Fans of alternate tunings and/or Lou Reed & John Cale’s magical relationship should be hip to the Ostrich, but WFMU’s Beware Of Blog sketches out the tale of the avian-named tuning for a lesson in VU 101:

One of the secret weapons of the Velvet Underground was Lou Reed’s Ostrich Guitar Tuning, where all the strings were tuned to D. It got its name from the 1964 novelty single “The Ostrich” by The Primitives, a pre-Velvet Underground band fronted by Lou Reed. Originally only a studio project, the song about a fake novelty dance generated enough interest to put together a band for a few live gigs. And amazingly enough, that touring version of The Primitives featured John Cale, Tony Conrad, and Walter DeMaria.

All Music expands:

John Cale, however, was struck when Reed told them that learning “The Ostrich” would be easy, as all the strings were tuned to a single note. This was similar to what Cale and Conrad were doing with experimental composer LaMonte Young; Reed was applying a similar concept to rock’n'roll. The Primitives experience likely was one more factor that helped bind Reed and Cale together, starting a musical partnership that would flower into the Velvet Underground and prove hugely influential on the course of rock music.

And that, kids, is your lesson in rock history for the day. Head over to WFMU for Primitives MP3s (including the infamous “The Ostrich”). Do try this at home, but not without a spare set of D’Addarios laying around. Knew there was some subconscious reason we were bidding on Galifianakis’s ostrich-headed monstrosity.

Comments (15)
  1. betty lou  |   Posted on Jul 18th, 2007 0

    you should make said ‘lessons in rock history’ a daily routine.

  2. ben  |   Posted on Jul 18th, 2007 0

    i agree

  3. Are we going to be tested on this?

  4. jables  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    It was obviously a paid advertisment.

  5. Jables  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    It was obviously a paid advertisment.

  6. We Swirlies fans knew all this already. ;) Next!

  7. Uhnonimus  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    D’Addarios! Lou Reed would cringe at the thought!

  8. dannygutters  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    I’ll bet that second string breaks a lot.

  9. #1 Blogger  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    This proves my theory that Mr. Reed could not properly tune a guitar due to his perverse use of Cocaine. Many music critics site VU’s debut album as spawning as many rock and roll acts as the LP sold. I’ll buy that if the LP sold 2 copies. Highly overrated!

    • bassbeast  |   Posted on Jun 11th, 2009 0

      The ostrich tuning was actually an ingenious idea. Aside from the fear of a broken second string, the unconventional tuning sounds fantastic if you can get a tuner that will get the tunings absolutely perfect. I personally play my bass all tuned to D and playing songs without that tuning sound awful, but making your own riffs or playing VU music, it sounds amazingly good. The song itself may not have been good, but the idea of ostrich tuning is amazing.

      • hellvoidoid  |   Posted on Aug 27th, 2009 0

        It does sound pretty awesome tuned all perfect-like, but Lou Reed’s idea behind the tuning (or so he said; Reed was a man of many half-truths and full lies) was to tune to it once, and let the guitar just fall out of it, so all the notes were similar, but not right-on. The desired effect was a drone with a natural wah-wah effect, kind of like a sitar.

  10. Woohoo  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    Wow, you really are the #1 Blogger. What a great opinion!

  11. nylund  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    I’ve been trying to hunt down this song for over ten years. I’d previously only heard snippets on docs. So Cool.

  12. bill  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2007 0

    The song is pretty pitiful from what I recall. I have a bootleg version of it on LP somewhere. Think of a boring “Louie Louie” riff but with even shittier sound quality and worse singing. no thanks. The first Velvet’s LP is a landmark compared to this pile o’ crap.

  13. Ummm, the first Velvets LP is a landmark, regardless of what you compare it to. If you don’t like the album, that’s one thing, but its landmark status is fact, not opinion.

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