Alternate Tuning Guide

01
of 07

An Introduction to Alternate Tunings

tuning guitar
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Let's be realistic for a moment. Despite all of it's wonderful characteristics, the guitar has a few shortcomings. One of the most obvious is the way the guitar is laid out - there are chords that we know should sound great, but are impossible to play, since human fingers just can't stretch far enough to reach the proper notes.

Luckily, there are ways to overcome this problem. By changing the tuning of one or several strings of a guitar, we can play combinations of notes that we previously couldn't. Many of these "alternate tunings" have been explored extensively by ambitious musicians (Joni Mitchell claims to have played in 51 different guitar tunings during her career). These alternate tunings open up a whole new world for guitarists willing to look beyond the standard E A D G B E tuning.

Learning to play guitar in many of these new tunings can be an overwhelming task. If you thought learning guitar was tricky enough in standard tuning, you're in for a REAL challenge! Guitarists will have to completely re-learn how to play chords for each new tuning they undertake. For this reason, many guitarists tend to explore one alternate tuning for an extended period, before they turn their attention to another.

Each of the following links will lead to pages designed to teach the basics of a new tuning. Included are tips on getting your guitar into the proper tuning, tabs of songs in that tuning, and links to other resources for that tuning around the web. Enjoy, and watch for more tunings to be added to the list regularly.

02
of 07

Drop D Tuning

drop d tuning

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Although drop D tuning has been around for a long time, the Seattle grunge movement in the early 1990's brought about it's popularity. Drop D tuning was used extensively by bands like Nirvana, partly because it made playing power chords with one finger possible.

Drop D Tuning Tips

  • Tune your sixth string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.

 

Tab of Songs in This Tuning...

Higher - This Creed song in the key of D takes advantage of the detuned open sixth string to make the guitar sound very big and full.

Moby Dick - This Led Zeppelin tune is based on a single note riff that uses the lowered sixth string in drop D tuning.

Heart Shaped Box - One of the many tunes written by Nirvana (and dozens of other grunge bands) that use drop D tuning.

Spoonman - This Soundgarden tune illustrates how you can use one finger to play power chords in drop D tuning.

 

Other Resources

Chords in Drop D - Dansm's guitar site offers explanations on how to play many common chords in drop D tuning.

Drop D Lesson - A simple page that explains a little more about drop D tuning, and provides audio for a riff to play in drop D.

YouTube: Drop D Video Lesson - Dustin Barber walks viewers through tuning to drop D, and shows you how to play some basic riffs using the tuning.

03
of 07

DADGAD Tuning

dadgad celtic tuning on guitar

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There is a whole subculture of guitarists who play exclusively in DADGAD tuning, as it lends itself well to certain types of styles (celtic music, for example). But, DADGAD has also been explored by Jimmy Page and other rock guitarists.

Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.
  • Then tune your second string down a tone to A. Check the tuning with the fifth (A) string.
  • Lastly, tune your first string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.

Tab of Songs in This Tuning...

Kashmir - Led Zeppelin tune that makes effective use of the DADGAD tuning. Some really nice riffs to learn here.

Amazing Grace - From guitarlessonworld.com, a pretty, short arrangement of the standard hymn in DADGAD tuning. This will sound impressive with practice.

Black Mountainside - Another Led Zep tune, this is guitarist Jimmy Page's uncredited interpretation of the Burt Jansch DADGAD tune "Black Waterside".

Other Resources

Chords in DADGAD - A wide variety of Dmajor, Dminor, and Gmajor type chords in DADGAD tuning.

YouTube: DADGAD Video Lesson - User chade2112 provides us with a video overview of DADGAD, which includes a relatively easy song to learn. Note that some of his chord names are inaccurate, but the basic information is correct.

DADGAD Chord Shapes - More chords can be found on this informative DADGAD page.

04
of 07

Open D Tuning

open d tuning

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When the open strings are strummed in this tuning, a D major chord is produced. This has made open D tuning a favorite of slide players, who can simply lay their slide straight across one fret to play chords.

Tuning Tips

  • Tune your sixth string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.
  • Tune your third string down a semitone to F#. Check the tuning with the fourth fret of your fourth string.
  • Tune your second string down a tone to A. Check the tuning with the fifth (A) string.
  • Tune your first string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.

Tab of Songs in This Tuning...

She Talks to Angels - This Black Crowes song uses open D tuning to create some interesting riffs that would be much harder in standard tuning. Scroll past the first part of the tab to see the song transcribed in open D. NOTE: This song actually uses "open E" tuning - the same as open D, except the entire guitar is tuned two frets higher. Playing the song with your guitar tuned to open D tuning will still sound "correct", however.

Chelsea Morning - A somewhat intricate song in open D tuning. You'll have to learn a lot of unfamiliar chord shapes to play this one. NOTE: This song also actually uses open E tuning -- but will still sound fine in open D.

Other Resources

Open D Guitar Lesson - A nice tutorial on using open D tuning, that includes basic theory, and some songs to try and play.

YouTube: Open D Chord Video Lesson - Fred Sokolow walks viewers through his version of Statesboro Blues in open D tuning.

Open D Chord Charts - Alan Horvath provides a not fully complete, but still informative listing of chords available for use in open D tuning.

05
of 07

Open G Tuning

open G tuning

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Keith Richards has always loved this one, and has written many classic Rolling Stones riffs in open G. Many slide players also prefer open G, which is tuned to a G major chord.

Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.
  • Then tune your fifth string down a tone to G. Check the tuning with the third (G) string.
  • Lastly, tune your first string down a tone to D. Check the tuning with the fourth (D) string.

Tab of Songs in This Tuning...

Start Me Up - Classic Rolling Stones riff played in open G tuning. Note that Keith Richards removed the lowest string from his telecaster for this song (and many others), so the notation only includes notes on the top five strings.

Honkytonk Women - More open G tuning from the Rolling Stones. Scroll down to the bottom of the tab to see the proper way to play the song.

Other Resources

Chords in Open G - Alan Horvath provides quite a few different usable chord shapes, with diagrams, for use in open G tuning.

YouTube Open G Video Lesson - Justin Sandercoe has put together a nice video lesson describing how to play licks by the Dandy Warhols and the Rolling Stones in open G tuning.

06
of 07

Open C Tuning

open c tuning on guitar

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Slightly more obscure, open C is tuned to a C major chord, and utilizes a very low sixth string to give the guitar a big, full sound.

Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down to full tones to C.
  • Then tune your fifth string down a tone to G. Check the tuning with the third (G) string.
  • Next, tune your fourth string down a tone to C. Check the tuning with the sixth (C) string.
  • Lastly, tune your second string UP a semitone to C. Check the tuning with the fourth (C) string.

Tab of Songs in This Tuning...

Friends - Track from Led Zeppelin III. Great song with several interesting parts, all in open C tuning. This tab is a little bit simplified.

Other Resources

none at this time

07
of 07

Low C Tuning

low c tuning guitar cgdgad

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Another somewhat unusual tuning, low C tuning is more often used in Celtic music. You can create some very unique sounds with this one.

Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down two full tones to C.
  • Then tune your fifth string down a tone to G. Check the tuning with the third (G) string.
  • Next, tune your second string down a tone to A. Check with the second fret of your third string.
  • Lastly, tune your first string down a tone to D. Check with the open fourth string (D).

 

Other Resources

Low C Explored - Here's a longer and more detailed look at low C tuning, including links to tab and lessons.

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Your Citation
Cross, Dan. "Alternate Tuning Guide." ThoughtCo, Apr. 24, 2017, thoughtco.com/alternate-tuning-guide-1711764. Cross, Dan. (2017, April 24). Alternate Tuning Guide. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/alternate-tuning-guide-1711764 Cross, Dan. "Alternate Tuning Guide." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/alternate-tuning-guide-1711764 (accessed November 18, 2017).