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When they first met, Paul showed John how to tune his guitar. Prior to that John had to take his guitar to the home of a man in Kings Drive, Woolton to get it tuned. Is that so?
This frequently repeated claim is erroneous in several respects. It implies that John and Eric could not tune their guitars at all. They could. True it was to the banjo tuning that they had been taught by John’s mother Julia – but they were at least tuning their guitars. By July 1957 the Quarrymen had been playing for at least 10 months and we usually used a pitch pipe to tune our instruments.
When Paul was introduced to John in the Church Hall at St Peter’s on 6th July 1957, Paul wanted to demonstrate his prowess on the guitar. So he borrowed a guitar (from either John or Eric) on which to play. At that time, both John and Eric had their guitars tuned to “G Banjo tuning” (which today would be called Guitar open G tuning”) - so first of all Paul had to retune the borrowed guitar otherwise he would not have been able to play guitar chords on it.
And the myth about the “man on King’s Drive who tuned John’s guitar”? Well Rod Davis lived on King’s Drive, Woolton from his birth until he left for university in 1960 and he knew most of the inhabitants of that road. He is fairly certain that there was only one man who lived on that street who was able to play the guitar. The man was the father of a friend of Rod and Rod is pretty certain that neither John and Eric had any contact with him. Even if they had – it would not have been of any value to them. At that early stage, John and Eric were using the chords that are played on a “G banjo” – and having their instruments set up with guitar tunings would have been no use to them!
John and Eric did attend a couple of guitar lessons by a teacher who lived nearby in Hunts Cross, the village next to Woolton. However this man wanted to teach them properly, using musical notation. John and Eric realised that this would take a long time when all they wanted to do was master three chords to enable them to accompany themselves singing simple skiffle songs in one key.
Incidentally, there are lots of different types of banjo all with different tunings – for example the very popular “five-string banjo”, the “ukulele banjo” and the “tenor banjo”. However, the banjo that John’s mother, Julia was familiar with was known as a “G banjo”. It was the same size as the “five-string banjo” but had one less string. The four-string “G banjo” was frequently used as a rhythm instrument in New Orleans style jazz bands.
(Technical note from Rod for banjo junkies: “ On a four-string ‘G banjo’, the open strings are tuned to a G chord. Thus to play in the key of G - you only need two other chords: C and D7- both of which need only two fingers. So initially, John and Eric just ignored the fifth and sixth strings on their guitars! They never fingered them. From what I can remember they either tuned them to the G chord or they just let them flap in the breeze!”)