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Check out the alternate guitar tunings chart below to see what some of the most popular alternate tunings are.
Then you can try out some of these for yourself.
Alternate tunings are great if:
- You?ve been looking to expand your repertoire
- Have found a song/songs you?d like to learn that are played in an alternate tuning
- You are looking to spark some creativity for writing songs by experimenting with a different tuning
And there could be other reasons you?d like to try out some different tunings – for example dropping the tuning to be better suited to your singing tonal range.
The Most Popular Alternate Tunings
The chart below shows the most common tunings guitarists use. Below that there is an explanation of how to tune to those tunings.
Known as standard tuning because well – this is how most guitars are tuned. This is how everyone learns when they are starting out on guitar and this is the tuning that most guitar songs are written in.
The strings from 6th to 1st are tuned E, A, D, G, B, E.
Next to standard tuning Drop D tuning is the most popular and is achieved by simply dropping the 6th string from an E down one whole tone to a D.
This tuning is used a lot in rock and metal. This is because these genres of music, very broadly speaking, use a lot of power chords. In Drop D tuning a power chord can be achieved by simply barring the 3 bass strings (6th, 5th and 4th)?on any fret.
Other Less Common Alternate Tunings
O.k. so you probably were already familiar with Standard and Drop D tunings and are looking for something a little further from the beaten track. Below are some less common but still widely used alternate tunings.
I?ll Group these into some different categories:
These are basically just about dropping each string down. The intervals between the notes of the strings stay the same but are tuned lower.
If you want to use standard tuning but have the open notes higher, the easiest way is to use a capo – tuning up might be bad for the strings and for the neck of the guitar. Maybe half a step would be o.k. but I think using a capo is easier/better for your instrument.
If you tune down it may also be the case that?you?come across some?intonation issues depending on how far down you tune.
This is quite popular. it’s often used for those who find it easier to sing in a lower key but still want to play open chords in standard tuning.
Half a step down (D#, G#, C#, F#, A#, D#) shouldn’t cause any intonation problems.
Whole Step, 1 1/2 steps, 2 steps
Some people even tune down 2 whole steps! If you are tuning down to these levels it’s likely you will need to add higher gauge strings to compensate for the lack in tension.
You are also likely to run into some intonation issues and may need adjustments made to your guitar.
Drop D alternatives
These usually come in the form of Drop C#, Drop C, Drop B etc.
The other common variation is double drop D or any further dropped variations of double drop D. Double dropped D tunes the high E string to a D as well as the Low E.
There are various open tunings you can try. Essentially these tunings mean that when you play the strings open they play a chord. For example open D means that a D chord will sound if you play all of the open strings together.
There are heaps of other open tunings that you can try. Experiment and see what you like.
Open tunings are great for slide guitar and are also used a fair bit in folk music – but of course there are no limits on what you can use them for.
My favorite of these here is open D minor – not because I’ve ever used this tuning but because it spells DAD FAD. which is pretty fitting for me at the moment as a lot of my friends have just become or about to become dads (including me!) – it’s a real Dad Fad (hey gotta practice the corny dad jokes sometime!).
There are a whole host of other tunings you can try out. Depending on the tuning will depend on whether or not you will need to adjust your guitar?s set up.
Check out this list of alternate tunings for a huge list of different tunings.
Thanks for reading
I hope this has helped you to understand alternate tunings a bit better and learn some new tunings you may not have thought of before. I encourage you to experiment – you may just fall on a tuning that you really dig.
I like half a step down myself (or Drop C#) as it suits my vocal range better – but doesn’t require any setup adjustments, meaning that I can easily switch between it and standard tuning for when I am jamming with others.
For playing slide I also like Open G.
What are your favourite tunings? Leave a comment in the comments section below.
>>Click here to check out the different types of tuners that are able to do alternate tunings
FAQs Guitar Tuning Chart
Standard guitar tuning will read like this from the lowest to the highest pitch: E – A – D – G – B – E. This is more or less a series of ascending 4ths with the only break from this pattern occurring when the G ascends to B, itself an interval of a major 3rd. If you have played guitar for any amount of time, this tuning will be the msot familiar to you and, unless you have experimented otherwise, it might seem unfathomable to use any other tuning. If, though, you learned with another tuning from the very beginning, the same would be true of just such a tuning.
The six strings of a guitar are usually tuned to standard tuning, a ubiquitous western style of temperament that reads from lowest to highest pitch E, A, D, G, B, & E. The foundation of this tuning is in ascending 4ths, though this pattern is broken when the G ascends to B via an interval of a major 3rd. Of course, you can tune a guitar to just about anything you can conceive of, something that bands like Sonic Youth have taken as their mission statement, taking guitar into the outer reaches of tonality and temperament. Blues musicians who are fond of using slide often tune their guitar so that it play a chord when barred with one finger. The possibilities are near endless. Even today, the guitarist from the Burkina Faso/Brussels band Avalanche Kaito is reinventing what it means to tune a guitar, playing both bass and guitar simultaneously by tuning the guitar really low.
Though quite a trailblazer in some areas, Kurt Cobain was actually quite vanilla when it came to tuning, preferring more or less to adhere strictly to either standard tuning or Drop D tuning, the latter especially on Nirvana’s final album In Utero. Of course, there is always the hidden track – remember those! – on Nevermind called ‘Endless Nameless’, where it sounds as though both Kurt and bassist Krist Novoselic are tuning their instruments up and down throughout the song to achieve a rather swampy effect.
To treat your guitar in this way, you will likely want to involve a guitar tech, especially if it is your first time. Tuning to drop C or any other dramatically dropped tuning can incur serious consequences for a guitar if it is not properly set up for the cause.
You did a tremendous job in the article of explaining the benefits of learning alternate guitar tunings for anyone interested in this type of music. I am a musician myself, (classically trained former french horn player) and I admit not ever learning how to play the guitar.
I can only assume that the guitar has been a part of your life for a number of years judging by how adept you were on the elements of guitar playing exhibited in the article.
Again simply a great job on your part, sir!
Thanks so much for your comments and your compliments. I have been playing guitar for nearly 20 years now – wow that makes me feel old!
Thanks again for stopping by
I think that’s really nice to share your expertise and experience with others. I think you can include more basic info in the introduction part. The page is well-written but might be hard to understand for some beginners or self-learners(maybe they don’t even know how to tune). I also like the lessons and recommendations on your website, it certainly can help self-learners to learn.
Thanks for visiting and thanks for your input.
I agree this would be harder for beginners to understand but typically beginners won’t be using alternate guitar tunings when they are starting out. Certainly they should have learned to have tuned to standard tuning before getting into any alternate tunings.
If you are looking for how to tune check out my how to tune post at the link below.
How to tune a guitar
Nice post here on the most popular alternate guitar tunings.
For many, the DADGAD is the daddy of altered tunings, favoured by singer-songwriters and folky fingerpickers alike. Sure new tunings can be a challenge to people as they learn the relationships between the repositioned notes. But it also means a player will be surprised and hopefully inspired by what they play. The DADGAD is unrivalled for it’s sheer user-friendliness. This tuning can be heard on Led Zepp’s ‘Black Mountain Side & Pink Floyds ‘Poles Apart’.
There’s also the CGCGCD Tuning which is a staple for Celtic Music. It’s the open Csus2 tuning and a lesser known cousin of the Dsus4 Tuning of DADGAD. This is excellent for drone like strumming and deep, resonate bass notes.
Once again, great post illustrating the tuning names.
Thanks heaps for your input. Great to get another alternate tuning in there – I hadn’t even thought of DADGAD or CGCGCD. Will definitely have to try these out.
I agree it can be challenging to learn re-positioned notes at first but it definitely has its rewards in terms of new possibilities and the a potential boost in creativity and originality.
Thanks for visiting.
I just wanted to say Thank You very much for the information and sharing your knowledge with everyone. The article is extremely helpful and well put together in its explanation of alternate tunings and examples. The charts are great cause sometimes nice to have to look at when changing tunings.