How The James Tyler Variax Saved a Film Scoring Session

I recently did a session for a composer who is just starting out in the world of film scoring. Since he’s just getting his feet wet, so to speak, he hasn’t yet had to write music for every mood that a film might encounter, and doesn’t know every pitfall that an old hand at film scoring takes for granted. For example, experienced film composers know that if you’re going to be writing for heavy guitar, the key that the music is written in is highly important – some keys make it easier to convey dark heaviness with crunchy electric guitar than others.

Unfortunately, the composer wrote the entire orchestral cue in the key of Bb – a key which is too high to sound huge on a guitar in standard tuning, and much too low to be able to drop the sixth string and get playable power chords.

For a solution, I turned to the Virtual Capo feature on my blue JTV-69, and it proved to be a lifesaver - I just went into Learn mode, strummed all of the open strings at once and saved it. By doing that, I was telling the Variax that I wanted to tune the entire guitar down an octave, because the 12th fret represents the open strings’ normal pitch in Learn mode. Afterwards, I just played the staccato distorted rhythm parts in normal position and it worked great.

Because the notes are so low, the rhythm tracks sound dark, seriously crunchy and ominous— which was necessary for the movie we were scoring. However, the playability of the guitar didn’t suffer, which is important to me (because I use big strings). It’s important to remember that if I had simply tuned the guitar that way in real life, it would have felt as though I had six rubber bands tied to a baseball bat when trying to play.

So the JTV-69 saved the session. We didn’t have to waste time trying to figure out a way to play dark Bb metal on a guitar in standard tuning, and I didn’t have to leave the studio to search for another instrument that could do the job. Nice save.