CFCGCD tuning

I want to talk today about a new tuning I have been playing with, and present a simple arrangement to go along with it.

I am mostly known for using the Orkney tuning which is CGDGCD. I picked it up from Steve Baughman many years ago and it has been my main tuning ever since. I used it for all the tunes on my cd, and generally play rhythm backup in it with a capo at the second fret when at irish sessions.

I think its a really great tuning, especially for arranging in G and C, obviously. The second interval between the first and second strings allow for some nice harp effects and playing across the strings.

That being said I have been feeling the pull to do some different things lately, and explore another tuning. One downside about Orkney is that flatpicking in it is not the easiest, in my opinion.  I usually backup with a capo at the second fret, means the strings are tuned to DAEADE. So unlike most other tunings there is no open D note on the fourth string. This is kind of pivotal for celtic music, since that note comes up in tunes a lot. I could grab it on the fifth string fifth fret with my pinky, but that is kind of awkward, especially playing fast.

I could also pull off the capo and then flatpick, which would give me an open D on the fourth string. But that is not my preferred configuration for backup, and I hate to switch back and forth.

So enter this new tuning I have been playing with, CFCGCD. You can see its similar to Orkney except the fifth and fourth strings are tuned down another whole step. Steve Baughman uses it some on his newest cd and his celtic guitar DVD. I also recently found out that it has become one of John Doyle’s main tunings as well. If two guitarists I admire are using it I might as well try it out.

Without a capo it obviously works well for the keys of C and F, but I think its main strengths are with a capo at the second fret, giving you the tuning of DGDADE. You’ve got open D and G notes in the bass, which are common in celtic music. If you ignore the sixth and second strings you get the notes GDAE, which are the same as the mandolin. Flatpicking in most of the common celtic keys seems easy enough.

I have only worked out a handful of chords, and this is where it will probably just take a while to get used to some new things. I am so familiar with the chords in Orkney, and all the little riffs, runs, and tricks I can use the when backing up a tune.  Now its just a matter of learning where those same shapes and sounds lie in this new tuning.

I probably won’t totally switch tunings for good. I still know Orkney better and can see where it is more advantageous when arranging certain things for fingerpicking. But I am enjoying exploring this new tuning and trying some different things.

To wrap things up I want to present a simple arrangement of the standard reel, The Mountain Road. Its nothing super complicated, just a standard melody plus baseline arrangement.  I have included some triplets in places, which I usually play ring, middle, and index finger. ?I also vary the bassline a bit to make things more interesting. The arrow above certain notes indicaites a technique called the Middle Finger Thwack. You basically flick the given string with your index finger, produced the note but also a percussive effect.

This tune works well with an arrangement of the Banshee, another traditional irish reel. I will present that one in a future blog post.

Mountain Road TAB

Check it out and let me know what you think. I have a feeling I will be exploring this tuning more in the coming months.


Comments 6

  1. Anton,

    Nice post, and arrangment. I really like the potential this tuning has for flatpicking irish tunes. Another way to look at the tuning is if you ignore the 1st and 6th string, you get GDAD, which is probably the most common bouzouki tuning – so for bouzouki players this tuning is a breeze!

    Do you use medium strings normally? I think for CFCGCD, where you are lowering your bottom 3 strings so significantly, medium strings are a must.

    Looking forward to your Banshee arrangment. Is that in F (or G when capoed)? That would be a great demonstration of how this tuning works well for two keys…


  2. Thanks Alan. I am excited about using this tuning for flatpicking as well, semms like most of the common celtic keys are in easy reach. I do use medium strings. I went back and forth for a while, and used lights for a time, but i prefer the heavier tension and what i perceive as a bit fatter tone from mediums. Perhaps I will experiment with putting even heavier gauges on strings 6, 5, and 4, since they are being tuned down so low. Of course then i couldn't tune up to standard, but I guess that is why one has two guitars.

    My arrangement of the Banshee is in G, when capoed at the second fret. I like that this tuning works well for both D and G, and can see the key of A being doable too.


  3. Anton,
    You may also enjoy BEBF#BF, the original tuning John pioneered for a lot of his non drop-D guitar work. Same intervals as CFCGCD, except you get that high string, meaning you rarely if ever have to go out of first position for flatpicking tunes. Great for finger style and backing songs as well. makes a very nice alternative to DADGAD, especially with a capo at the third fret (DGDADA). Much of John's work is in this tuning. It does require heavy strings, though. I use a .72 on my 6th string and a .52 on my fifth string. Have fun!

    All the best,

  4. Thanks Zac, I may check that out, perhaps setup a second guitar for it. I liked CFCGCD ok, seems good for flatpicking, ok for fingerstyle, but i just didnt like alot of the chord voicings. Things seemed to intonate weird, I think because the bass strings are tuned down so low. Honestly, the past few days I have really been enjoying DADGAD and may stick with that a bit. I can do the celtic fingerstyle thing, and rhythm backup, but can also branch out and do some pop or jazz fingerstyle arrangements if the mood strikes me. I wouldnt mind being a bit more versatile, and having a better overall knowledge of the fingerboard, and I think sticking to one tuning helps alot with that. I also recently saw Pierre Bensusan which was very inspiring in that regard.

  5. Why not try this, especially if you want to flat pick the tunes. I’ve been using this for about forty years now, I initially came to the guitar via the tenor banjo and wanted to quickly transfer the skill I had with the tenor tuning to the guitar, I use an open tuning of CFCGDG but usually capo at the 2nd fret, the only time I don’t capo is when accompanying Northumbrian pipes or flat keyed Uilleann pipes where the keys are usually F, C , Bb etc. The Capo’d guitar is basically a tenor banjo, middle four strings with a dropped D on bass and a high A on the top string. This has the many advantages of allowing you to cross strings at the treble end, without the stretching normally associated with f# to B or G to B etc, on the E string. Mandolin/ octave mandolin chords are possible with only having to accommodate the bass D (which often helps as a drone) and accommodate the high A string which also rings nicely when in the key of A or E. Check out my recent cd’s Autumn, and Wall to Wall Lindifarne to Walltown , both on cd baby Amazon etc or available direct from me, and you’ll get the flavour, both these cd’s and the about to be released Wall to Wall, Cowraik to Carlingford have tunes played in this tuning and in standard EADGBE . I find after using this tuning for many years I now want to properly learn guitar and I’m mainly playing the melodies in standard tuning. Check out my website, http://www.martinmatthews.eu it has news on the new cd and samples to listen to. Best, Martin Matthews.

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