Guitar players are always looking for new sounds to explore. One way to create a new sound is to experiment with alternate guitar tunings. These alternate tunings can add a lot of depth and versatility to your playing to give your music a fresh sound.
There are a ton of alternate guitar tunings. Here’s an overview of some cool ones to try out!
What is Guitar Tuning?
Guitar tuning is the process of adjusting the tension of the strings on a guitar so that they are in the correct pitch. The term “guitar tuning” refers to the process of assigning pitches to the open strings of guitars.
The standard tuning for a guitar is E–A–D–G–B–E. This means that the lowest string (the sixth string) is tuned to an E, the next string up is tuned to an A, and so on. This is the most basic tuning for a guitar that any beginner should master.
2 Common Types of Alternate Tunings
There are many alternate tunings for a guitar, but we’ll focus on two of the most common:
An open tuning is a type of guitar tuning where the strings are tuned to produce a chord when played open.
Open tunings can be either chordal or modal. Chordal tunings have the strings tuned to a specific chord, while modal tunings have the strings tuned to produce a scale or form a chord which is not definitively minor or major.
The sound of an open tuning is often described as “fuller” or “beefier” than standard tuning. This is because all the strings are tuned to notes that work well together, producing a more harmonious sound.
Some of the most popular open tunings are:
- Open E
- Open D
- Open C
A dropped tuning is a type of guitar tuning where the pitch of one or more strings is lowered compared to the standard tuning. The most common dropped tunings are in the range of one or more semitones below standard tuning.
Drop tunings are often used in heavier styles of music, such as metal and hard rock, as it gives the guitar a heavier, more powerful sound.
Some of the most popular dropped tunings include:
- Drop D Tuning
- Drop C Tuning
- Drop B Tuning
- Drop A Tuning
Best Alternate Guitar Tunings
Alternate Guitar Tunings have been around for centuries, and were popularized by a variety of different genres and artists.
Alternate tunings can be used to create different sounds and styles of music. Here are some of the best alternate tunings for a guitar:
1. Drop D Tuning
Drop D tuning is one of the most popular alternate tunings. It is achieved by lowering the pitch of the sixth string to a D. It’s also the most basic since all you have to do is change one note in the standard tuning. You can play power chords by barring the low three strings in this tuning.
Low to High: D–A–D–G–B–E
This tuning is often used in rock and metal music. It offers a heavier and fuller sound that is perfect for rock and metal. It’s also used in a lot of alternative, rock and heavy metal songs.
Notable songs in Drop D tuning:
- Let It Go – James Bay
- All Apologies – Nirvana
- Everlong – Foo Fighters.
- Colors Of The Wind – Vanessa Williams
- Outshined – Soundgarden.
- Killing In The Name – Rage Against The Machine
- The Beatles – Yesterday.
2. Double Drop D Tuning
Double Drop D tuning is similar to Drop D, except both the sixth and 1st strings are lowered to a D.
Low to High: D–A–D–G–B–D
This tuning is commonly used in folk (folk-rock), fingerstyle, and Celtic music. It offers a fuller sound with more low end.
Notable songs in Double Drop D tuning:
- Cinnamon Girl – Neil Young
- Song For George Eric – Johnson
- Going To California – Led Zeppelin
- The End – The Doors
- Black Water – The Doobie Brothers
- Harvest Moon – Neil Young
- Don’t Let It Bring You Down – Neil Young
3. Open E Tuning
With Open E tuning, you can form an E major chord when playing your guitar in an open position. It alters the sound of three of your six guitar strings, particularly the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings.
Low to High: E–B–E–G#–B–E
This tuning is perfect for slide guitar playing and is often used in blues, folk and rock music.
Notable songs in Open E tuning:
- Beggars Banquet – The Rolling Stones
- Strawberry Swing – Coldplay
- Superman – Boyce Avenue
- All Things Must Pass – George Harrison
- Jumpin’ Jack Flash – The Rolling Stones
- Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
- Shelter from the Storm – Bob Dylan
4. Open D Tuning
Open D tuning is a popular alternate guitar tuning. It’s achieved by lowering the pitch of all strings except for the 5th and 4th strings. When you play in this tuning, you can form a D major chord in an open position.
Low to High: D–A–D–F#–A–D
Open D tuning has been used by folk, blues, and rock bands. This tuning is often used by Elmore James. Other artists have utilized this tuning in their music, including Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Barry Gibb, Richie Havens, and Bruce Cockburn.
It offers a more open and bright sound that is ideal for fingerstyle playing on acoustic guitar.
Notable songs in Open D tuning:
- The Cave – Mumford & Sons
- Even Flow – Pearl Jam
- Daisy – Switchfoot
- Dust My Broom – Elmore James.
- Street Fighting Man – The Rolling Stones
- The Gardener – The Tallest Man on Earth
- Thunder – Boys Like Girls
5. Open D Minor tuning
The Open D minor tuning is similar to the Open D tuning, except that the 3rd string is lowered a half step. This gives the guitar a darker sound.
Low to High: D–A–D–F–A–D
This tuning is often used in folk, blues, and classic rock. It’s also referred to as “the saddest tuning of all”, because it produces such sadness in music, as opposed to the bright tone in open d tuning. It is the most expressive and emotional of all tunings.
Notable songs in Open D Minor tuning:
- Day After Day – Joni Mitchell
- Cherry Ball Blues – Skip James
- Bitter Creek – The Eagles
- Angel – Oxbow
- Sunshine Road – Owen Campbell
- Tunnel of Love – Dire Straits
6. Open G Tuning
Open G tuning is one of the most popular alternate guitar tunings. To achieve this tuning, you need to lower the pitch of your low E, A, and high E strings. When played in an open position, this forms a G major chord.
Low to High: D–G–D–G–B–D
This tuning is often used by slide guitarists, because it’s perfect for that style of playing. It’s also used in blues, folk, and classic rock music.
Notable songs in Open G tuning:
- Fearless – Pink Floyd
- Crossroad Blues – Robert Johnson
- Start Me Up – The Rolling Stones
- Uprising – Muse
- Can’t You Hear Me Knocking – The Rolling Stones
- High Speed – Coldplay
7. Open C Tuning
Open C tuning is achieved by lowering the pitch of your low E, A, D strings while raising your B string. When played in an open position, this forms a C major chord.
It’s popular among acoustic guitarists because it has a rich, resonant, and full tone. However, it’s also been heavily utilized in hard rock on the electric guitar.
Low to High: C–G–C–G–C–E
It’s been used in hard rock, acoustic folk, blues, rock, indie alternative, and heavy metal. It’s a favorite among legendary performers such as Led Zeppelin, John Butler Trio, Sound Garden, and Devin Townsend Project.
Notable songs in Open C tuning:
- Townshend Shuffle – William Ackerman
- The Fear – Ben Howard
- A Thousand Days Before – Soundgarden
- Friends – Led Zeppelin
- King of Spain – The Tallest Man on Earth
- Ocean – John Butler Trio
8. Nick Drake Tuning
The Nick Drake tuning is a popular alternate guitar tuning that was created by, and named after, the singer-songwriter Nick Drake. It’s a minor variation on Open C Tuning in which the 3rd string is lowered to a whole step.
Low to High: C–G–C–F–C–E
This tuning has a beautiful, ethereal sound that is perfect for fingerpicking on the acoustic guitar. It’s often used in folk and indie music.
Notable songs in Nick Drake Tuning:
- Place To Be – Nick Drake
- Hazey Jane I – Nick Drake
- Hazey Jane II – Nick Drake
- A Field of Birds – The Tallest Man on Earth
9. DADGAD Tuning
DADGAD tuning is one of the most popular alternate guitar tunings. This tuning is also known as Celtic Tuning. To achieve this tuning, you need to lower the pitch of your low E, B, and high E strings.
Low to High: D–A–D–G–A–D
This tuning is often used by Celtic and folk guitarists because it’s perfect for that style of playing. It’s also used in blues, rock, and metal. Davey Graham popularized this tuning.
Notable songs in DADGAD tuning:
- Circle By Slipknot
- Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
- In Dreams by Ben Howard
- Photograph by Ed Sheeran
- Knock on Wood by Justin King
- Drifting by Andy McKee
Make Your Guitar Sound Its Best!
Alternate tunings can be a great way to change up your sound and add some creativity to your playing. But it’s important to know how to properly tune your guitar to these alternate tunings.
Here are some tips:
Use an electronic tuner: This is probably the easiest and most accurate way to tune your guitar to an alternate tuning. Simply select the desired tuning on your tuner and tune each string accordingly.
Tune by ear: If you’re more experienced, you may be able to tune your guitar to an alternate tuning by ear.
If you’re looking to add a new dimension to your playing, alternate guitar tunings are a great way to do it. Give one of these tunings a try, and see how it can change your sound. Who knows, you may just find your new favorite tuning. Thanks for reading!