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Looking for a way to add some new flavor to your playing? Guitar tuning a half step down is a great way to change the sound and feel of your songs. And best of all, you don’t need a special guitar tuner half step down to play in this exciting tuning.
What is a Half Step Down Tuning?
This tuning, as its name suggests, means that you tune each string down a half step. A half step refers to the smallest distance between any two notes on the fretboard. For example, the distance between G and A is a whole step. The half step between them is A# (or Gb).
As you likely know, standard tuning is E/A/D/G/B/E when you go from the low E to the high E. So as you start tuning, you will need to lower E by a half step. This note is Eb or D#. You will probably typically see half step down tuning written using the flat forms of each note: Eb/Ab/Db/Gb/Bb/Eb. However, it also can be written using sharps instead: D#/G#/C#/F#/A#/D#.
While some alternate tunings require you to remember different chord shapes, tuning a half step down does not. That’s because all the strings are tuned, in relation to each other, the same way that they are in standard tuning. Since the intervals between them are the same, all of your chord shapes and scale patterns will be the same.
Why Do We Do Half Step Down Tuning?
A half step down tune sounds a little different from a song played in standard guitar tuning. And while playing guitar with this tunning can be used in any genre of music, it’s most common in metal and hard rock. Both of these genres tend to lean toward a “heavy” sound. Tuning this way can give you that heavier sound, and it also lends a distinctive “crunchiness” to the distortion that’s often used.
This lower tuning makes it easier to play with heavier gauge strings that help you create an even heavier sound. And since it lowers string tension, it makes string bending easier while lessening hand, finger, and wrist fatigue.
If you’re relatively new to alternate tunings or just want to know your options, check out this useful chart of alternate tunings for guitar.
Ways to Tune Your Guitar Half Step Down
Luckily, you don’t need a special half step down guitar tuner or any other special gear to tune a guitar half step down. All you need to do is grab your guitar tuner and tune each string to the appropriate pitch. Many guitar tuners only use the sharp versions of notes (not flats), so make sure you remember that this drop tuning is D#/G#/C#/F#/A#/D#.
There is an alternate method to tuning a half step down. This one is great to use if you’re playing out somewhere and have forgotten the pitch names. Simply place a capo on your guitar’s first fret and then tune to standard tuning. Standard tuning is E/A/D/G/B/E, from the sixth (thickest) string to the first (thinnest) string. This gives you a quick, easy half step tuner in a pinch.
Iconic Guitarists Who Use Half Step Down Tuning
If you choose to try out half step down tuning, you’re in good company. Here are some of the best-known guitarists who have used half step down tuning, either sometimes or almost exclusively, in their playing:
- Jimi Hendrix
- Tony Iommi
- Jackson Browne
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Neil Young
- B.B. King
Popular Bands Who Use Half-Step Down Tuning
Likewise, plenty of popular bands play in half step down tuning as well. It’s often used by rock, punk, and metal bands. Here are some bands known for using half step down tuning:
- Black Sabbath
- Green Day
- Guns ‘N Roses
You probably now have a good general idea of what half step down tuning is and how to use it. But if you still have some questions, check out these frequently asked questions on half step down tuning.
Thankfully, tuning a half step down is a very simple process. All you need to do is tune each string down a semitone. So instead of tuning to E/A/D/G/B/E, you would tune to Eb/Ab/Db/Gb/Bb/Eb. Since the flat of one note is the same as the sharp of the note before it, you may see this written as D#/G#/C#/F#/A#/D#.
If you look closely at your guitar tuner, you probably will see a small “440hz” in the corner. This pitch is considered to be a standard or “concert pitch,” and it helps make sure multiple instruments are in tune with each other.
So what pitch is tuning a half step down? In standard tuning, 440hz is the frequency of A. Once you tune down a half step, the pitch of Ab is a little over 415hz — specifically, it is 415.3047hz.
You already know that tuning down this way can give your music a lower, heavier sound. But tuning down this way has a host of other benefits:
1. The lower string tension makes string bends easier
2. It places less stress on your wrists and fingers
3. It makes it easier to play with heavy-gauge strings
4. It makes it easier to play in a band with horns
5. If you’re experiencing vocal fatigue and having trouble hitting high notes, it makes it a lot easier
Most of us want to make sure we keep up with maintenance to ensure our instruments stay in top condition. The good news is that drop tuning is not bad for your guitar at all. In fact, some owners of vintage guitars prefer it, as it places less stress on the neck. However, if you keep your guitar in drop tuning most of the time, you might need a slight adjustment to your intonation.
You may be familiar with the detailed and conspiracy-laden story behind 432 Hz and 440 Hz. Some people claim that 432 Hz is closer to the “natural frequency” of the earth. But since 440 Hz is widely considered to be the standard tuning, tuning down a step or half step is in relation to this standard pitch. And as we mentioned above, the frequency of tuning a half step down is lower than 432hz.
Hopefully you know have a better understanding of how to tune half step down and some of the best ways to use this tuning. If nothing else, tuning this way can really help give your music a fresh, new feel.