instrumental piece. “I had messed with DADGAD before in the past, but never in terms of creating anything full form,” he says. “The tune fell out pretty quick. It wasn’t anything I sweated or labored over; it sort of presented itself in raw form, then it was just a matter of cleaning it up and structuring it.”
Minner’s composition “VanWart” is a tribute to Collings Guitars’ master luthier Bruce VanWart, who, as the company’s first employee, has had his hands on each of the more than 30,000 acoustic guitars Collings has made since 1989. “Bruce and I hit it off instantly the first time I visited the shop,” Minner says. “I just wanted to honor him with a tune, out of friendship and respect for what he does.” The tune appears on Minner’s latest album, Solo.
“VanWart,” which is in the key of D major, started out as an improvisation, from which three distinct sections emerged, each including some of the colorful harmonies inherent to DADGAD. The first (A) focuses on the I (D7) and bIII (F 6/9) chords in a cool cross-picking pattern; the second (B) sees the introduction of the IV chord (G7); the third (C) changes things up with some graceful rolling arpeggios, toggling between Gmaj9/B and C 6/9 chords.
The notation here is based on the accompanying video, which is similar to the album version but has a bit of variation in the details. Be sure to listen to both to get a sense of these differences, which you can use to inform your own performance. In doing this, Minner suggests using the notation just as a guide. “Don’t be afraid of messing up,” he advises. “If you hear it in your head, go for it. There are ‘good’ mistakes in playing, in that they turn into something beneficial given the right adaptation and approach.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.