In the September/October 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar, you can read a feature article about Will Ackerman and his Imaginary Road Studios and learn Ackerman’s solo guitar piece “I Had to Go There,” from the Positano Songs album.
In the course of the interview, Ackerman demonstrated “I Had to Go There” (see the video above), and he commented that he’d love to hear what other guitarists would do in its unusual tuning: F C Eb Ab C Eb (capo II). So we decided to create the Ackerman Tuning Challenge: inviting guitarists to create music in his tuning and post the results on YouTube with the hashtag #AckermanTuningChallenge—and have Ackerman himself pick a favorite.
By the October 1 deadline, 50 guitarists around the world took the challenge, from the U.S. to Spain, Italy, India, and Japan, posting a remarkable range of creative instrumental pieces. Some matched Ackerman’s tuning and capo position exactly, while others opted for lower pitched versions of the tuning such as E B D G B D or D A C F A C. Watch all the videos in this playlist.
After reviewing all the entries, Ackerman was inspired to pick not one but three winners. Congratulations to Steve Wick from Aurora, Illinois; Rachanachar from Shimla, India, in the Himalayan foothills; and Enrique Mateu, from Spain’s Canary Islands, who submitted two compositions.
A note from Ackerman:
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers of Acoustic Guitar magazine came up with this brilliant idea of creating a “challenge” wherein one of my lunatic open tunings would be inflicted on anyone who was foolhardy enough to write a guitar piece in that tuning.
Essentially every piece I’ve written in the last number of decades has had its own tuning, so this is familiar territory to me. But I was truly astounded (and humbled) that so many people sent in so many amazing compositions and performances. Narrowing it down was almost painful. A million thanks to Jeffrey and AG and all of you crazy, brave, and wonderful guitarists. —WA
All the guitarists who submitted received a signed copy of Positano Songs courtesy of Ackerman. The three winners receive a subscription to Acoustic Guitar plus a one-on-one Zoom/FaceTime session with the alternate tuning maestro himself.
Watch the winning videos and read the guitarists’ notes about their entries below:
I approached this open tuning by going completely by sound and feel. I built it entirely on listening to the colors and tones, experimenting with fingering and chording. I played the main rhythm structure of the song first and then overdubbed other instrumental elements, mixing them back together into the final video. Guitars used were: Larrivee C-10 for the main, and Taylor NS-42CE for the lead melody line.
As an added note, Will’s inclusion of his various tunings in his liner notes was the first time I had come across that concept as a young guitar player in the ’80s. Thank you to Will for the many years of amazing music and continued inspiration! —Steve Wick
“Will Reach, Eventually,” Rachanachar
I was going through a creative block until I stumbled upon a post by the gem (read: legendary) fingerstylist/guitarist Will Ackerman, where he generously urged us fellow fingerstylists to try one of his many tunings, F C Eb Ab C Eb, which my poor guitar certainly couldn’t bear. I had to tune it a half step down and put the capo on the first fret!
What this mystical tuning presented is this new tune, which has found its place in the saga of Rachanachar. Rachanachar is a Sanskrit term meaning a being who creates, or simply a creator. It’s the central and only character of this epic tale that I narrate with instrumental songs describing the different moments and phases from the lifespan of this protagonist, who’s on his journey to find his ultimate truth. This particular song is set in that phase where the hero is faced with doubt on his journey, but manages to move forward with the understanding of reaching his destination eventually. —Pranjal Uniyal
“Adinê,” Enrique Mateu
“Adinê” is a love theme dedicated to my wife that is closely related to her life story.
I met Will Ackerman personally 23 years ago now. I had the honor of being invited to play with him at his concert at the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1999. They did not warn me that he used different alternative tunings for his guitars, and when trying to play his works I was going crazy—that was impossible with only ten fingers! That experience was extremely rewarding and enriching because I learned a lot, not only about music but also about humility, since Ackerman suggested that I be the soloist on his famous “Hawk Circle” song. The teacher offering the opportunity to the novice. [Listen to that performance here.]
First I recorded the complete song with a humble little Portuguese six-string guitar with the tuning F C Eb Ab C Eb, with a capo on the second fret, in honor of my wife’s humble background. I then added a 12-string acoustic guitar with the same tuning but the capo set to the seventh fret. Later I added a fretless lute with the same tuning with a capo at the second fret. I also incorporated a six-string bass tuned as a low octave guitar, a fretless guitar as a baritone in B, and a gomera drum. The voices are of my dear and talented student Vanessa Lemoine. —Enrique Mateu
“Alcaravaneras (De vida y huerta),” Enrique Mateu
Twenty days ago I posted a song I wrote with an alternate tuning that William Ackerman proposed as a challenge, so almost all my instruments were tuned for that challenge. Two days ago I began to play with my instruments and this “round trip” piece was born (the name is a play on words).
Since our ports have traditionally been the route to go out and come back, the video starts with the port’s view from Las Alcaravaneras beach. First I recorded the complete song with a six-string timple, with the tuning and a capo on fret five, and then I incorporated a 12-string acoustic guitar with the same tuning but a capo on the second fret. Later I added a fretless lute, a little guitar with the same tuning, clapping, a tambor gomero, and a cajón. I invited the great Cuban bass player Ernesto Hermida and the singer Vanessa Lemoine and that’s how we got to this point. —EM