Beginner

Intermediate

All Levels

Reference



iOS Apps by justinguitar

The JustinGuitar Store





 

Buying things through the links below cost you no more but contribute a little to the site! Thanks, J.







 

Justinguitar - Free Guitar Lessons

TB-500 • TB-500 • Altered Tuning

Justinguitar.com on the Basics of Playing Guitar

Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask? Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask? Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask? Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask? Things you wanted to know but were afraid to ask?

The majority of your playing is likely to be in normal EADGBE tuning but there are other common tunings that can be a lot of fun to play with. I love using altered tunings for writing and there and many classic songs that use them too.

Just trying out a new tuning and experimenting is important - in fact, for me one of the most exciting things about being in an unusual tuning is that I don't always know what sounds are going to come out of the guitar and that can be really creative and help me find sounds that I have not found before.

A little bit of research and you will find there are loads of different guitar tunings - but to be honest most of them are not used much - what I am listing below are the more common ones that are relatively easy to work with. There are no rules and you can just make up tunings as you like - like the great Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake - just fiddle about until you find something interesting.

I HIGHLY recommend getting a tuner if you are going to start using altered tunings a lot. Of course it's a good thing to know how to do them by ear, and usually after using a tuner I give them a little tweak by ear anyway - but to get started I always prefer to use a tuner. It's easier, more accurate and faster!

I will get around to making more in depth videos about each tuning sometime soon.

Normal Tuning (E Tuning)

Tunings are usually described from the thickest string to the thinnest string. Normal tuning being EADGBE - is usually called E tuning.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Normal Tuning
E
A
D
G
B
E


You should be cool with basic tuning - if not see the lessons TB-001 • How To Tune Your Guitar and TB-002 • How To Tune Your Guitar (Advanced).

Eb Tuning (down a semitone)

Many rock bands got into the idea of tuning all the notes on the guitar down one semitone. This means that the strings are a little looser and you can bend a little more easily. It also gives access to some slightly lower notes which can sound a little fatter. You can use slightly thicker strings (which tend to sound a little fatter) and still be able to bend them. Lots of rock bands like Gun 'n' Roses and Nirvana use Eb tuning a lot.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Eb Tuning
Eb
Ab
Db
Gb
Bb
Eb


To get into Eb tuning you simply tune each string down one semitone. You are best off using a tuner for this! Or tune your 6th string to Eb using a piano or other instrument and then use basic or advanced tuning method (5th fret of 6th string = open 5th string) to tune the rest of the strings to it.

HINT: if you are struggling with this - put a capo on the 1st fret - tune normally with tuner, and then take the capo off and you will be in Eb tuning!! Can be useful if your tuner only tunes to the "normal tuning" too.

Songs that use Eb tuning: Sweet Child O Mine, Patience (Guns 'n' Roses), Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana), Imperfect (me!), 

Drop D Tuning

Drop D is also common in rock music, but also in many folk styles and even country. It gives a really nice low D note, which often sounds really fat and nice.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Drop D Tuning
D
A
D
G
B
E


Getting into Drop D is pretty simple. You already have one of your strings tuned to the note D (the 4th string) so all you have to do is tune your 6th string (thickest) down one tone to sound one octave lower then the open 4th string.

HINT: if you play a harmonic at the 12th fret of the thickest string it should sound the same as the open 4th string if you have done it right!

Songs that use Drop D Tuning: Heart Shaped Box, All Apologies (Nirvana), Harvest Moon, Ohio (Neil Young), Moby Dick (Led Zeppelin), Everlong, Monkey Wrench (Foo Fighters), Dear Prudence (The Beatles).

Drop C Tuning

Drop C is mostly used by metal bands that want to get REALLY fat big low notes in the riffs. It's essentially the same as Drop D but with every string tuned down a tone. I must admit I never really used this tuning, it's not really my style, but it sure sounds fat and I'd be using it if I still played in rock bands!

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Drop C Tuning
C
G
C
F
A
C


The big deal with this is that you need to use thicker than normal strings or they just get too floppy and will rattle and sound rubbish. Suggested gauge 14-60 or thereabouts.

Easiest way to do this is to use a tuner. Or drop Low E to D and then tune as normal. Then drop the D's down to C.

Songs that use Drop C Tuning: Toxicity (System Of A Down), Bandit (Neil Young),

Double Drop D Tuning

Double Drop D Tuning means that you tune both the E strings down to D. This is used a lot in fingerstyle guitar, I really love this tuning.

What I like is that the middle 4 strings are all in normal tuning so most of your regular chord shapes word - and the thin string note of D adds a sweet sound to many chords: Regular C becomes Cadd9, Amin becomes Amin11, G becomes G7... to play D you just leave the thin string open. To play E you need to play the bass note at 2nd fret thickest string. It's quite easy and fun to play around with.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Double Drop D
D
A
D
G
B
D


Use the open D string as a guide to tune your two outside E strings down a tone.

Songs that use Double Drop D Tuning: From Katie's Window (me!), Song For George (Eric Johnson), Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young), 

DADGAD (D Modal Tuning or Celtic Tuning)

"Dad-gad" is a common folk tuning, not one that I get one with so much, no idea why... I have tried to like it, but it just doesn't connect the way other have for me... that said there are lots of cats around that make amazing songs using this tuning and it fun to play with.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Double Drop D
D
A
D
G
A
D


There is only one note changed from Double Drop D - the second string lowered a tone.

Songs that use DADGAD: Drifting (Andy McKee), Kashmir (Led Zeppelin), lots of Irish music & check out this list!

Open G Tuning

An "open tuning" is when you can play all the strings with no fingers on them and you will get a chord - for example and "Open G" tuning will produce notes that make up a G chord if you play all the strings but don't hold down any strings with your fretting hand.

Common in slide guitar because you can play the whole chord with all the notes in a line (in the one fret).

The classic shape is to go from G (TAB: x 0 0 0 0 0) to G6sus4 (TAB: x 0 2 0 1 0) - looks like you are playing an Amin7 shape. This chord movement is the big "trick" used by The Rolling Stones and many others. You would also use this shape to play a shuffle 12 Bar Blues. The 6sus4 shape works with barre chords too of course!

Important to note that the lowest root note is the 5th string - hence why Keith Richards famously took off the 6th string during the 70's - it wasn't needed!

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open G
D
G
D
G
B
D


Get your guitar in Double Drop D and then Tune the A String down a tone.

Songs that use Open G Tuning: Honky Tonk Woman, Brown Sugar, Start Me Up (Rolling Stones), Bohemian Like You (Dandy Warhols),

 

Open G with a Drop C

Maybe this is my tuning... I don't know of others that use it - but I very much doubt I am the first!. I write with it a lot, and love the sound of the low C.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open G Drop C
C
G
D
G
B
D


Songs that use Open G with Drop C Tuning: Broken, Falling Next To You (Justin Sandercoe)

 

Open A

You have a couple of options here - you can tune three strings up or use Open G and a capo!

To tune it open you tune strings 2/3/4 all up one tone each. That should not cause too much tension on the neck but I still usually get the guitar into Open G and put a capo on the 2nd fret!

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open A
E
A
E
A
C#
E

 

Songs that use Open A Tuning: ?

Open D

Lots of old blues styles use Open D but I never got on with it for slide, but enjoy experimenting with it, quite fun.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open D
D
A
D
F#
A
D

Start with DADGAD and then lower the G string by one semitone.

Songs that use Open D Tuning: Feelin Bad Blues (Ry Cooder, from Crossroads movie), 

Open E

Again with Open E you can choose to tune strings up, or use a capo with Open D. The risk with tuning strings up is that you create more tension in the neck and also strings are more likely to break. But it unlikely to damage your guitar, and breaking strings is not really a big deal...

So either Tune up strings 4/5 up a tone and 3 up a semitone, or use Open D Tuning and get a capo on the 2nd fret! Your choice.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open E
E
B
E
G#
B
E

Songs that use Open E Tuning: She Talks To Angels (The Black Crows),

Open C

I'll be honest with you... I don't think I have used this one before - it was suggested on the forum, so I thought I would add it in, and I'm going to play with it later today and see what comes out! It looks like my kinda tuning!

Quite a lot to do here... string 6 down 2 tones, 4/5 down a tone and 2 up a semitone.

Note: somestimes the thin E is tuned down to a D.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Open C
C
G
C
G
C
E

Songs that use Open C Tuning: Ocean (John Butler Trio)

Tuning in 4th's

This tuning is pretty unusual, but can be interesting to play about with, and it opens up some very interesting chord voicings.

String ->
6 (thick)
5
4
3
2
1 (thin)
Tuning in 4th's
E
A
D
G
C
F

Songs that use Tuning in 4th's: The Scientist (Coldplay), ?

Conclusion

Well there is a LOT to experiment with here - hope that answers many of your questions!!

If you know some more song examples (especially for the more unusual tunings, then please leave a note in the forum!!).