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Alternate Guitar Tunings

How to Create New Sounds with Your Guitar via Alternate Tunings

Although most guitar-based songs are written and played with standard tuning, from time to time you will hear a song with unusual chords or a lighter or heavier sound than ordinary. These sounds are sometimes created by studio “trickery.” However, many of these songs are simply using alternate guitar tuning.

Alternate tuning is achieved by altering one or more of the strings on your guitar, making the tone go up or down. These tunings can create a whole new world of playing options for you. In this article, we will review some common alternate tunings.

Standard Alternate Tunings

Many guitarists use this simple method for alternating their tuning. In this method, the same tuning intervals are used as standard tuning, but they start with a different note. For example, while standard tuning is also known as E A D G B E tuning, E flat tuning, which is sometimes used in Blues and Rock, is spelled out Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb. This alternate method of tuning can be based on any root note.

Dropped Tunings

As the name implies, dropped tuning is achieved by unwinding one or more of the strings on your guitar to produce a lower note when played. The most common of these tunings is “Drop D” tuning, which is frequently used in Hard Rock, Metal, and Alternative Rock. For this tuning, you simply lower your bottom E string to produce a D. You can also lower your high E string to a D, producing “Double Drop D” tuning, but this is not as common a practice.

Drop D tuning has become so popular with guitarists that several electric guitar models feature a mechanism that allows your E string to automatically drop down to D. (Many bass models offer this as well.) These are worth checking out if you do a lot of Drop-D tuning in your music.

Open Tuning

Open tuning is achieved by tuning the strings so that you create a full chord when you play the strings “open” (no fretting). Put another way, the strings play a common chord when struck all at once. Common open tunings include open C major tuning (C G C G C E), open D tuning (D A D F# A D) and open E tuning (E B E G B E). There are, of course, unlimited options here.

Intervals

A guitar in standard tuning is tuned to perfect fourths with the exception of the B string, which is tuned to the major 3rd of the G string. You can change the intervals, but the closer you stay to fourths, the less adjustment you will need.

Something Important to Keep in Mind

When experimenting with alternate tunings, be careful with your guitar! Too much strain from tightening the strings can cause your neck to warp or your strings to break. On the other hand, frequent droppings in tuning can produce a lot of strain on your strings and shorten their playing life. Make sure your equipment is up to the task. Talk to a guitar expert or salesman to ensure you can do this on your guitar without any problems.

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