New Standard Tuning / Fripp / Guitar Craft / Crafty fifths tuning: Original vision and variants

ixlramp Regular
Mar 5, 2007
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The original vision was all-fifths

From around 1993 and through the 1990s i was very interested in Robert Fripp and related projects, and collected as much information as i could.
The information available then described Robert Fripp's September 1983 vision of New Standard Tuning (NST) in a way that implied the vision was of CGDAEG (fifths plus a minor third). I had always found the presence of the minor third in the vision interesting and slightly unusual.

Much more recently in 2010, an entry in Fripp's internet diary provided more detail:

(5 February 2010)
"Then, some time later, Vivien asked again. This time, I replied yes. What was in-between the two same-questions & the two different-answers was the experience, in the sauna of the Apple Health Spa on Bleecker & Thompson in NYC, when the NST flew by, over my head going from right left, the tuning going from low to high. Originally, seen in 5ths. all the way, the top string would not go to B. so, as on a tenor banjo, I adopted an A on the first string. These kept breaking, so G was adopted. This has worked well. This is a good example of how a notion presents itself & creative intelligence is applied in bringing what-is-possible-in-an -unconditioned world into actuality-in-a-conditioned-world; for example, where Newtonian physics apply to thin strings carrying too great a load. So…"

"Originally, seen in 5ths. all the way, the top string would not go to B."

The punctuation seems wrong here, but this reveals that the vision was actually of all-fifths CGDAEB. For me this is a surprise and a slight relief, as i have always considered the minor third interval somewhat random.

I will consider 'all fifths' to be 'variant 1' of the various Crafty tunings.

New Standard Tuning

"[...] the top string would not go to B. so, as on a tenor banjo, I adopted an A on the first string. These kept breaking, so G was adopted. This has worked well."

The process of making it practical, while starting on C, was to compress the top interval by choosing a tone already present lower in the tuning, first A, which at that time was borderline impossible on a guitar scale length, then G, which was practical. Resulting in CGDAEG, 'fifths plus a minor third'.
This tuning was then used for Fripp's 'Guitar Craft' courses starting in 1985.

Doing this, the tuning consists of tones from a sequence of 5 tones in fifths, the tones of a Major Pentatonic scale with the tonic on the lowest string.
From Fripp's internet diary:

(4 January 2010)
"Rising at 07.20. Upon waking, a sense: the tuning that has been exclusively used in Guitar Craft to date, referred to as the New Standard Tuning (NST) with CGDAEG from 6>1, henceforward would be better named the Guitar Craft Standard Tuning or C Pentatonic tuning. Strictly, the latter might be called the C Major Pentatonic but, conventionally, the major is assumed where the minor is not specified." Fripp/bredonborough-rising-at-upon-waking-210916

Starting the tuning on a lower tone than C would have made all-fifths possible. However, in 1983 guitar strings with gauges larger than roughly .056 were not widely available, with that gauge C is somewhere around the lowest practical pitch.
Fripp was interested in Bartok's string quartets and may have been inspired to use cello tuning CGDA.
Standard EADG strings can be retuned to CGDA (but only just) so this is likely to have arisen during his experimentation.
Recently, with 8 string guitars becoming popular, much larger guitar string gauges are available, making all-fifths tunings practical for 6 string guitars.

I will consider 'fifths plus a minor third' to be 'variant 2', however many fifths are present lower in the tuning.

New Standard Tuning for 7 string guitar

Around 1993-1994 i remember reading an interview with Fripp where he stated that the NST for 7 string guitar was CGDAEGA, 'fifths plus a minor third plus a major second'.
I suspect this was stated as relative to C to make it clear in the context of NST, not stated as absolute, knowing that top A is borderline impossible.
A practical form for a guitar scale length would be a wholetone lower, BbFCGDFG.
This would have been practical for the string availability of the time, as the lowest string was only tuned 1 semitone lower than in standard 7 string guitar tuning BEADGBE.

CGDAEGA is again a compression of an all-fifths tuning for practicality. This time 2 fifths intervals have been compressed as much as possible, while as before, choosing tones already present lower in the tuning.
Note that the G and A are the 2 tones tried by Fripp when making the 6 string form of NST practical.
So this tuning is also formed from the tones of a Major Pentatonic scale with the tonic on the lowest string.

I will consider 'fifths plus a minor third plus a major second' to be 'variant 3', however many fifths are present lower in the tuning.

Trey Gunn and the 8 string Crafty tapguitar tuning

Trey Gunn was a student of Fripp's and used the 7 string NST on the melody side of his 12 string dual-region Chapman Stick and Warr Guitar tapguitars.
Because the highest practical pitch on a 34" scale is D4, he lowered the 7 string NST to become FCGDACD.
He then developed the 8 string single-region Warr Guitar as a downwards extension of this tuning:

"Trey: When this instrument came about Mark had an idea of doing an eight-string bass. And I had kind of the same idea of just taking the top side of the twelve-string, the melody side, and extending it down into the bass register and coming up with just a simpler configuration."

(Interview with Wheat Williams, 1998. Recently removed from internet)

A fifth interval was added below to result in BbFCGDACD. This is 'variant 3' again.
I do not consider this to be NST as it is no longer a Pentatonic Major tuning, but i consider it to be a 'Crafty' tuning.

The added Bb is 1 semitone below 5 string bass guitar B, so this tuning is ideal as a 'full range' tuning for 8 string tapguitar, roughly covering the range of 5 string bass guitar and 6 string guitar.
Most single-region tapguitars have 8 strings and use this tuning if a Crafty tuning is desired.

Markus Reuter, another student of Fripp's, started playing the 8 string Warr Guitar in this tuning. Later, he designed his own instrument and founded the 'Touch Guitars' company to sell them. The company is focussed on 8 string single-region tapguitars and the standard tuning is BbFCGDACD.

New Standard Tuning with a high A

From Fripp's internet diary:

(22 April 2012)
"A Future Project presented: Gary Goodman’s .007 string was distributed to particular seats in the Circle, with the suggestion that the NST 1.2 tuning – C,G,D,A,E,A – be investigated. Had Garry’s string been available in 1985, C,G,D,A,E,A might have been NST 1.1" Fripp/the-orchestra-of-crafty-guitarists-6-210916

Garry Goodman's custom string company 'Octave 4 Plus' develops high-strength strings able to tune very high, making the high A Fripp attempted in 1983 possible.

I will consider 'fifths plus a fourth' to be 'variant 4', however many fifths are present lower in the tuning.

General form of Crafty tunings

The original form is all-fifths.

1 or more of the top fifth intervals can be compressed by various amounts to smaller intervals, to compress the range of an instrument if desired or necessary.
This is done by choosing a tone (or tones) from the sequence of 5 (or less) tones in fifths immediately below the compressed interval(s).
Small intervals work well at high pitch because high pitch makes them clearer and more consonant.
Examples (stated as relative to C, not absolute pitches):
CGDAE GAC (triple compression form)

Any number of additional lower fifths can be added.

Triple compression form

I have not yet seen this used. It seems potentially good for an 8 string guitar.

This follows the interval compression rule and compresses 3 fifth intervals to the smallest possible intervals, resulting in CGDAEGAC, 'fifths plus a minor third plus a major second plus a minor third'.
The top 3 intervals add up to only 8 semitones, so this is a little like having 6 strings in fifths and subdividing the top fifth into 3 intervals.

For a 25.5" guitar scale length, when lowered to end on the highest practical pitch G4, this becomes GDAEBDEG.
However, many 8 string guitars use a 27"+ scale length, where G4 becomes impractical, so an even lower form is FCGDACDF.
For both forms, the lowest string's pitch is similar to the F# of standard 8 string guitar tuning.

This tuning is a good example of an approach that interests me, where the interval size changes from large to small from the low pitch strings to high pitch strings.
Intervals are large for the lower pitch strings, where smaller intervals would make chords sound unclear.
Intervals are small for the higher pitch strings, where the high pitch makes chords with small intervals clear and usable.
This approach is especially suitable for extended range guitars.

This tuning makes many triads, 6th and 7th chords comfortably playable across the top 4 strings and within a 4 fret distance, in compact 'piano' form.
Possible intervals on the top 4 strings, as a rough fretboard diagram:

Min 6th. Maj 6th. Min 7th. Maj 7th
4th. Dim 5th. 5th. Aug 5th
Min 3rd. Maj 3rd. 4th


Tom Winspear
Oct 23, 2009
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Yorkshire, U.K
Interesting post! Cool to get confirmation - I had always assumed his choice of G ontop was a case of both higher and upper practical limits back then.
I'm really enjoying full fifths myself taken from bass E or F (to Eb4 or E4). It's practical up to 30" which gives me a low end I'm happy with on VI style baritones.

The compression style ideas were very interesting to me because they give similar possibilities to a unique compressed tuning I've been trying. I call it "Half Nashville 5ths" - I've posted about it before but I'll write it here as we're on the subject of making full 5ths more practical especially with added strings.
"Half Nashville" is an idea used by Pat Metheny and Frank Gambale. Pat plays a baritone in A and tunes the middle 2 up an octave. Frank plays a guitar tuned up to 'capo' A, but tunes the highest 2 down an octave. Both give the same result on the top 4, but with Pat having basses an octave lower. The goal is compressed piano voicings with standard fingerings. They both make great use of it.

So I'm doing that in 5ths - taking the top two strings down an octave. Currently I have a 6 and a 7 in this tuning.
6 in baritone A; A1 E2 B2 F#3 C#3 * G#3 (usually would be C#4 G#4)
7 in bass F; F1 C2 G2 D3 A3 E3* B3

The asterix marks where regular high E would usually be crossed if tuned in constant fifths. The 6 is possible but the 7 would not work. I tune the top two of both down and the result is a 6 with 1 semitone less range than a standard baritone 6. The 7 has the range of a regular downtuned 7 string + 1 semitone. The pitch ontop is then not ascending, but fits with the normal fingerings of 5ths tunings and is a lot of fun. My brain does like that the highest pair of strings is a tone higher than the pair of strings below it - rather than a tone lower as occurs in Pats/Franks 4ths version.

I think this compressed fifths has become my 'standard' tuning as of late, and I look forward to trying it on an 8 string too. I keep the 30" baritones in straight fifths as mentioned however.