Nashville high-strung tuning is one of the guitar’s great magic tricks. It has a delicious, “secrets of the Guild” quality — you feel like an insider just knowing what it is.
Not that I did know what it is until embarrassingly late in life. For the sake of my fellow late-bloomers, I’ll explain: You replace your guitar’s lowest four strings with thinner strings tuned an octave higher than normal.
You can think of it as using the higher-pitched of a each pair in a 12-string string set. (Or the top two strings of a normal set, and the top four strings from another normal set, with the first string as the third string, the second string as the fourth, etc.)
I love how this tuning can work subliminal magic, or step front and center for marquee riffs. Nashville session players conceived it as a way to add stereo shimmer to doubled acoustic guitar tracks. But rock players have used it to great effect as a foreground sound, as heard on the Stones’ “Wild Horses,” Floyd’s “Hey You,” Kansas’s “Dust in the Wind,” and Tracy Chapman’s “The Promise.”
Here’s a quick little demonstration, both solo and in a mix:
Not everyone can afford to keep a high-quality high-strung around. (And regular strings are going back on my old Martin as soon as I post this!) But you also get great results with inexpensive, small-bodied “travel guitars” such as the Baby Taylor and the Martin Backpacker. Those two guitars sound really nice — they just haven’t got much low-end, but hey, neither does the tuning!