The sound of the guitar changes with every adjustment of the strings; you can go from a dark and moody sound to something bright just by changing your guitar’s tuning.
One of the main reasons musicians enjoy playing the guitar is the versatile sounds with alternate tunings. There is a standard tuning that many guitar players rely on, but it’s fun to explore other options in finding sounds and chords on your guitar.
I’ll tell you about eleven alternate tunings every guitar player should know in this guide.
Tuning Your Guitar
First and foremost, let’s discuss the actual tuning of your guitar. This is when the note is not on pitch, and you will need to adjust the string so that it is in tune. If your guitar is out of tune, you can learn how to tune a guitar here.
Now that you know about getting your guitar in tune, we can talk about adjusting the strings to different tuning options. Standard tuning is EADGBE, from the sixth string to the first. This standard tuning is usually how most guitars are tuned, especially for young musicians or those just starting their musical education.
After you learn standard tuning, it’s time to branch out and explore what else the guitar can do. And this is where things get fun!
Here are eleven alternate guitar tunings for you to consider. There are more alternative tunings out there, but these are the ones every guitarist should know.
11 Alternate Guitar Tunings
For each alternate guitar tuning, I’ll list the strings from sixth to first. These tuning options are strictly for six-string electric and acoustic guitars. If you have a twelve-string guitar, you can find a beginner’s guide on how to tune a twelve-string guitar here.
1) Drop D
Drop D tuning is very popular among guitarists. It’s also one of the easiest of the alternate tuning styles, which is another reason many guitarists like it.
To tune a Drop D, simply tune the sixth string E down a whole step to D so that it matches the fourth string D. It’s essential to note that the sixth string will be the same note as the fourth string but not the same pitch. Now the guitar is tuned to DADGBE.
When you play Drop D tuning, you may instantly recognize the sound. Several popular rock and heavy metal bands relied on Drop D to create their songs. Bands like Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, Tool, and Soundgarden wrote hit songs in Drop D.
Let’s say you want to play a power chord in Drop D; bar the sixth, fifth, and fourth strings. You’ll use only one finger on any fret for Drop D power chords instead of the usual two or three fingers on multiple frets. This power chord’s simplicity is another reason many musicians like Drop D tuning.
When you’re doing guitar scales in Drop D, remember to adjust your fingering on the sixth string. All the other strings will be the same fingering as standard tuning, but you will need to move up two frets to find the right notes when you get to the sixth string.
The sound you get with Drop D tuning is excellent, especially when you play a power chord and add distortion on an electric guitar. You can also hit the standard D chord but don’t bar the sixth string (only the fourth and fifth strings). This sound is great for country and rock songs.
Tuning your guitar to Drop D allows you to get a darker sound compared to standard tuning. By tuning the sixth string from E to D, you’re only adjusting one string and creating a brand new sound.
2) DADGBD (or Double Drop D)
Another alternate guitar tuning is the DADGBD (or Double Drop D). To accomplish Double Drop D tuning, adjust the strings from standard tuning, EADGBE to DADGBD.
To start, tune the sixth string E down a whole step to D. This is the regular Drop D tuning. Then, to get to Double Drop D tuning, adjust the first string E down a whole step to D. When you are done tuning the guitar, the strings are DADGBD, also known as Double Drop D.
Usually, guitarists use Double Drop D tuning when playing in the key of D. Because the first, fourth, and sixth strings are all open D strings, you can play many different chord progressions that create unique sounds. You can also use DADGBD tuning in G and Em keys and still get most of the chord sounds you need.
Well-known songs written in Double Drop D include “Black Water” by The Doobie Brothers, “Cinnamon Girl” by Neil Young, and “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin used Double Drop D in their song “Going to California.” It’s an excellent sound for any music genre but mainly by those in folk, folk-rock, and Celtic music.
Similar to Drop D, tuning your guitar to Double Drop D gives the guitar an overall nice sound and is fun to play with riffs and chords. The middle strings are still tuned to standard tuning notes, but by changing the sixth and first strings to D, you get a whole other sound.
Not only do guitarists like to play DADGAD tuning, they like to say it. When talking about this particular tuning, you might hear one say “Dad Gad” (“gad” rhymes with “dad”). It sounds kind of silly, but then most guitarists have a bit of tom-foolery in them (myself included).
DADGAD is considered a classic alternate tuning for guitarists who enjoy creating dark and rocking sounds. Perhaps the most famous DADGAD song is once again a Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin creation, “Kashmir.” Page made great use of DADGAD tuning and the open string notes to create this memorable and easy guitar riff.
Other DADGAD songs include Neil Young’s “Goin’ Back” and, more recently, “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran.
To tune your guitar to DADGAD alternate tuning, lower the sixth string from E to D (also known as Drop D), the first string from E to D (the previously mentioned Double Drop D tuning), and tune the second string down a whole step from B to A. When you strum all the strings, you should get an open Dsus4 chord.
With DADGAD tuning and the Dsus4 chord, you can play many simple chords and open note melodies. Even if you just play around on the strings, you are sure to come away with some great ideas on what you can create with DADGAD.
You can get beautiful sounds with DADGAD open tuning. This alternate tuning allows for simple melodies and barre chords similar to Drop D. Some like to call this sound ethereal or moody, and they are not wrong. The seamless shift between minor and major chords allows musicians to create emotionally charged sounds.
4) Open D
To tune your guitar to Open D: first tune the sixth and first strings down a whole step from E to D (as seen in Drop D and Double Drop D), then tune the second string down a whole step from B to A and, finally, the third-string G down a half step to F#. In order, tune the strings to D A D F# A D.
Some musicians will use Open D Tuning for slide guitar because of the progressions you get up and down the frets.
Not only is Open D great for the blues, but folk and rock bands also frequently use this alternate guitar tuning when creating hit songs. Listen to “Street Fighting Man” by The Rolling Stones and “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons for examples of Open D songs.
If you add a capo to the fifth fret on the guitar neck, you can change from a D chord to a G chord. The capo gives you even more options and flexibility as a musician.
To change from D Major to D Minor, simply tune the third string to F instead of F#. Here the strings are tuned to DADFAD, or “Dad Fad.” I’m sure there’s a dad joke in there somewhere.
Overall, the Open D tuning is a favorite for guitarists because of its versatility and great sound. Anytime you can get major chords simply by strumming the open chords is a win for any musician.
5) Open E
Speaking of open chords, open E is another alternate tuning for you to consider. When you tune your guitar to Open E, you create an E Major chord. It is essentially the same as Open D tuning, but you will adjust the D strings to E.
To tune your guitar to Open E from standard tuning (EADGBE), you are only changing three of the strings in the middle. First, tune the fifth string down a whole step from A to B, then tune the fourth string down a whole step from D to E, and then the third string up a half step from G to G#. Your guitar strings should be tuned to E B E G# B E by the end of these changes.
If you are familiar with chords, you will start to see a pattern for Open tunings. When you combine the first, third, and fifth notes of a scale, you create a major chord. In both Open D and Open E tunings, the strings’ notes are the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale (seen as 1 5 1 3 5 1 instead of E B E G# B E, in this case).
If you are a fan of music theory, you may note that the intervallic structure is the same, so Open E and Open D have the same fingering, just different by a whole step, depending on which tuning you have.
You can hear Open E tuning in a variety of songs and genres. Musicians in blues, folk, rock, and country all like playing in Open E. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards is known for favoring Open E and created hits “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Gimme Shelter,” among many others with this alternate tuning.
The Open E tuning may feel tighter than the Open D because the middle three strings are pulling on the neck a bit more. Keep in mind that you may break a string more often in Open E because of this, especially if you are playing an acoustic.
6) Open G
Open G is also similar to Open D, and you may find it easier to tune than Open E.
With Open G, tune your guitar strings to DGDGBD.
Again we will start from standard tuning, EADGBE, and begin with the sixth and first strings, tuning them down a whole step from E to D. Then tune the fifth string down a whole step from G to A.
Once again, we see the chord notes coming to life. In G Major, the chord notes are G B D, and in Open G tuning, you can play a G chord with the open notes, with the fifth string G as the bottom of the chord.
Open G is an enjoyable sound to experiment with and see what you can create. Again, Keith Richards is a shining example of creativity regarding this alternate tuning option. Rolling Stones songs such as “Brown Sugar,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” and “Start Me Up” all have Open G tuning.
Interestingly, it’s commonly known among guitar-enthusiasts that Keith Richards likes to remove the sixth string on his guitars so that he can stay in Open G, with the bottom note (that fifth string G) as his root note. It seems that you can attempt to play any Rolling Stones song with Open G tuning and most likely find your mark.
Other bands that play Open G songs include Pearl Jam, Coldplay, and Led Zeppelin.
While it may not be the sound for everyone, Open G certainly offers creative options for those looking for alternate guitar tunings.
7) Open A
Similar to how Open D and Open E are close in tuning, Open A is close to Open G. Open A tuning is essentially one step higher than Open G.
The tuning for Open A is E A E A C# E.
To tune your guitar to Open A, start with standard tuning: EADGBE. Then tune the fourth string up a whole step from D to E, the third string up a whole step from G to A, and the second string up a whole step to C#.
Because you are tuning three of the middle strings up whole notes, Open A tuning can put a lot of stress on the guitar strings and may cause more broken strings than usual. You break strings by tuning them up instead of down, creating higher tension in the string and more probability for snapping.
Some musicians will first tune their guitar to Open G and then use a capo on the second fret to get the Open A sound. This tuning technique puts less stress on the guitar and may preserve your strings’ longevity.
If you listen to Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying” or Eric Clapton’s “Lonely Years,” you can hear Open A tuning. However, Open A is probably known more for blues songs and slide guitar sounds. Listen to “Mean Town Blues” by Johnny Winter, and you will hear the unique sound of Open A tuning.
8) Open C
Another favorite tuning for those who enjoy slide guitar, Open C tuning, offers a full sound when you strum a C major chord.
With Open C, you are tuning the strings down several notes, which will cause the strings to have more slack than usual on the neck. The strings’ looseness is why slide players enjoy this alternate tuning option.
To tune your guitar to Open C, start with standard tuning (EADGBE) and tune from the sixth string to the first: CGCGCE. You will essentially touch every string except for the third and first strings (which stay at G and E).
First, tune the sixth string E down two whole steps to C. Once you have that note set, tune the fourth string D down one whole step to C and the second string up a half step from B to C. These three strings should be the same note of C, and depending on which fret you play, you can match the pitch to make sure you are in tune.
Once you have the C strings set, tune the fifth string down a whole step from A to G to complete your CGCGCE tuning or Open C.
Musicians from all genres like playing Open C; you can hear this tuning in songs like “A Thousand Days Before” by Soundgarden and “Friends” by Led Zeppelin.
Open C gives a rich and full sound to your guitar and is great for playing around, especially on acoustic guitars. As you strum the strings of an acoustic guitar, it creates an exciting sound, but you may hear a slight buzzing sound as well, known as “fret buzz.” If you get too much buzz off the frets, you can try using thicker strings or raising the guitar’s action (the space between the strings and the frets).
9)Half Step Down (or E Flat Standard)
Drop D and Open tunings are common alternate guitar tunings, but they are not all that’s out there. Another option for you to reconsider is Half Step Down tuning.
Half Step Down tuning is exactly how it sounds: It is standard tuning with each string changed to one-half step down from its original note. When you tune a guitar a half step down from standard tuning, EADGBE becomes Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb OR D# G# C# F# A# D#, depending on if you would rather look at flats or sharps.
Since you are changing every string and finding the half-step tone, I recommend using an electric tuner. It will help you find the exact pitch you are looking for and give the guitar a nice sound.
Half Step Down is also known as E Flat Standard and is commonly used by guitarists who are also singers. If you have a lower vocal register, you can play first position chords with Half Step Down tuning and sing with no trouble.
And because the strings are slightly less taut on the guitar, you can have fun bending the strings and creating some cool sounds.
If you are looking to play some songs in E Flat Standard, you can try songs like “All Star” by Smash Mouth and “Say It Ain’t So” by Weezer.
It may be intimidating to tune all the strings on your guitar, but it’s a great way to experiment with sounds and deepen your guitar’s tone, particularly if you’re playing an acoustic guitar.
Whole Step Down
Take your alternate tuning a step further with Whole Step Down tuning. As the name implies, Whole Step Down tuning is when each string is tuned down one whole step from the standard tuning.
Standard tuning is EADGBE, and Whole Step Down tuning is DGCFAD. Similar to Half Step Down tuning (or E Flat Standard), you are tuning each of the guitar’s six strings to get the notes you want.
Whole Step Down tuning offers guitarists a deep and “dirty” sound. You can play some stellar power chords and chord progressions with this tuning. Heavy metal and heavy rock musicians usually use Whole Step Down tuning to create their sounds. Play around with Whole Step Down tuning and you are sure to make some exciting sounds.
You may also want to use a heavier string gauge with Whole Step Down tuning. The heavier strings will help increase the guitar’s tension and limit fret buzz.
Some describe the Whole Step Down tuning sound as dark and ominous, so it may be difficult to find songs written with this tuning to hear an example. If you’re familiar with the early heavy metal history, you may want to start with those types of bands.
One and a Half Steps Down
Our final alternate tuning continues with tuning all the strings down half steps or whole steps. There are actually several more tuning techniques, but we’ll focus on One and a Half Steps Down tuning for now.
Again, starting with standard tuning (EADGBE), you will tune each string One and a Half Steps Down to C# F# B G# C#.
You may want to use an electric tuner to help find the note you need. Remember to tune below the note and then adjust the string up to the pitch. This technique will relieve the tension of the guitar’s strings. You may also need to change the guitar’s action to get rid of any fret buzz.
If you feel like experimenting, try tuning your guitar a half step further to Two Steps Down tuning. Your strings will be C F A# D# G C with this tuning.
Whether you use One and a Half Steps Down or Two Steps Down tuning, you are sure to get some dark and interesting sounds. You can create some gut-wrenching music with this deep tone.
If you want to have higher open notes after changing the tuning down to One and a Half Steps or Two Steps Down, simply add a capo.
There are, of course, alternatives to the alternatives! You can do a deep dive into various tuning options and get lost in a world of great sounds. By changing a string down a half step or a whole step, you can create artful music.
For example, Drop D tuning has more options and sounds when you adjust more than the sixth string. First, tune your guitar to Drop D and then change the other strings down either a whole step or half step. Other Drop D alternatives include Drop Db, Drop C, Drop B, Drop Bb, and Drop A. These all have the same fingerings as Drop D tuning.
We suggest you play around with your guitar, try different tunings to achieve various sounds. Tuning the strings down is the best practice; you usually do not want to tune strings up.
When you tune strings down, they will be looser on the guitar; just be sure you don’t loosen them so much that they become unplayable. If you need to tune the note higher (or up), we recommend using a capo.
Overall, there are several ways to tune your guitar. At the end of the day, it’s all about preference and how you want the guitar to sound. Try a few different tunings out, play around a bit with sounds, and enjoy making music that you like.
Finding the right tone for your guitar is just a matter of adjusting the strings or tuning. Above are eleven alternative guitar tunings that are great to know as you explore and discover the right sound.