You are currently viewing Best Alternative Guitar Tunings – Your Common-Sense Guide

Last Updated on January 19, 2024 by Justin Thomas

photo reveals owner of guitaristnextdoor.com

Author: Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.

I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as SongsterrMusicnotesGuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.

I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).


Are you tired of playing the same old chords and melodies on your guitar? Are you craving a fresh and distinctive sound that will set you apart from the crowd? If so, alternative guitar tunings are your ticket to a musical revolution. 

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the fascinating world of alternative tunings, covering various types, tuning methods, and examples of songs and artists who have embraced these unconventional approaches. Get ready to unleash your creativity and discover a whole new dimension of guitar playing

Here’s a glimpse of what you will learn:

  • Understanding alternative guitar tunings: Open tunings, drop tunings, modal tunings, and more
  • How to tune your guitar to alternative tunings: Practical tips and techniques
  • Exploring unique chord voicings and riffs in alternative tunings
  • The art of slide guitar and its relationship with alternative tunings
  • Songs and artists that have made innovative use of alternative tunings
  • Exploring popular alternative tunings like Drop-D and Drop-C
  • Unleashing your creativity with alternative tunings across different musical genres, including metal

Let’s dive into the realm of alternative guitar tunings together!

What Alternative Tunings Are?

displays Chromatic Scale
Chromatic Scale

Alternative guitar tunings refer to deviations from the standard tuning of EADGBE, where each string is tuned to a specific pitch. These alternative tunings involve adjusting the pitches of one or more strings to create a unique sonic landscape on the guitar. 

Guitarists embrace alternative tunings for various reasons, ranging from expanding their musical repertoire to seeking fresh inspiration and unique sounds. 

Let’s explore why alternative guitar tunings have become a captivating aspect of guitar playing.

What Alternative Tunings Can Do For You?

Creating New Sounds:

Alternative tunings open up a world of possibilities for guitarists to explore new sonic textures and tonalities. By altering the string pitches, you can create rich and evocative chords, unique harmonies, and unearth unexplored melodies. These fresh sounds can add depth and complexity to your compositions, allowing you to express yourself in ways that may not be achievable with standard tuning.

Simplifying Chords and Riffs:

In some alternative tunings, chords that might be challenging in standard tuning become more accessible and easier to play. The altered string positions can provide open strings that resonate harmoniously with the fretted notes, creating lush voicings with minimal finger movement. This simplicity allows guitarists to experiment with different chord shapes, progressions, and voicings, expanding their harmonic vocabulary.

Enhancing Techniques:

Alternative tunings can enhance specific playing techniques. For example, certain tunings lend themselves exceptionally well to slide guitar playing, allowing for smooth glides and effortless transitions between notes. Additionally, fingerstyle guitarists can benefit from alternative tunings that facilitate intricate fingerpicking patterns and melodic runs. These tunings provide unique fingerboard layouts, encouraging the development of new techniques and approaches.

Inspiring Creativity:

One of the most significant advantages of alternative guitar tunings is their ability to spark creativity. By venturing into uncharted musical territories, you break free from familiar patterns and routines, challenging your musical instincts. Alternative tunings can inspire fresh ideas, unlock new musical pathways, and push you to think outside the box. They encourage experimentation and exploration, enabling you to develop a unique musical voice.

In summary, alternative guitar tunings offer guitarists a wealth of benefits. Let’s continue our journey by exploring different types of alternative tunings and how to tune your guitar to them.


Types of Alternative Tunings

Now, we will explore the different types of alternative tunings and the songs that have embraced them, showcasing the unique sounds and creative opportunities they offer.

Open Tunings:

Open tunings involve tuning the guitar strings to form a chord when played open, without fretting any notes. Examples of open tunings include open D (D A D F# A D) and open G (D G D G B D). Open tunings create rich and resonant sounds, perfect for folk, blues, and slide guitar playing. Here are some songs that utilize open tunings:

  • “Little Martha” by The Allman Brothers Band (open E)
  • “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes (open E)
  • “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin (open Dsus4)

Drop Tunings:

Drop tunings involve lowering the pitch of one or more strings, usually the lowest string. This adjustment adds depth and heaviness to the guitar’s sound, commonly associated with rock, metal, and grunge genres. Examples of drop tunings include drop D (D A D G B E) and drop C (C G C F A D). Here are a few songs that utilize drop tunings:

  • “Everlong” by Foo Fighters (drop D)
  • “Chop Suey!” by System of a Down (drop C)
  • “Psychosocial” by Slipknot (drop A)

Check Psychosocial that uses drop A tuning:


Modal tunings (or modal open tunings) involve tuning the guitar to a specific mode or scale, offering a distinct tonality and unique melodic possibilities. Examples include DADGAD (D A D G A D) and EBEG#BE (E B E G# B E). Modal tunings are popular in folk, Celtic, and acoustic fingerstyle genres. Here are some songs that feature modal tunings:

  • “Black Mountain Side” by Led Zeppelin (DADGAD (open Dsus4))
  • “Scarborough Fair” by Simon & Garfunkel (EBEG#BE (openE))
  • “Drifting” by Andy McKee (DADGAD (open Dsus4))

Check Black Mountain Side that uses Dsus4 tuning:


Intervallic Alternate Guitar Tunings:

Intervallic alternate guitar tunings introduce unconventional patterns and intervals to explore new harmonic territories. Two examples are Nashville Tuning (EADGBE, but with the higher four strings replaced with lighter gauge strings) and New Standard Tuning (CGDAEG). These tunings offer unique voicings and inspire fresh musical ideas.


Other Tunings:

In addition to the aforementioned types, there are various other alternative tunings that defy categorization. These unconventional patterns provide distinct tonalities and creative possibilities. For example the all fourths (E A D G C F) or DGCGCD tuning. Here are some songs associated with other tunings:

  • “The Rain Song” by Led Zeppelin (DGCGCD)

How to Tune Your Guitar to Alternative Tunings

Tuning your guitar to alternative tunings may seem daunting at first, but with a systematic approach and the right tools, you’ll be able to navigate this musical territory with confidence. Follow these steps to tune your guitar to alternative tunings:

1. Use an Electronic Tuner or Tuning App:

Steel-String Acoustic Guitar String Change - Tune The Guitar

To ensure accuracy and ease, utilize an electronic tuner or a tuning app on your smartphone. These tools provide visual or audio cues to help you achieve precise tuning.

2. Start with Standard Tuning:

Begin by tuning your guitar to standard tuning (E A D G B E). This serves as a reliable reference point before transitioning to the alternative tuning of your choice.

3. Adjust One String at a Time:

displays Steel-String Acoustic Guitar String Loosening

To avoid confusion and maintain clarity, focus on adjusting one string at a time. This systematic approach ensures that each string is tuned accurately.

4. Tune Up or Down Gradually and Carefully:

When adjusting the pitch of a string, be mindful of tuning up or down gradually and carefully. Sudden or excessive tension changes can lead to broken strings or potential damage to your guitar.

5. Use Reference Notes:

To match the desired pitch of the alternative tuning, you can use reference notes from other strings, frets, or harmonics. For example, if you’re tuning to an open chord, you can match the pitch of one string to another string played at the corresponding fret. With standard tuning, open 5th string (A) should have the same note as 5th fret ot the 6th string (E).

6. Check and Fine-Tune:

After changing the tuning of a string, it’s essential to check and fine-tune all the strings. This ensures that the guitar is in proper harmony and eliminates any discrepancies between the strings.

By following these steps and exercising patience, you’ll be able to tune your guitar accurately to alternative tunings. Remember to use reliable tuning tools, take your time, and listen attentively to achieve the desired results. 


Examples of Songs and Artists That Use Alternative Tunings

Alternative tunings have been embraced by a wide range of artists across various genres, allowing them to create unique and captivating musical compositions. Here are some notable artists and their popular songs that showcase the creative use of alternative tunings:

Joni Mitchell:

Known for her innovative approach to guitar playing, Joni Mitchell frequently used alternative tunings to create lush and harmonically rich soundscapes. Songs like “Big Yellow Taxi” (open D tuning), “Both Sides Now” (open D tuning), and “A Case of You” (EADAAE tuning) demonstrate Mitchell’s mastery of alternative tunings in folk and pop music.

Nick Drake:

English singer-songwriter Nick Drake employed alternative tunings to craft his melancholic and introspective songs. In tracks like “Pink Moon” (CGCFCE tuning), “Place to Be” (CGCFGE tuning), and “Cello Song” (EADF#BE tuning), Drake’s delicate fingerpicking style and the evocative tones of his guitar in alternative tunings create a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere.

Sonic Youth:

The alternative rock band Sonic Youth is renowned for their experimental use of alternate tunings. Songs like “Teen Age Riot” (tuning: GABDEG), “Kool Thing” (tuning: F#F#F#F#BE), and “Bull in the Heather” (tuning: GGCGCD) showcase the band’s dissonant yet captivating guitar work, demonstrating the unique possibilities that alternative tunings offer in the realm of rock music.

Jimmy Page:

displays Jimmy Page playing on stage

Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page incorporated alternative tunings into many of the band’s iconic tracks. “Kashmir” (open Dsus4/DADGAD), and “The Rain Song” (DGCGCD tuning) exemplify Page’s masterful use of alternative tunings to create intricate guitar parts and atmospheric textures within the context of rock and blues.

Each artist’s unique approach and choice of alternative tunings demonstrate the endless possibilities for creative expression that arise when guitarists venture beyond standard tuning. These songs serve as an inspiration and a testament to the artistic richness that can be achieved by exploring alternative tunings.


Full List of Alternative Tunings

When it comes to alternate tunings for the guitar, the possibilities are endless. In the list provided below, you’ll find a comprehensive collection of alternate guitar tunings along with their names and corresponding notes. The first tuning listed is standard tuning, which serves as a reference point for comparison.

1. Standard Tuning

TuningNotes
Standard TuningE – A – D – G – B – E

2. Open Guitar Tunings

TuningNotes
Open AE – A – C♯ – E – A – E
Open BB – F♯ – B – F♯ – B – D♯
Open CC – G – C – G – C – E
Open DD – A – D – F♯ – A – D
Open EE – B – E – G♯ – B – E
Open FC – F – C – F – A – F
Open GD – G – D – G – B – D

3. Regular Guitar Tunings

TuningNotes
Minor ThirdC – D# – F# – A – C – D#
Major ThirdG# – C – E – G# – C – E
All Fourths:E – A – D – G – C – F

4. Dropped Guitar Tunings

TuningNotes
Half Step DownD# – G# – C# – F# – A# – D#
Full Step DownD – G – C – F – A – D
Drop AA – E – A – D – F# – B
Drop BB – F# – B – E – G# – C#
Drop CC – G – C – F – A – D
Drop DD – A – D – G – B – E

5. Other Guitar Tunings

TuningNotes
The Nick Drake Tuning:C – G – C – F – C – E
DAD GADD – A – D – G – A – D
C6 Modal Tuning:C – A – C – G – C – E
New Standard TuningC – G – D – A – E – G

FAQs

What Is the Saddest Tuning for a Guitar?

The perception of sadness in music is subjective, but one tuning often associated with a melancholic and introspective mood is the “Nick Drake tuning.” Nick Drake, a renowned singer-songwriter, frequently used the CGCFCE tuning for his hauntingly beautiful compositions.

What Alternative Guitar Tuning Is Great for Blues?

Many blues guitarists find the Open D tuning (D A D F# A D) to be particularly suited for blues music. This tuning allows for easy slide guitar playing and provides a rich, resonant sound that complements the expressive nature of the blues genre.

What Is the Easiest Alternative Tuning?

One of the easiest alternative tunings for beginners is the Open G tuning (D G D G B D). With this tuning, strumming all the strings without any fretting forms a G major chord. This simplicity makes it a popular choice for players looking to explore alternative tunings. 

Another easy alternative tuing is drop D (D A D G B E). It only requires you to only tune the thickest string 1 note down and ta-daa! You have a familiar tonal playground with something new.

What Tuning Did Kurt Cobain Use?

Kurt Cobain, the late frontman of Nirvana, often used the Drop D tuning (D A D G B E) in his songs. This tuning provided a heavier and grungier sound, which became a defining characteristic of Nirvana’s music.

What Is the Most Versatile Tuning for a Guitar?

One tuning known for its versatility is the Standard Tuning (E A D G B E). It is the most widely used tuning and provides a balanced foundation for playing various genres and styles. Its familiarity and flexibility make it an excellent choice for both beginners and experienced guitarists.

The most popular drop tuning is Drop D (D A D G B E). It gained significant popularity in rock and metal genres due to its ability to produce heavy power chords with ease. Numerous iconic songs, from Tool’s “Schism” to Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” have been written in Drop D tuning.

What Is the Most Obscure Guitar Tuning?

One of the most obscure guitar tunings is the New Standard Tuning (CGDAEG). Since it was invented, there are literally almost no songs using it (couldn’t find any). It seems it was not that handy tuning after all…

Can Alternate Tunings Hurt the Guitar?

When changing to alternate tunings, it is essential to consider the tension on the guitar’s neck and strings. Drastic changes in tension may require adjustments to the instrument’s setup, such as truss rod or bridge adjustments.

However, as long as the guitar is properly set up and maintained, alternate tunings should not cause any harm. Regular care and maintenance, including appropriate string gauge selection, will help ensure the longevity and playability of your instrument.


Conclusion

In conclusion, alternative guitar tunings open up a world of creative possibilities for guitarists. By tuning your guitar to alternative tunings, you can unlock a range of expressive tones and textures that may have been unattainable in standard tuning. 

Throughout this article, we have seen how renowned artists across genres have utilized alternative tunings to shape their signature sounds. To embark on your own exploration of alternative tunings, start by experimenting with the tunings discussed in this guide or delve into the vast array of other possibilities. 

Use electronic tuners, guitars with locking tuners or tuning apps for accuracy, and adjust one string at a time, tuning up or down gradually to avoid any potential damage. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond the familiar, as alternative tunings can breathe new life into your playing and inspire fresh musical ideas. 

So, grab your guitar, tune it to an alternative tuning, and let your musical journey begin!


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Teemu Suomala

I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I also noticed that most guitar websites don’t do a really good job, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website. I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar. I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog(I guess that went the right way…). Expertise: guitar learning techniques, electric guitars, and guitar amplifiers. You can connect with me on LinkedIn or just email me.
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Ian

I thought Jimy Page said Kashmir was DADGAD not OpenDsus4. The video footage seems to bear this out too.

Pranshu Nigam

I’d like to add DADF#AE. A variant of open D, although not as common. I first learnt about it form Yvette Young. If anyone’s interested in math rock, try this one!