Tackling “The Locktender’s Reel”—A Modern Fiddle Tune by Guitarist Eric Skye

Inspired by Skye's Pennsylvania childhood, this wistful and captivating tune is increasingly played at bluegrass and old-time gatherings. 

The Portland, Oregon–based guitarist Eric Skye is a wonderful interpreter of traditional tunes, perhaps because he brings an outsider’s perspective. Skye comes from a fingerstyle jazz background and is a self-proclaimed chord nerd, fond of exploring the guitar’s capacity for unique voicings and extensions. He prefers small-bodied guitars (particularly his Santa Cruz 00-Skye signature model) as opposed to dreadnoughts, often performs solo or in duos, and seems more concerned with tone and expression over the power and speed desired by many modern flatpickers. Yet he also finds himself drawn toward the rhythmic and melodic styles of American and Celtic fiddle music, and fuses all these influences together in his playing.

Skye was raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and spent his childhood exploring the Delaware Canal. In past centuries the canal was bustling dawn to dusk with mule teams transporting coal boats through the locks, but when Skye was a kid it was active only as a historic site. He filled his summer days fishing, and winter days ice skating, before reconvening with his family at the old locktender’s house. They moved to the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s, but as an adult Skye occasionally returned to Bucks County and was inspired to write a collection of tunes in honor of the canal and his childhood there. One such example is “The Locktender’s Reel.”


Skye first recorded the tune with mandolinist Tim Connell on June Apple (2015), and later with guitarist Jamie Stillway on Home on the Midrange (2021). The wistful and captivating melody has inspired other artists to record it, too, including fingerstyle masters Teja Gerken and Doug Young, and the song is increasingly played at bluegrass and old-time gatherings as well. 

The transcription here comes from the June Apple version, where Skye first states the melody at 0:45. He admits that he plays it a bit differently every time—compare it to the free notation he offers at ericskye.com/fiddle-tunes. Though Skye’s lead sheet includes basic chord symbols, the notation here shows the more colorful voicings he uses the first time through the form when Connell takes the melody. 


The first half of the 32-bar tune has a catchy rhythmic bounce with a repeated motif that syncopates and swirls as it passes through the chord progression. Skye suggests using alternating picking—downstrokes on the downbeats and upstrokes on the upbeats—to help drive the pulse. The second half delivers a more spacious feel with longer notes that form lush extensions over the Em9 and Cadd9 chords (bars 10–11 and 14–15). There is also syncopation happening in those same measures, so follow pick directions and listen to recordings to find the right timing.

In addition to this flatpicking arrangement, Skye also has a lovely solo fingerstyle version of “The Locktender’s Reel” available on YouTube. He has plans to record that rendition, along with other original fingerstyle compositions inspired by his Bucks County childhood, on a forthcoming album. His unique approach shows that while traditional music has well-defined structure, it is simultaneously boundless—a musical form that contains endless creativity within its grounded walls.

"The Locktender's Reel" by Eric Skye, guitar notation and tablature
Acoustic Guitar magazine cover for issue 344

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Alan Barnosky
Alan Barnosky

Alan Barnosky is a guitarist based in Durham, NC. He performs solo as a songwriter as well as in bluegrass and folk bands.

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