What's your Touchguitar story?

The beginning of my desire to play chords and melody came from my mother’s perplexity at not recognizing the songs I was strumming. I found it difficult to play chords and melody at the same time. Early on I was exposed to Joe Pass and Chet Atkins who effortlessly played chords and melodies and sounded like two guitarists playing at the same time.

The most important breakthrough occurred when I first heard the Touch Guitar playing of Stanley Jordan who played with both hands on a single electric guitar. Stanley remains the best Touch Guitarist I’ve ever heard or seen and I am thankful for him paving the way for me and others. Jordan tunes his guitar in fourths which is easier to tap than the standard guitar tuning.

I tried to duplicate Stanley Jordan’s technique but never could. He himself had to modify his technique because it was creating problems for his wrists due to the playing position he was using. The biggest difficulty of Stanley’s technique is the limitation of playing both hands on 6 strings. His melodies are by necessity in the higher register and his chording is often incomplete because the higher fret positions of the same string are the only ones heard. He overcomes this by playing two separate guitars at once.

In the mid 90’s I made my first step forward to playing Touch Guitar by purchasing a Chapman Stick. Emmett Chapman had developed a bass/guitar Touch Guitar which was tuned in ascending fourths on the melody/guitar side and descending fifths on the chord/bass side. The large bass string is in the middle of the instrument and the higher strings are on the far ends. The Stick is played with crossed hands and bent wrists.

I found the Stick tuning to be difficult and the hand/wrist positioning to be impossible to maintain for long periods of time. What’s more, I am a guitar player and was not interested in playing bass. The first person I saw that played the double guitar tuning was Katsu, a Japanese Stick player. Upon seeing his video I immediately emailed him for details of what he was doing. Surprisingly he responded immediately. I tuned my Stick that same day and started trying to play like Katsu. Again, his technique involved crossing the hands and arching the wrists which I found to be very difficult.

Out of curiosity I surfed the Internet to look for other Touch Guitarists and found the Warr Guitar website and their affiliate ADG website. I called them and met Jim Wright on the phone. Jim told me about his “uncrossed technique” which eliminated the wrist strain. This was the missing piece of the puzzle!!! I could now play both sides of the guitar without straining my wrists and without interfering with the hand positions due to crossing. Jim plays a guitar/bass tuning setup in ascending fourths on both sides. The tuning is easy for bass players and was easy for me to learn as a guitarist.

The final step was to offset the two fourths tunings so the chording hand bass notes fell on the fret board dots and the right hand melody side coincided with a familiar twelfth fret tuning. The stage was set for easily learning tunes that I’ve always enjoyed and playing them solo! To my knowledge I am the only Touch Guitarist to play uncrossed with this offset tuning. I’m sure there will be others.