Welcome to Guitar Uncivilized, a guidebook and online platform to freaking out one of the most common guitar sounds—the famed “open string chord”—exploring this single, exciting-but-accessible concept from all angles.

Built on digestible, culturally-relevant “micro-chapters”, as well as in-the-field interviews and research with some of the world’s most intriguing guitarists and composers, the project is built as an interactive zine-guidebook with chord recipes, anecdotes, examples and descriptive tips which can take your playing from stale to expansive without having to delve into much musical theory.

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Radio Hour #2

Excited to share this weeks’ Guitar Uncivilized radio hour! The centerpiece is a 24-minute improvisation by Ben Allison’s group from their album *Moment’s Inside* (with two guitars). It also features some great stuff from Sonny Greenwich, Kris Davis, and John Hollenbeck as well. Each track incorporates the guitar in a unique way. . .

Uncivilized Tom


1. Jimi Hendrix – “Here My Train A Comin’ ” from the 1973 Warner Brothers documentary Jimi Hendrix (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix_(film))

2. Ben Allison – “Moments Outside” from Moments Outside [Single] (Sonic Camera Records, 2022). Purchase: https://benallison.com/moments-outside

3. Steve Cardenas – “Drifter” from West of Middle (Sunnyside, 2010). https://stevecardenas.bandcamp.com/album/west-of-middle

4. Kris Davis – “Prairie Eyes” [w/ Bill Frisell] from Duopoly (Pyroclastic Records, 2016). https://krisdavis.bandcamp.com/album/duopoly

5. Sonny Greenwich / Paul Bely – “Meandering” from Outside In (Justin Time Records, 1995). https://www.discogs.com/fr/release/3250782-Paul-Bley-Sonny-Greenwich-Outside-In

6. Sonny Greenwich – “Your Song” [Elton John Cover]. (Live In Toronto, YouTube.) https://www.jazzwax.com/2020/05/sonny-greenwich-in-ten-clips.html

7. Claudia Quintet / John Hollenbeck – “Rainbow Jimmies” [feat. Mark Stewart] from Rainbow Jimmies (GPE Records, 2008). https://johnhollenbeck.bandcamp.com/album/rainbow-jimmies

Radio Hour #1

I’ve been working on a book project, entitled Guitar Uncivilized, about the guitar and its strange/awesome “cowboy chords” for the last few years. It’s still a work in progress, but I’ve decided to start capturing some real-life examples in the form of a radio show, to share my research and listening recommendations. The first episode (featuring tracks by Frank Zappa, Robert Stillman, Kurt Cobain, Ingrid Laubrock, Jason Moran, Brandon Ross, Sibylle Baier, Pete Rende, and more) can be streamed/downloaded for free on Bandcamp here: https://guitaruncivilized.bandcamp.com/track/guitar-uncivilized-radio-hour-1

Uncivilized Tom
P.S. here is this week’s tracklist:

1. Jimi Hendrix – “Here My Train A Comin’ ” from the 1973 Warner Brothers documentary Jimi Hendrix (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jimi_Hendrix_(film))

2. Robert Stillman – “No Good Old Days” from What Does It Mean to Be American? (Ordinal, 2022). https://archaicfuturerecordings.bandcamp.com/album/what-does-it-mean-to-be-american

3. Kurt Cobain – “And I Love Her” (Beatles Cover) from Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings (Universal Music, 2015). https://www.discogs.com/release/7706769-Kurt-Cobain-Montage-Of-Heck-The-Home-Recordings

4. Ingrid Laubrock’s Anti-House – “Alley Zen” Strong Place (Intakt records, 2012). https://laubrock-intakt.bandcamp.com/album/strong-place

5. Jason Moran – “Aubade” from Same Mother (Blue Note, 2005). https://www.discogs.com/release/2827107-Jason-Moran-Same-Mother

6. Brandon Ross – “Love From Above” from Puppet ( Intoxicate Records, 2006): https://www.discogs.com/release/2804532-Brandon-Ross-Puppet

7. Teddy Bunn – “King Porter Stomp” from King Porter Stomp / Bachelor Blues (Blue Note, 1940). https://www.discogs.com/release/3307988-Teddy-Bunn-King-Porter-Stomp-Bachelor-Blues

8. Pete Rende – “Rondo SKETCHO” from SoundCloud (Unreleased). https://soundcloud.com/peterende/rondo-sketcho

9. Son House – ” Death Letter Blues” from Legends of Country Blues Guitar, Vol. One DVD.on YouTube (Vestapol, 1994). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdgrQoZHnNY

10. Sibylle Baier – “Remember The Day” from Colour Green (Orange Twin, 2006). https://orangetwinrecords.bandcamp.com/album/colour-green

11. Jimmy Guiffre – “The Green Country (New England Mood)” from  Trav’lin’ Light (Atlantic, 1958). https://www.discogs.com/release/3076047-The-Jimmy-Giuffre-3-Travlin-Light

12. Frank Zappa – “Sleep Napkins (Sleep Dirt) Live in Vancouver, 1975” from YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gQEgs0xz1Bo

Jakob Bro on Open Strings

“For me, the guitar can be seen as two instruments in one. The open strings being one world of sounds. All the other notes being another. Making these worlds meet provides endless opportunities in sound and a lifetime of study on its own”.

— Jakob Bro, Jan. 2020

Rachel Housle on Open Strings

“The guitar is an interesting instrument because it’s so accesible, but is also has all these layers. You can approach it in so many different ways with having a ton of prior knowledge for things to sound good—like with barre chords or power chords—and write songs that are really valid and beautiful. Or you can get into really intricate finger picking and alternate tunings and it’s a world that goes really deep, even though it’s incredibly simple at the outset when you’re getting started. As you start to get deeper in, you start to connect with the instrument and associate the sounds with what you’re able to play and you can start to hear more, like hearing the sound of the open strings on recordings or in certain combinations like if there is a unison note with a pressed down note and an open string—these little guitaristic things that you start to perceive. There’s also just something about ‘The Shapes’ and the way they sit in your hands—they come so easily to me compared to something like the piano. They’re a self-contained, resonating mechnaism. And, the guitar is so portable (it’s why you see so many buskers with it), and a really natural accompanying instrument. “

— Rachel Housle, December 2019

Sam Amidon on Open Strings

1. Open strings are the shit. 
2. I like to put my guitar into an open tuning, come up with a guitar part, and then put the guitar back into standard tuning and see if I can recreate the part
3. My favourite guitarists, in no particular order, are: 1. Jimi Hendrix 2. Jimi Hendrix 3. Bonnie Raitt 4. Sonny Sharrock 5. Bonnie Raitt & Derek Bailey 6. Ali Farka Toure. 7. Jimi Hendrix 8. Cat Power 9. Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot, and Bill Frisell 10. Joni Mitchell 11. Jimi Hendrix 12. Bonnie Raitt 13. Pops Staples 14. Paul Brady 15. Nathan Salsburg
4. “Standard Tuning” is a comical notion given that in the mid-60s, Dylan was mostly in open D, Joni was in open D or DADGAD or one of her myriad other tunings, and Keith Richards was in open G.
5. Jimi Hendrix………..

— Sam Amidon, November 2019

Pat Martino on Open Strings

“It’s very difficult, if not impossible for me to offer insight regarding a process that takes place at a moments notice. … in my opinion true art remains liquid, at the moment it’s analyzed it becomes concrete and as such it looses its magic. Regarding my use of open strings, aside from tone, and delay their use remains a selective part of the improvised format, and what they embody in that moment is unquestionable.”

 — Pat Martino, November 2019

Miles Okazaki on Open String Chords

“I don’t really “know” many chords, unless you count triads, which I work on quite a bit. Sometimes, though, open strings are the only way to get something, like six note sounds. I wrote a song recently using a chord that goes (low to high) Ab, Eb, F#, G, B, A# (open G and B) It’s then answered by another chord that goes E, Db, F, C, D, A (open E). They’re actually the same chord in transposition, and together make 12 tones. This was a little puzzle I was trying to figure out, and I found a few other solutions that aren’t very difficult to grab (which is important for me). The guitar is like that for me, very mysterious. And the open strings can sound like all kinds of different things, depending on the context of what you put around them.”

— Miles Okazaki, November 2019

Ben Monder on Open String Chords

“The open string seems to me to be the essence of the sound of the guitar. The vibration of an open string produced by a great guitar creates a universe of overtones unlike any other instrument. Also, chords are always enriched timbrally by the incorporation of one or more open strings, and it’s fun and rewarding to explore all the ways this can be done. One of my favorites is (from low to high): open E, D#, open D, C#, open B, C.  Strum this one and annoy your friends!”

— Ben Monder, Oct. 2019

Jackson Scott on Open String Chords

“I love the overlapping tones that are possible with an instrument like guitar, especially with open string chords. The vibrational and chorus-like sound of the same note at the same pitch being played on two different strings simultaneously is something that has always caught my ear. A few years ago, I also started to get really into experimenting with alternate guitar tunings. One trick I would do is to change just one string so that all the normal chords you would play would come out slightly differently. With the song “Never Ever”, I changed the tuning of 2nd string from a B to an A so that when you played a normal E major chord it would come out as an Esus4. There are tonal possibilities with guitar that you really can’t get with any other instruments.”

Darcy James Argue on Composing for the Guitar

“My guitar writing is full of guitar-specific techniques, including passages with drop-D turning, harmonics and double-harmonics, slide playing, palm-muting and other types of muting, pedal effects and loops, fully-notated voicings, and so on. I’m not a guitarist so in many cases what I write consists of an educated guess about what’s possible, based on my understanding of how the instrument works, but I’d say most of the time it ends up being doable. My guitarist, Sebastian Noelle, will let me know if something can’t be done!”

— Darcy James Argue, Nov. 2019

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