I was recently asked, once more, to reveal the secret open-tuning I used for the song 'Satin Doll' on The Chills' very first recordings - which were released on the Dunedin Double E.P. and then the Kaleidoscope World compilation.
Because the song required its own guitar it was gradually phased out of the live set in the mid-eighties as we started touring more (especially overseas) so it has been over thirty years since I have had to remember that particular tuning.
It took some trial and error but I have rediscovered it, so now anyone can play along with 'Satin Doll' if they so desire!
NOTE: I will explain this tuning by starting with the lower, thicker strings which, I understand, is not the way it is usually done.
(Low) E winds down to A. [This means it is an octave lower than the next A string]
A stays the same.
D goes up to E.
G goes up to A.
B goes up to E. [Watch out! These strings can hurt when they break]
(High) E stays the same.
Therefor you go from a standard E.A.D.G.B.E. tuning to A.A.E.A.E.E. - three different octaves of A and two of E (the top two E's being the same note).
The song is played with either melody lines using just those top two E's, or it is an open barre chord across the whole neck, or it's a weird three-fingered chord that only plays the three E strings and slides up and down the frets. I use fingers one, three and four for that.
I bought a 56 gauge string for the very low A to get a bigger tone and to stop it loosely flapping around so much.
In fact I got the thickest strings that each note could handle without either breaking or flapping around to achieve a really huge sound.
The guitar I was using was my first electric, a maroon Diplomat copy of a Gibson SG, but that was stolen in the late eighties in Auckland.
I am about to construct a "Satin Doll II" guitar from an old New Zealand-made Commodore which has lost all its wiring and pick-ups.
I hope some of you will actually try to play the song now and I would love to hear any successful recordings - or any appalling failed attempts for that matter!
For the record: the photo above is of my pre-chills band The Same taken sometime late 1979 in the garage at Albany street Dunedin, which has us reflected in a mirror where I have my Diplomat guitar but also Craig Easton has his Commodore.
Left to right we have:
Paul Baird - drums
Myself - vocals/guitar (Diplomat)
Craig Easton - guitar (Commodore)
Jane Dodd - bass
Rachel Phillipps - guitar
We think the photo credit should be to Grant Caley, but do tell us if any of you out there know more....
Dunedin, New Zealand.