Alternate Tunings for the Guitar...



Many guitar players use different tunings apart from the standard tuning. Use of nonstandard tunings is rare in classical guitar, but less rare in blues guitar. They are common enough, and their tonal effects interesting enough, that casual and serious guitarists alike may want to try them out.

Most alternate tunings involve down tuning ("dropping") strings. Up tuning the strings is less common, partly because it increases tension on the neck. Strings can even snap if tuned up too high!

A few bands and solo musicians are noted for rarely or never using standard tuning.

Dropped D (DADGBE)

The most common alternate tuning is the dropped D (or "drop D") tuning. The lower E string is tuned down to a D. This tuning allows one to play power chords on the fourth, fifth and sixth strings with only one finger, and of course allows for lower bass notes. Used commonly in heavy metal, but also in nearly every other form of guitar music.

Double Dropped D (DADGBD)

Similar to Dropped D above, for this tuning just drop both 'E' strings a full tone. Neil Young often tunes his guitars this way.


DADGAD (pronounced as a word: "DAD-gad"), one of the most versatile tunings, is named after the tuning of its strings. The sixth, second, and first strings are dropped two semitones to D, A, and D. Strumming all the strings open forms a Dsus4 chord; fretting the second fret of the third string (or muting the third string) produces a D5 chord, or D power chord. Most songs for DADGAD are in D major, or in G major with a capo at the fifth fret.


This is essentially one huge power chord. Each string neatly divides the scale in half and it is easy to make simple patterns then repeat them anywhere on the fret board.

Standard E Flat (EbAbDbGbBbeb)

In this tuning, each string is tuned down a half step, or one fret. This is a popular tuning throughout the history of blues and rock, and many modern bands perform with it.


Drop C Tuning CGCFAD

This progressive tuning is primarily used in the metalcore scene. bands such as KSE, August Burns Red and As I Lay Dying

New Standard Tuning (CGDAEG)

The tuning, invented and introduced by Robert Fripp of King Crimson, is: C(6th) - G(5th) - D(4th) - A(3rd) - E(2nd) - G(1st).

Basically this tuning is efficient because it utilize the tuning that is common is a cello (CGDA) , violin, and mandolin (both GDAE), in which it is in fifth, from a low C. The second string is a fourth up from the B to an E, and the first string is a minor third up from the E to a G.

Since the lowest five strings are tuned in fifths, typical fingerings for chords and scales used on the violin, cello, and mandolin are applicable here. The minor third between the top strings allow denser chords in the high range of the scale, and easier access to some elementary chord tones (typically the thirteenth for chords with the root note on the sixth string, and the ninth and flat ninth for chords with the root note on the fifth string, see chord). NST has a greater range than the Old Standard Tuning, approximately a perfect fifth (a major third lower and a minor third higher).

Because NST is also pentatonic in nature (there are no thirds in the open strings if you consider C or G as the root), its natural harmonics also make it easier to tune than the OST which has a major third (which is technically 'out of tune' by definition in a non-equal-tempered instrument such as a guitar) stuck right in the middle of its open strings (G-B). In NST, tuning is possible via the first harmonic rather than the more-awkward second-harmonic tuning which many OST players use to tune their guitars.

Scales across two strings in NST also line up nicely into coherent tetra-chords or four-note patterns that have a visually rational relationship (whole and half-tone relationships have a remarkable symmetry that can be easier to learn than the OST whose intervals from 6 to 1 have the (inconsistent) major third thrown in the middle of the scale.

Open Tunings - Guitar is tuned to a chord

Open A (EAC#EAE)

Alternatively you could tune the guitar to EAC#EAC#

"Slide" Open A (EAEAC#E)

This tuning is identical to Open G tuning but with every string raised one step, or two frets


Used mostly by Devin Townsend and Strapping Young Lad.

Open D (DADF#AD)

Open D, like all open tunings, produces a major chord (in this case, D major) when all strings are strummed. Drop the sixth, first, and second strings down two semitones, and the third string one semitone. It is also called "DAD-fad" after its notes. Uses the same chord shapes as Open E but is easier on a guitar neck as the strings are detuned lessening the tension.

Chord shapes in Open D

Here are some handy chord shapes:

G/D: (020120) Em7/D: (022120)

Open E (EBEG#BE)

Used by Cat Stevens and a popular choice for slide guitarists. Strumming in the open position yields a Emajor chord. You can easily play any chord by barring across the neck at different fret positions. This does however have some disadvantages; mainly that it is slightly more difficult to play minor chords. Some artists overcome this by tuning to EBEGBE. This allows both minor and major chords to be played easily. Because tightening the strings more than is intended can break the strings or put unneeded stress on the neck, many players opt to tune in Open D and put a capo on the second fret; the result is the same.


This tuning is rarely used. It has been used by Jimmy Page in Bron-Y-Aur Stomp.


This is sometimes referred to as "Spanish Tuning", popular with slide guitarists. Tune the 1st and 6th strings down to D, and the 5th string to G. Keith Richards uses this tuning extensively after 1968. (See Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women, Start Me Up) He also removes the bottom 1st string because the root of the chord is on the 2nd string in Open G.