One of the best ways to improve your guitar playing is to try different tunings. In some ways not using standard tuning on your guitar is like playing a new instrument.
You can get a whole new sound and feel. In this article we will look at 10 popular alternate guitar tunings and the songs and artists that use them.
In some cases musicians seek out alternate tunings to make their style of playing easier.
Drop D is one of the most common alternate guitar tunings and used quite extensively in grunge, metal, and other hard rock genres.
To use drop D all you do is lower the E string one step so you have DADGBE. Give it a play and you will see it has a very deep and resonant sound especially when playing a normal D chord.
The distance between D and A is a fifth which are what power chords are made of! Playing a power chord through heavy distortion is one of the pillars of heavy and hard rock n roll.
There are thousands of examples of drop D especially from bands like Nirvana, Metallica, Foo Fighters and so much more.
Of course drop C is going to take that E note past D all the way down to C! It can be tuned as CGDGBE or CADGBE.
Either way it has a much heavier tone than drop D making it perfect for metal. And it also has plenty of examples. There are entire Wiki pages devoted to drop tunings!
And yes there are more than drop D and C. Drop B is B-F#-b-E-G#-C# and even lower and heavier. However if you play guitar in the metal genre you will usually be sticking with the D and C.
It seems the lower you drop the more death, black, and dark the music becomes!
In open G our strings are tuned DGDGBD, however there are a few variations out there. GBDGBD is known as slack key guitar common in Hawaiian music.
As long as the notes are just those in G major (G,B,D) then it can be considered open G tuning. This means when we strum all open strings it will always be a G chord.
This makes it very easy to move up the fretboard for major chords. And the common DGDGBD is great for blues riffs.
Keith Richards was a big fan of this tuning and used it in "Can’t You Hear Me Knocking" and many other Stones songs. Other songs like "Dancing Days" and "Fearless" use open G.
Like open G the open D tuning gives us a D major chord when we strum all the strings. Our main open D notes are D-A-D-F#-A-D.
"Big Yellow Taxi" is a great example as the chords of this tuning are common in folk music. It is also often used for slide playing, generally an open major chord will work great with a slide.
There are more open tunings worth looking into. Open A was used in "Seven Nation Army" and open E with "Gimme Shelter".
Just be careful what open major chord you use as some (like F) need lighter gauge strings.
Dad-Gad tuning was developed with a mix of Moroccan and Celtic folk music, it has become a staple of the latter.
If you look closely you will see it is just double drop D tuning, but the B is changed to A.
You notice these notes have a droning quality which is common among many folk music styles.
It also has some easily moveable chord shapes, especially suitable for Irish and Scottish traditional music.
And there are many variations of this tuning to experiment with.
Lowered or Eb tuning is where we flatten each string by a half step leading to the notes Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb. This is another very common tuning in modern popular music.
Jimi Hendrix used it in "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)". Nearly every metal, punk, and hard rock band has used this tuning at some point!
Like drop and open tunings there are other lowered tunings. Instead of a half step you can actually move a whole step called lowered D. "Yesterday" is a famous tune played a whole step down.
Elliot Smith was a big fan of that tuning. Some bands lower 3 steps or more!!! Metal bands are the limbo winners of guitar tuning.
Now this is where alternate tunings can get a little dangerous. Usually an overtightened string will just break but beware sometimes it can do damage to your guitar.
Sometimes string gauge changes can help, but even that you need to watch. In F tuning we raise our strings to F-A#-D#-G#-C-F.
The main aspect of lowering or raising all your strings is so you keep the same chord shapes, but the chord changes depending on the steps.
It’s safer to experiment with lowered tunings however sometimes the raised F has a nice bright sound. Johnny Cash was a big fan and a more recent F tuning was "Black Hole Sun".
Standard tuning moves in fourths between these strings; E-A, A-D, D-G, and B-E. But the G-B is a major third which throws a big wrench into our patterns.
One popular major third tuning is G#-C-E-G#-C-E. This allows your chord shapes to follow very specific patterns.
Ralph Pratt introduced this tuning to jazz guitar as a way to improvise with all twelve notes.
While it may not be the easiest tuning for beginners if you are serious about exploring jazz, this tuning and our next one are very important.
This one is pretty close to standard tuning, and gets rid of our awkward major third movement from G to B. With all fourths we have E-A-D-G-C-F, which for some people will simplify guitar playing.
Because the distances are the same it makes it so we have less patterns to learn..
This tuning is popular among great guitar players who seek a logical fretboard setup. It’s generally not going to change your sound much as it is still close to standard tuning.
If you like pop tunes and barre chords all fourths aren't for you.
But for those who love jazz, improvisation, and music theory it is worth a try.
NST is another attempt at making the fretboard easier to visually and physically grasp. Besides thirds and fourths many instruments like mandolins and violins are tuned in perfect fifths.
Like perfect fourths, fifths give us simplified and repeating chord patterns.
New standard tuning is an attempt by Robert Fripp to create perfect fifths. With C-G-D-A-E-G we have fifths until the final pair of E-G which is a minor third.
You should have special string gauges if you wish to try it. Again this doesn’t change the sound as much as it creates new opportunities and ways to play.
Don't forget that all our guitar learning software comes with a big list of alternate tunings.
Alternate tunings available on FaChords Guitar Learning Software
In this way, you can practice fretboard notes memorization, scales, chords, progressions, with the tunings listed on this post and many others, such as 7 or 8 guitar strings, ukulele, banjo and more.
You have just to select your tuning in the settings section at the top left corner of the software tool.
If you are looking for more tuning ideas, check out the tunings of other instruments. Lap steels and ukuleles are often tuned to C6, which gives us the famous Hawaiian vibe.
And pedal lap steels have a ton of neat tunings like B11, easily described as a haunted island sound.
There are plenty of chords and interesting patterns that you can try as alternate guitar tunings.
Just keep in mind that you may need different string gauges and materials to achieve those tunings. It is great for creativity, new sounds, and sometimes it will even make your guitar playing easier!
Share with your fellow guitar players!