Bill Leavitt's Bb Diminished 9th Tuning
By David J. Stewart | September 2015 | Updated April 2017
William “Bill” George Leavitt was born in Flint,
Michigan on October 4, 1926 and died in Framingham, Massachusetts on
November 4, 1990. In 1948, Bill went to Berklee College Of Music,
Boston and was the 3rd guitar student they had ever admitted.
Graduating in 1951 he worked as an arranger and guitarist for many
singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Patti Page and Andy Williams. He
also co-authored Les Paul's and Mary Ford's 1953 hit tune “My Baby's
Comin' Home.” In his later years Bill invented the “Leavitt lap
steel guitar tuning” (from low to high: C#, E, G, Bb, C and D). I
have worked much with the tuning and it is truly amazing. The tuning
hasn't caught on simply because there hasn't been much recorded with
it, but it is really cool.
The basic Bill Leavitt tuning is (from treble to bass): D, C, Bb, G, E, C# (or for 8-string guitars, either: G, Eb, D, C, Bb, G, E, C#; or, D, C, Bb, G, E, C#, E, A). This is not a strum tuning, but has great chord potential. The Bill Leavitt tuning is a completely different mindset and takes some getting used to, it's not for everyone like the C6th. With the C Diatonic tuning of Jerry Byrd, we can clearly see the C6th incorporated into into the new tuning. The Leavitt tuning is based on a diminished chord. Although pretty, the tuning aggravates me, because it lacks the chord possibilities of the C6th and C Diatonic. Albeit, this tuning offers some remarkable sounds.
I highly recommend getting Mike's tabs and accompanying backing tracks for his album “A Different Slant” (I really like playing “The Girl From Ipanema”). The only way to know if this tuning is your cup of tea is to give it a try. From the C6th tuning (6 string), you simply retune a couple strings and Wallah! ... Bb Diminished 9th! I think every steel guitarist ought to at least try as many steel tunings as possible, just to see what they offer. The backing tracks are very nice quality.
tracks are available from Mike Ihde for the Bill Leavitt tuning
Here's some chord progressions and nice things to play...
I often refer to Bill Leavitt's tuning as the “Bb Diminished 9th” tuning.
Let's use the chart above to see what chords we've got in the Bb Diminished 9th tuning. I am using an 8-string, so I've added the two optional bottom string (and shown some additional chord voicings), but you only need the basic 6-strings.
Although this tuning is not as comfortable to play as C6th for many musicians, it has considerable possibilities and intriguing irresistible sounds. END
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