Altered Tuning Fun (Part 1)
I've loved messing about with guitar tunings since I first heard someone play Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones) with the correct tuning and being floored by how much better it sounded than my hack standard tuning version. Since then I've messed about with tuning a lot and am surprised by so many people being afraid of changing the tuning of the guitar or thinking it's really hard… it can be real hard if you make it so, but it's a real fun thing to explore and can be a lot easier than most people think, so hoped you might find it fun to come on a little journey with me!
A couple of things before we get going; don't try altered tuning on a guitar with a floating tremolo. It's a massive headache. Secondly, if you tune a string up a lot have old (or rubbish!) strings you might break a string. But it's not the end of the world, and they were old, so you probably should have changed them anyways! If you tune a lot of strings up or down and dramatically change the string tension, it's possible you might bend the neck and need to adjust your truss rod. But in the 30 years, I've been re-tuning it's never been a major issue and only worth doing if you plan on leaving a guitar in a particular tuning.
Drop D Tuning
So the easiest start to altered tuning is dropping the thickest string down a tone to the note D. You can use the open D string (String 4) as a reference and slowly tune down the thickest string until they sound the same note, but an octave apart). This is called "Drop D" tuning and means that you can now play all the strings with your open D Chord and it sounds fat! It's quite a simple tuning and ONLY EFFECTED ONE STRING. That's important, for a few reasons, firstly, any chord that you want to play that doesn't use the thickest string remains the same. And secondly, if there is a note on the thickest string, then you just need to move that note up a tone (2 frets). So in Drop D, all the usual chords that just use strings 1-5 (like D, C Am, etc.) are all the same. If you want to play a G (or F), you need to figure out how to move the thickest string note up while playing the rest… and there's no wrong answer, but lots of right answers here are two… and the super simple Power Chord!
F (TAB: 3 x 3 2 1 x – f3x421x)
G (TAB: 5 x 0 0 0 3 – f3x0001)
F#5 (TAB: 2 2 2 X X X – f1b)
If you want to solo in Drop D, it's no problem; nothing changes, just avoid the thickest string! Go have some fun, then come back.
Double Drop D Tuning
Now, let's tune down the thinnest string a tone (down to D) as well. Now you're in Double Drop D, very common folk and blues tuning. The first thing you should try is playing all your usual chords in the new tuning and listen!! There are some super tasty chords living here, and you don't need to do a thing. There is some magic living here, so go find it.
But if you want to play any other chords, you need to just move the note on the thinnest string up a tone. It's not that hard, and it's actually quite fun… but make sure you experiment and listen lots because it's not always about 'knowing' what you're doing! Just make some cool sounds and enjoy it.
I'm sure you can figure out most chords on your own but here are a few ways you'd play some common open chords in Double Drop D and a few super nice grips to explore. You'll find some problems (like Open C shape) but look for magic where you can't find an easy answer (like playing Cadd9 instead!).
G (TAB: 5 x 0 0 0 5)
D (TAB: 0 0 0 2 3 4)
A (TAB: x 0 2 2 2 2)
It's a lot of fun exploring chords, but soloing still shouldn't be a problem – either stay off the outside strings or remember that notes you are used to playing on the outside strings are now located two frets higher! Playing a Blues in Double Drop D is quite fun and will force you out of playing many of the tired old blues vocabulary that falls under your fingers easily and maybe take you to some fun places.
If you fancy checking out how some of the greats use Double Drop D, you might like to learn Song For George by Eric Johnson, Harvest Moon or Natural Beauty by Neil Young. For the basic Drop D tuning, some great examples are Killing In the Name by Rage Against The Machine or Monkey Wrench by the Foo Fighters!
Next instalment we'll get into dropping the A string down to a G note and finding ourselves in Open G Tuning, which is another fascinating tuning to explore! Until then, grab your peg, give it a twist and enjoy yourself!
- LESSON STEPS -