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Finessing the F chord

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Hi all,
One of the things about Country Blues guitar that has struck me in recent years is the interesting varieties of tactics that different guitarists in the style have resorted to in order to avoid having to play an F chord in standard tuning with the first fret F note on the sixth string fretted, either via a thumb wrap or an index finger barre.  I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the different strategies guitarists have employed in the course of trying to avoid having to fret that first fret F on the sixth string.

First, from Precious Bryant, we have performance footage of her playing of "Georgia Buck".  uncle bud, of this site, was the first person I know of to remark after watching this video that Precious Bryant had avoided fretting the low F on the sixth string in this song by tuning the sixth string to an F note!  Check it out--It puts the G note a fret lower on the sixth string, of course, which is a little odd, but I expect she thought the gain in ease of execution was better than the alternative of staying in standard tuning.  I have seen African guitarists adopt this same re-tuning strategy to avoid having to fret the F at the first fret of the sixth string in standard tuning.

Next, from Furry Lewis, we have "Billy Lyons and Stack O'Lee".  Furry's choice here is to voice the F chord on his four highest-pitched strings and play the alternating bass in F going from the open fifth string to the third fret of the fourth string, avoiding the sixth string in the F chord altogether.

For "Police Sergeant Blues", Robert Wilkins chose to hit his initial downbeat in the refrain of the song on a low F note, matching the F chord there, but then simply keep his thumb moving, keeping time in the bass, striking open strings while he concentrated on playing the melody in the treble.  It's a solution that sounds peculiar played carefully at a slow tempo, but which ends up sounding fine when played at tempo.

Ed Bell came up with a beautiful solution for his F chord in "She's A Fool".  Playing in C position, capoed up or tuned high, he avoids the fourth string in his C chord, alternating right across it from the third fret of the fifth string to the open third string, probably fingering it X-3-X-0-1-0.  When he goes to his F chord, he simply pulls his ring finger back from the third fret of the fifth string to the third fret of the fourth string, fretting X-0-3-0-1-0 for his F chord, playing what ends up being an F major 9 chord with its third, A, in the bass.  It is a particularly pretty sound, and it seems likely that the solution was driven by the easiness of the switch from the way he was fingering C and the way he ended up fingering his F chord.  I don't know of anyone else in the style who used this sound in an F chord.

Any other instances folks can think of instances in which players adopted interesting solutions in order to avoid having to fret the first fret F note when playing an F chord?

All best,

big joe weems:
This is a fascinating insight! Thank you!

You're welcome, big joe.  I'm glad you found it interesting.
All best,

I'm in the midst of Wintergrass, the bluegrass (and lagniappe) festival held for four days every February in a big corporate hotel in a Seattle suburb. Yes, there's jamming going on in the elevators.

On Thursday I wandered into a workshop being taught by Tim Stafford, a member of the Blue Highway band and a prolific singer-songwriter. He showed us how to get into a "dropped-F" tuning without touching a tuning peg: put one capo across all six strings at the first fret, then take a clamp-style capo and cover the A, D, G, B and E strings at the third fret.

(Of course, you probably do have to mess with the tuning pegs because of the way that capos tend to affect your tuning ...)

He said he's used it on a couple of songs that he's recorded. I didn't think to ask him what he thought the benefits were, I can imagine him answering with something complex such as "I like the way it sounds ..."


That's really finessing it, Lindy!  In that scenario, you don't even end up playing in F position, but in D position capoed to the third fret, sounding in F, so it is really talking a whole different ball game then the examples given up to this point..  The one advantage I can see of doing it this way as opposed to simply tuning to dropped-D and capoing to the third fret is that with this two capo set-up, the root of the IV chord lives at the same place relative to the I and V chords as it would playing in D position in standard tuning, capoed to the third fret; in dropped-D, the root of the IV chord would be two frets higher.  I reckon this is an instance in which present-day capo design innovations and the ability they provide to capo partially have made a solution possible that would not have been so in the past.  It ends up being finessing dropped-D tuning at F.
All best,


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