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Guitar tunings

Guitar tunings are differing pitch arrangements of open (unfretted) strings used for the guitar. Many arrangements are possible, some of the most popular are detailed below.

Standard tuning

As its name implies, standard tuning is by far the most popular tuning on a 6-string guitar. It comprises the following note arrangement.

String Note Frequency
1 (Highest) e' 329.6 Hz
2 b 246.9 Hz
3 g 196.0 Hz
4 d 146.8 Hz
5 A 110.0 Hz
6 (Lowest) E 82.4 Hz

Common mnenomics for remembering the notes include Easter Bunny Gets Drunk At Easter or, in the opposite direction: Elephants Always Do Girraffe's Behind Edges

  • The guitar, as conventionally fretted, is an equal tempered instrument.
  • The guitar is a transposing instrument. Its pitches sound one octave lower than they are notated. The pitches referred to above are referenced standard pitch (a' = 440.0 Hz.).
  • Letter names in table reflect pitch in Helmholtz pitch notation.
  • In parts of Europe, including Germany, the B natural is instead spelled as the letter H: in German music notation, H is B (B natural) and B is B (B flat).

This pattern can also be denoted as E-A-d-g-b-e'. (See note for an explanation of the various symbols used in the above table and elsewhere in this article.)

Standard tuning has evolved to provide a good compromise between simple fingering for many chords and the ability to play common scales with minimal left hand movement.

The separation of the first (e') and second (b) string, as well as the separation between the third (g), fourth (d), fifth (A), and sixth (E) strings by a five-semitone interval (a perfect fourth) allows notes of the chromatic scale to be played with each of the four fingers of the left hand controlling one of the first four frets (index finger on fret 1, little finger on fret 4, etc.). It also yields a symmetry and intelligibility to fingering patterns.

The separation of the second (b), and third (g) string is by a four-semitone interval (a major third). Though this breaks the fingering pattern of the chromatic scale and thus the symmetry, it eases the playing of some often-used chords and scales, and it provides more diversity in fingering possibilities.

Tuning with a tuning fork and harmonics: Tune the A string to the fork. Then make a harmonic at the 7th fret producing a 329.6 Hz E. Tune the 1st string open to that, and then make a harmonic on the 5th fret of the 6th string, and tune the 6th string until the 5th fret's harmonic is also at 329.6 Hz E. Then on the 1st string play the 7th fret's harmonic and tune the b string so the 5th fret's harmonic matches the e string's 7th fret harmonic. Next play the 5th fret harmonic on the a string, and tune the d string so its 7th fret harmonic matches the 5th fret harmonic on the a string. Finally, play the 5th fret harmonic on the d string and match the g string's 7th fret harmonic to that.

The chromatic (equal tempered) musical scale and the natural musical scale have note pitches that are very similar. The natural musical scale uses natural harmonic pitches. For example, the A note has harmonics pitches for the D and E notes. The guitar fretboard can approximately accommodate to tuning to the chromatic or natural musical scale by adjusting the intonation by a little. Intonation is tuning of the fret notes to other fret notes so that most of the fretboard pitches are tuned to the pitches of the musical scale of a particular guitar string. Intonation tuning is done by adjusting the string lengths at the bridge. The open sting note of a particular string is kept constant so that when adjusting the string length, most of the fretboard pitches are closely matched to the pitches of the musical scale for this string.

Alternative tunings

Alternative tuning refers to any open string note arrangement other than that of standard tuning detailed above. Despite the usefulness and almost universal acceptance of standard tuning, many guitarists employ such alternative tuning arrangements in order to exploit the unique chord voicing and sonorities that result from them. Most alternative tunings necessarily change the chord shapes associated with standard tuning, which results in certain chords becoming much easier to play while others may become impossible to play.

As a standard set of guitar strings is designed to be tuned to the standard notes, alternative tunings may require not just a different tuning, but re-stringing of the guitar with strings better suited to the open string note. In turn, further adjustments to cope with the different tensions placed on the guitar may be required, and in extreme tunings, fitting different components to cope with the different gauges used.

Rock music tunings

Guitar tunings in rock music and metal are employed in order to make power chords easier to play and/or to make the sound "heavier".

Drop D tuning: D-A-d-g-b-e'

Though used extensively in heavy metal and hard rock, Drop D tuning's can be traced to earlier folk musicians. It allows power chords (also known as bare fifth chords) to be played with a single finger on the lowest three strings. It is also used extensively in classical guitar music and transcriptions since it allows open strings to sound the tonic and dominant as part of the bassline in the keys of D and D minor. Some guitarists choose to use a capo on the second fret with this tuning so that they can retain the ease of playing power chords without the darker sound created by the D tuning.

Double Drop D tuning: D-A-d-g-b-d'

Neil Young uses this tuning almost exclusively when playing on Old Black. this tuning allows him to play 5th chords on the bass strings, (not unlike Drop D) but also allows him to fret the higher strings of a barre chord with one finger. Famous uses of this tuning are on the tracks Cinnamon Girl, Cortez the Killer and Ohio (with CSNY).

Dropped C: C-G-c-f-a-d'

This tuning is the same as dropped D, but each string is lowered an additional whole step, or two semitones. Technically a "drop C" tuning would be C-A-d-g-b-e'. However, the tuning technically known as "Dropped D tuned down one whole step" is commonly referred to as "Dropped C" tuning, as very few people drop only the sixth string. This gives the guitar a very low and heavy sound, and usually requires extra-thick strings to maintain tension. This tuning is frequently used by hardcore bands as well to achieve a lower sound. Tuning a standard, non-baritone guitar any lower than this is difficult.A simple way to obtain drop D tuning is to flatten your your 6th string to where the 7th fret 6th string is the same pitch as your fith string open if you are in standard tuning.

Dropped B: B-F-B-e-g-c'

This tuning is the same as dropped D and C, but lowered from dropped C an additional semitone, or half step. This tuning is very popular with alternative metal/post-grunge bands. It has also become popular with doom metal/post-metal bands. Heavier gauge strings are recommended for this tuning, which may also require widening the string grooves in the nut of the guitar as well as re-adjusting the tension in the neck.

The indie/rock band The Kills are also known to have used this tuning in the majority of their songs.

Dropped A: A-E-A-d-f-b or Aˌ-A-d-g-b-e'

A very low drop tuning used in metal and death metal bands. As with the Dropped B tuning, heavy gauge strings and sometimes minor modifications to the guitar are required as the strings tend to "rattle". The second version (A A D G B E) has been used by Thrice in songs such as "The Earth Will Shake" and "Firebreather", and bands like Deadsy use it as their main tuning.

A Tuning: A-D-G-c-e-a

A very low tuning also used in Death metal and mostly in Grindcore. Heavy gauge strings are required for this and modifications to most guitars. The tuning is being used by some Grind bands like The Berzerker. In a new clip on Youtube from the recording of The Berzerker's newest album, the guitarist notes that he uses 3 bass string gauges: 66-56-46. These three are thick strings and require modifications to the guitars in order to tune them. The heavy gauge strings are required for fast picking.

E tuning:''' E-A-d-g-b-e'

This tuning is achieved when all the strings are flattened by a half step. This can be combined with other tuning techniques such as dropped D tuning and makes no difference to fingering. Often the key will be considered by the players as if played in standard tuning. This tuning can be used for a number of reasons: to make larger strings bend more easily, to make the tone heavier, to better suit the vocalist's range, to play with saxophone family more easily, or to play in E pentatonic minor formed by the black keys of a keyboard. This tuning is also used by some bands who play music live unlike recording in the studio with standard E tuning (such as Metallica's Death Magnetic album).

Jimi Hendrix used the E flat tuning on the entirety of the album "Axis: Bold as Love", as well as in Electric Ladyland and live performances. Guns N' Roses favoured E flat tuning because it allowed Axl Rose's voice to be accentuated on the high notes. It is also used by Metallica to compliment James Hetfield's voice on the Load and Reload albums. Slayer and many other thrash metal bands use Eb tuning. Both The Killers and Alice in Chains both use E flat tuning on certain songs as well.

Most Weezer songs are E♭ tuning.

D tuning D-G-c-f-a-d'

Also known as "One Step Lower" and "Whole Step Down", this tuning is basically E Standard with all six strings tuned one whole step down. Although mostly utilized in heavy metal (especially Death metal), one sometimes find this tuning in Blues, where guitarists use it to accommodate string bending.

D tuning D-G-C-F-A-d'

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath tuned his guitar to C# due to a factory accident that cut the tips of his middle and ring fingers. This tuning allowed Iommi to bend the strings easier without inflicting pain on his finger tips; many of Sabbath's earlier albums are tuned as such. Other users of this tuning include Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit, Funeral for a Friend and Pantera guitarst Dimebag Darrell, who used this tuning on The Great Southern Trendkill..

C tuning: C-F-B-e-g-c'

C standard tunes the strings of the guitar to produce a low tone. This tuning is commonly used by metal and hard rock artists (such as Judas Priest when Tim "Ripper" Owens was lead singer from 1997-2003 and Glenn Tipton wanted a more modern sound) as it is two whole steps below standard tuning. This tuning can also be written as C-F-A♯-d♯-g-c'. It allows for a low, heavy sound, while still maintaining the intervals present in standard tuning. Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss fame is known for using this tuning almost exclusively. Also, notable Delta blues guitarist Albert King used this tuning in order to make sweeping bends that covered as many as two full steps.

B tuning:

Also known as "B Standard" or "Baritone" tuning, this tuning is a common tuning of seven-string guitars, which are tuned B,E,A,d,g,b,e' (however this is just an extended version of E standard tuning). On a six string guitar, the tuning is modified to B,E,A,d,f,b. Notable users includes death metal acts Carcass, Hypocrisy, Bolt Thrower and Amon Amarth.

B tuning

Takes B Standard on either a six or seven string guitar down a semitone (or half step). For example, guitarists such as Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel fame has utilized this on seven string guitars. The tuning result is (from low to high) B, E, A, d, g, b, e.

However, on a six string guitar (from low to high) it would be B, E, A, d, f, b.

Classical guitar tunings

The classical guitar developed over a period of 500 years and a number of guitar tunings are commonly used this genre, some based upon historical practice. Unlike other musical styles, in which alternative tunings are used by artists largely as a matter of individual preference, in classical guitar styles, the decision to employ alternative tunings largely resides with composers or arrangers of musical transcriptions. Thus, classical guitarists performing known transcriptions are assumed to be using defined tunings.

  • Renaissance lute tuning: E-A-d-f-b-e'

This tuning may also be used with a capo at the third fret to match the common lute pitch: G-c-f-a-d'-g'. This tuning also matches standard vihuela tuning and is often employed in classical guitar transcriptions of music written for those instruments.

  • "Pseudo Russian" or "g" tuning: D-G-d-g-b-e'

A versatile tuning examples of which can be heard in Choro de Saudade by Agustín Barrios and also in well known transcriptions of La Maja de Goya by Enrique Granados and Sevilla by Isaac Albéniz.

Open tunings

In guitar playing, an open tuning is one where the strings are tuned so that a chord is achieved without fretting, or pressing any of the strings. With such a tuning, other chords may be played by simply barring a fret or through the use of a slide.

Open tunings are common in blues music and some rock and folk music. They are particularly used in steel guitar and bottleneck guitar playing. The names of some tunings vary between genres, for example in Hawaiian Music, for slack-key guitar, an example would be the taro patch, or open G tuning, with strings low-high D-G-D-G-B-D. But in bluegrass music, open G can mean G B D G B D.

Notable players who have made extensive or exclusive use of open tunings include

Examples

Major tunings
Major open tunings (giving a major chord with the open strings) include:

  • Open A: low-high; E-A-E-A-C-E
    • Alternatively: low-high; E-A-C-E-A-C
    • "Slide" Open A: low-high; E-A-E-A-C-E (note that this tuning is identical to Open G tuning but with every string raised one step or two frets)
  • Open C: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-E
  • Open D: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-D
    • Alternatively: low-high; D-A-D'-A'-D-D
  • Open E: low-high; E-B-E-G-B-E (use light gauge strings because three strings must be raised)
  • Open F: low-high; F-A-C-F-C-F (rare)
  • F-Sharp Tuning low-high; F-A-C-F-C-F (Used by the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Johannes Dreisbach)
  • Open G: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-D (used on Blur's No Distance Left To Run)
    • dobro Open G: low-high; G-B-D-G-B-D (occasionally adopted for ordinary guitar, but requires lighter fifth and sixth strings.
    • Russian Open G: low-high; D-G-B-D-G-B-D (the standard tuning for the Russian seven string guitar).

Open tunings versus altered tunings
Generally, Open Tunings refer to the changing of string pitches to reproduce common Major and Minor chords. One might consider broadening this definition to include more obscure or less used tonalities / chords such as the ones listed below. But these are in kind of a "middle ground" between standard Open Tunings and Altered Tunings. Altered tunings are tunings that don't really reflect any specific chord name. An example would be the tuning Jimmy Page uses on Led Zeppelin's Rain Song (D,G,C,G,C,D). Even though some tunings could be named by "theory" they might lack the gravity or musical cohesion to really represent that chord.
Crossnote tunings
The above open tunings all give a major chord with open strings. Since it is highly likely guitarists will need to play minor chords as well, open tunings must be adapted to allow this by lowering the pitch of one of the strings forming the open chord by half a step. To avoid the relatively cumbersome designation "open D minor", "open C minor", such tunings are sometimes called "crossnote tunings". The term also expresses the fact that, by fretting the lowered string at the first fret, it is possible to produce a major chord very easily.

Crossnote tunings include

  • Crossnote A: low-high; E-A-E-A-C-E
    • Alternative: E-A-C-E-A-E (rare)
  • Crossnote C: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-E
  • Crossnote D: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-D
  • Crossnote E: low-high; E-B-E-G-B-E
  • Crossnote F: low-high; F-A-C-F-C-F (extremely rare)
    • Alternative: low-high; F-C-F-A-C-F (used by Albert Collins; requires extremely light gauges
  • Crossnote G: low-high; D-G-D-G-Bb-D

Modal tunings
Sometimes a guitarist will want a tuning that will permit very easy chords but not be definitively minor or major. In this case, modal tunings can be used. They can be especially effective with droning open strings, and give "suspended" second or fourth chords:

Modal tunings include:

  • Asus2: low-high; E-A-B-E-A-E (very rare)
  • Asus4: low-high; E-A-D-E-A-E
  • C6: low-high; C-A-C-G-C-E (used in " Bron-Yr-Aur" and " Friends" by Led Zeppelin)
  • Open Page: low-high; D-G-C-G-C-D (used in "The Rain Song" by Led Zeppelin)
  • Csus4: low-high; C-G-C-G-C-F
  • Dsus2: low-high; D-A-D-E-A-D
  • Dsus4: low-high; D-A-D-G-A-D (very popular in Celtic music and also used in "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. Referred to as "Dad Gad")
  • Esus2: low-high; E-A-E-F-B-E
  • Esus4: low-high; E-A-E-A-B-E
  • G6: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-E (used by Billy Gibbons in "Tush")
  • Gsus2: low-high; D-G-D-G-A-D
  • Gsus4: low-high; D-G-D-G-C-D
  • E modal: low-high; E-B-E-E-B-E (used in Suite Judy Blue Eyes by CSN)
  • G modal: low-high; G-G-D-G-B-D (used in Daughter by Pearl Jam)
  • B modal:(Low-High); B-F#-C#-F#-B-D# (Used by Devin Townsend, In the song Bastard from Ocean Machine)

"Extended chord" tunings
These tunings allow a guitarist to play an open seventh, ninth, eleventh or thirteenth chord. One or more of the strings is retuned to the appropriate note of the required scale. Such tunings may be either minor or major.

Examples are:

  • Open Dmaj7: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-C
  • Open Dmin7: low-high; D-A-D-F-A-C
  • Open Emin7: low-high; E-B-D-G-B-E (same as standard except raised 5th string which needs lighter gauge)
  • Open G6: low-high; D-G-D-G-B-E
  • Dobro open G6: low-high; G-B-D-G-B-E (two lowest strings tuned up and require lighter gauges)
  • Open Gmaj7: low-high;
    • D-G-D-G-B-F
    • D-G-D-F-B-D (both very rare presumably because of tritone between adjacent strings)
    • F-G-D-G-B-D
  • Open Gmaj7: low-high D-G-D-F-B-D (see slack key)
  • "Modal" G7: low-high; F-G-D-G-C-D
  • "Open G6min7": low-high; F-G-D-G-B-E
  • Open Cmin7: low-high; C-G-C-G-B-E
  • Open Cmaj7: low-high; C-G-C-G-B-E
  • Open Cadd6add9: low-high; C-G-C-E-A-C
  • Open Cmaj7add9: low-high; C-G-D-G-B-E
  • Csus4 with 9 & 11: C-G-D-F-c-f

Steel guitar
On table steel guitar and pedal steel guitar, the most common tunings are the extended-chord C6 tuning and E9 tuning, sometimes known as the Texas and Nashville tunings respectively. On a multiple-neck instrument, the near neck will normally be some form of C6, and the next closest neck E9.

Noted country player Junior Brown plays his trademark Guit-Steel in a C13 tuning, which is a C6 Chord with an added 7th above the high A (the Guit-steel has eight strings instead of a pedal steel's 10)

Necks with 12 or more strings can be used with universal tunings which combine the features of C6 and E9. On a 12 string pedal steel guitar, all 12 strings are tuned and played individually, not as 6 double courses as on the 12 string guitar.

On lap steel guitar there is often only one six-string neck. C6 tuning is popular for these instruments, as are open G, E6 and E7 tuning.

Miscellaneous tunings

All fourths: E-A-d-g-c'-f'

This tuning is like that of the lowest four strings in standard tuning. It removes from standard tuning the irregularity of the interval of a third between the second and third strings. With regular tunings like this, chords can simply be moved down or across the fretboard, dramatically reducing the number of different finger positions that need to be memorized. The disadvantage is that not all major and minor chords can be played with all six strings at once.

All fifths: C-G-d-a-e'-b'

This is a tuning in intervals of fifths like that of a mandolin or a violin. Has a remarkably wide range, though it is difficult to achieve (the high b" makes the first string very taut such that it will break easily), and may not play well on an acoustic guitar (the low C is too low to resonate properly in a standard guitar's body). Luthier Todd Keehn claims to have been the first guitarist to adopt an all-fifths tuning, his being arranged G-D-a-e-b'-f', and he has made an all fifths tuned guitar. The guitar is able to intonate in this radical tuning by slanting all the frets and the nut, and allowing each string its own bridge; and thus its own scale length.

D modal tuning: D-A-d-g-a-d' and D-A-d-a-d'-d'

Popularised by Davey Graham, who had been inspired by Arabic oud tuning while living in Morocco. D modal tuning D-A-d-g-a-d' is now encountered in Celtic music and contemporary music.

Another similar modal tuning is D-A-d-a-d'-d' from low to high respectively. Used by guitarists Stephen Roy and Mark Tremonti, it makes chords simpler to play. Having a "dropped D" effect in the bottom bass strings makes one finger chords easier. The top two treble strings can be slightly out of tune from each other, creating a chorus double guitar kind of effect.

Hardcore tuning: C-G-c-f-a-b

- A rather uncommon tuning, "hardcore" tuning is used by bands of hardcore, grindcore, and even some metalcore. It much resembles dropped C tuning, except for the high strings, which, depending on what is most useful for the guitarist, are tuned one semitone (a minor second) apart. This allows the guitarist to easily create the very harsh dissonance of the minor second.

Robert Fripp's "New Standard Tuning": C-G-d-a-e'-g'

This is a tuning devised by Robert Fripp of King Crimson, used by most Guitar Craft students around the world. The tuning is similar to all fifths except the first string is dropped from b' to g'. Some guitarists maintain that the term 'New Standard Tuning' is a misnomer and consider it to be a source of controversy, but the name appears to have stuck due the absence of viable alternative designations. Time will tell whether the tuning is in fact accepted outside of GC as a viable all-purpose tuning.

Billy Corgan's "Mayonaise" tuning: E, A, A, G, B, D

Corgan utilizes this unique tuning on Mayonaise. The A is lowered by a half step, while the D is lowered by 2 whole steps. This allows for Corgan to play the chord formations with all strings being played.

John Rzeznik's "Iris" tuning: B-D-d-d-d'-d'

John Rzeznik of the rock band Goo Goo Dolls uses this tuning on the studio recorded version of his song Iris, an international hit featured on the soundtrack of City Of Angels. It creates a very shimmer-like ringing sound similar to a twelve string guitar. To tune to this tuning on a standard six string guitar the low E string is lowered to a B; the A string is lowered to a D, the D string is left the same, the G string is lowered to a D, the B string is raised to a D, and the high E string is lowered to a D. On some guitars this may require obtaining a thicker low E string than is usual to obtain a full sound when tuned down to B, and avoid the string slapping the fret board.

John Rzeznik uses a different tuning for an acoustic version of "Iris", tuned at D-A-d-g-b'-d'. This allows the above song to be played solo with an acoustic guitar and to retain a fuller sound than is achievable with the B-D-d-d-d-d tuning. Yet this tuning also retains a slight ringing sound due to three strings being tuned to D, the piece being in the key of D major.

John Rzeznik's song "Black Balloon" is tuned at D-A-D-A-D-D. The song can also be played as D-A-D-D-D-D, although it won't sound the same.

Jars of Clay's tuning: E-A-B-e-b-e'

Jars of Clay uses this unique tuning, especially on their older material, especially found on their self-titled album. Noted songs are "Worlds Apart," "Flood," "Love Song for a Savior," and "He." The tuning gives a shimmery 12-string sound, while limiting chords to mainly suspended type chords. To achieve this tuning, one should tune the D and G strings down until they are an octave below the B and E strings in standard tuning.

Ostrich Tuning: D-D-D-D-D-d

Ostrich tuning is a tuning where all strings are tuned to the same note, creating an intense, chorused drone. Lou Reed created this tuning and pioneered its use in various early tracks by The Velvet Underground.

Complete range of string pitch combinations

Each of the six strings can be alternately tuned as low as a whole step lower and as much as a whole step higher without stressing the neck or the strings. With five possible tunings for each string (+2, +1, 0, -1, and -2), there are as many as 15,625 possible tunings for a six-string guitar.

A standard guitar sounds one octave below pitch as written in standard notation. That is, the first string in standard tuning plays the E note that is a major third above middle C, and is written on the staff as a major tenth above middle C.

There are also tenor guitars, baritone guitars tuned BEADF♯B (or ADGCEA, GDGCDG, GDGCEA, GCGCEG, etc.) a fourth lower than a standard (prime) guitar, treble guitars tuned a fourth higher than a prime guitar and contrabass guitars, which are tuned one octave lower than prime guitars. Seven-string guitars have an extra low string which is a B in standard tuning.

To compensate for string stretching when played, intonation or string length tuning can be done by tuning the seventh fret notes to the seventh fret harmonic pitches for each string. The seventh fret harmonics pitch should match the fundamental frequency of the open string notes. The first string (thinnest E string) could approximately have its twelfth fret note also tuned by adjusting string length to the corresponding 12th fret harmonic tone pitch.

See also

External links

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