• D Standard (‘Tone Down’) tuning •



Dropping Standard two semitones lower decreases string tension by around 20%: lessening volume, but opening up wider bends, longer sustain, and feather-light vibratos. The overall ease of fretting allows for electric-style freedoms on the acoustic, while also reducing strain on the hands: I found it invaluable when returning from an injury-induced absence a few years ago, capoing at 2fr for a looser EADGBE. Plus, the five-note set of ‘D-G-C-F-A’ is particularly versatile for handling common keys (as per a 2015 analysis of Spotify’s then-30-million song database, “more than a third [were in] Gmaj, Cmaj, Dmaj, and Amaj“, with Gmaj proving the most popular, likely due to its ease on both the guitar and piano – n.b. for Gmaj in D Standard, just imagine you’re in normal-tuned Amaj).


Also note the wealth of tunings which you can produce via combining tones from E and D Standard (i.e. any with all strings either unchanged from EADGBE, or lowered by a tone). These include Drop D (-2|•|•|•|•|•), Double Drop D (-2|•|•|•|•|-2), Drop DG (-2|-2|•|•|•|•), DADGAD (-2|•|•|•|-2|-2), Open Dm (-2|•|•|-2|-2|-2), Open G (-2|-2|•|•|•|-2), Ead-Gad (•|•|•|•|-2|-2), and Ghost Reveries (-2|•|•|-2|-2|•) – as well as other lesser-spotted possibilities such as EADFAD (•|•|•|-2|-2|-2), EACFBE (•|•|-2|-2|•|•), EGDGAE (•|-2|•|•|-2|•), and DACGBE (-2|-2|-2|•|•|•). [Top tip: chain them up in sequences which require changing only one string each time, e.g. ‘Standard > Drop D > DDD > DADGAD > Dm‘.]

Pattern: 5>5>5>4>5
Harmony: Dm7(11) | 1-4-b7-b3-5-1


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DGCFAD turns up on innumerable tracks throughout guitar history. Prominent explorers include Beatles Paul McCartney (Yesterday) and John Lennon (Working Class Hero), as well as Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour (Dogs), Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain (Come As You Are), Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge (Adam’s Song), and the Steve Miller Band (The Joker).


Also beloved by Neil Young, who has showcased it on many songs over the decades – for example Tell Me Why, Love is a Rose, and CSNY‘s American Dream, as well as the genre-turning ode My My, Hey Hey (“When the punk thing came along…I heard my friends saying, ‘I hate these people with the pins in their ears’: I said, ‘thank God, something got their attention’…”). Check out HyperRust‘s fantastic track/tuning list for more [Young is also a noted Drop D aficionado – and once tuned all Conan O’Brien’s guitars to DADGAD when left alone with them backstage].


  • My, My, Hey, Hey – Neil Young (1985):

“Out of the blue, and into the black,

You pay for this, but they give you that,

And once you’re gone, you can’t come back…

The king is gone but he’s not forgotten,

Is this the story of Johnny Rotten?


As with virtually every lower transposition of Standard (also see Db, C, and B), DGCFAD has found particular popularity amongst heavy electric groups of various shades. Overdriven explorers include Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell (Walk), Rush’s Alex Lifeson (Test for Echo), Corrosion of Conformity’s Pepper Keenan (Without Wings), and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett & James Hetfield (Sad But True) – plus Slipknot (Snuff: actually an all-acoustic track) and Ghost (Rats: with all guitar parts, as per band tradition, credited to ‘A Group of Nameless Ghouls’).


Also used by Mick Mars of Mötley Crüe on Kickstart My Heart – a track Nikki Sixx claims was inspired via being rendered “legally dead” from a heroin overdose, before his heart was restarted by paramedics (although Guns ‘N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler disputes this account: “I dragged him into the shower, with a broken hand and a cast…I put the cold water on him [and] started slapping him in the face with my cast. And, next thing you know, the purple in his face just disappeared!”).


  • Kickstart My Heart – Mötley Crüe (1989):

“Selling my soul would be a lot easier if I could just find it…” (Nikki Sixx: The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star)


Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers often tunes his Gibsons to D, taking the band’s Southern rock sound “down to a sludgy place…more primal, [and] puts the vocals that much above it all…I like the ‘wrongness’ of it“. Hear him use it on tracks such as Perfect Timing and The Deeper In, and Road Cases, as well as lots of rest of their 2001 album Southern Rock Opera (as per Premier Guitar, a record “focused on the complexities and contradictions of what it means to be a Southerner, filtered through a fictionalized account of the Lynyrd Skynyrd story…”).


Hood recounts how he found his way there in a Jambands interview: “[Mike] Cooley and I were tuning down back in the 1980s…we just kind of stumbled on it as a way for me to deal with the limited range I had as a singer. I was really just trying to find a place where my primitive guitar playing worked with my primitive singing“. [n.b. he also notes how the band tend to mix up different tunings: “At any given time, there’s probably going to be one person tuned Standard, one person tuned down, and someone else going one way or the other…”]


  • Puttin’ People on the Moon – Drive-By Truckers (2008):

“l’m as truly in [Trump’s] demographic as you can get – and I don’t want anyone for a second to think that son-of-a-bitch speaks for me. Alabama is a red state, but there are people who feel otherwise…they’re not the ones being heard, because they’re not as loud. There needs to be more middle-aged southern dudes saying that Black lives matter…” (Patterson Hood)


Explored in less overdriven zones by artists including Elliot Smith (Between the Bars), George Ezra (Budapest), James Bay (Let It Go), and A Day To Remember (If It Means a Lot to You) – as well as in jazz by Jim Soloway (e.g. Memories of a Friend No Longer With Us). Also check out the insights on a Squier Talk thread (“I got out the Black SE and tuned it down…all these wonderful Bossa Nova chords”), and some nylon-strung discussion on the Classical Guitar Forum (“For self-entertainment, I decided not to use EADGBE anymore…after much trial and error, I have found a string set that sounds very good…with a 650[mm] scale”).


And, according to some, the guitar on Vanessa Williams’ Colors of the Wind (from Pocahontas) is tuned to D Standard (to be honest, I couldn’t find much evidence for this one – but it’s an excuse to highlight the pleasing craze of multilingual reworks: e.g. one in 17 Native American languages, including Navajo, Arapaho, Lakota, Mohawk, Crow, and Chickasaw, and another in 28 different global languages. Also learn about Amonute, the real, non-Disneyfied Pocahontas – a translator and ambassador for the Powhatan Empire, who may not have even rescued John Smith at all, and, if she did, would have been around 11-12 years old at the time: “Smith might have misinterpreted what was actually a ritual ceremony, or even just lifted the tale from a popular Scottish ballad”. Although the film’s most outlandish fiction is that Mel Gibson’s character is “the only settler in Jamestown willing to befriend the natives, due to his…acceptance of other cultures“).


  • Memories of a Friend No Longer With Us – Jim Soloway (2017):

“I wrote it several years ago, when I lost three friends in just a few weeks to their struggles with addiction. As sad and shocking as that was then, in 2017 it seems to have become a just regular part of life…I hope it provides a few minutes of peace for those who are left behind.” (Jim Soloway)


I also use D to match the natural ‘Sa’ (root swara) of my santoor: a 93-string wood-box zither with origins in Sufi mystic music (more info in my Global Instruments article). In fact, jamming to santoor recordings is one of the best ways to get deeper into Hindustani raga: while sarods, sitars, sarangis, and suchlike often take non-concert pitch roots (usually approximating C, C#, and E respectively), plenty of iconic santoor recordings are within a nudge of D – including many classic cuts by Shivkumar Sharma, the instrument’s greatest pioneer.


Try ear-tracing the tones of Raag Jansammohini (1-2-3-4-5-6-b7), Raag Malkauns (1-b3-4-b6-b7), and Raag Marwa (1-b2-b3-#4-b6-7) – and witness some spellbinding guitar-santoor interplay on Remember Shakti‘s Shringar (below), which sees Sharma team up with global icon John McLaughlin alongside a host of other Subcontinental stars. [Also see my 2020 interview with McLaughlin, covering Shakti’s reformation tour: and to go deeper into raga-guitar and global fusions…hit me up for lessons!]


  • Shringar – Remember Shakti (2000):

“The thought of abandoning all rules of music – both Eastern and Western – occurred to me some years ago. But I had to wait for the idea to mature…[as] harmony is a subject I have studied throughout my life as a musician: that is to say, for over 60 years now…” (John McLaughlin)

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6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note D G C F A D
Alteration -2 -2 -2 -2 -2 -2
Freq. (Hz) 73 98 131 175 220 294
Tension (%) -21 -21 -21 -21 -21 -21
Pattern (>) 5 5 5 4 5
Intervals 1 4 b7 b3 5 1
Semitones 0 5 10 15 19 24
  • See my Tunings Megatable for further such nerdery: more numbers, intervallic relations, comparative methods, etc. And to any genuine vibratory scientists reading: please critique my DIY analysis!


—Associated tunings: proximities of shape, concept, context, etc…


—Further learnings: sources, readings, lessons, other onward links…

  • Drive-By Truckers: hear more from Patterson Hood in a Louder than War profile (“In the summer I’d be walking the dog through our lovely neighbourhood but I could also hear the sirens and the tear gas canisters pumping, it was really surreal”), two Guardian interviews (“in 2001 the Truckers laid their claim for immortality with Southern Rock Opera, a double album that pronounced Southern identity as more complex than Confederate flags…”) – and on a hilarious interview episode of Too Much Effing Perspective (“the podcast that asks musicians and entertainers to relive their most Spinal Tap moments…”)
  • Dm masterpieces: speaking of Spinal Tap, Nigel Tufnel – to whom my entire project is humbly dedicated – once described D minor as “really, the saddest of all keys: I don’t know why, but it makes people weep instantly”. While his own delicate Dm piano suite (Lick My Love Pump) of course remains the towering masterwork in this (and, perhaps, any) key, it’s still worth checking out some other historical Dm highlights, even if only to examine how they inevitably fall short of Tufnel’s magnum opus: including his “Mach” inspirations of Mozart (Piano Concerto n.20) and Bach (Violin Partita n.2: Chaconne), plus famous symphonies by Rachmaninoff (1st), Prokofiev (2nd), Sibelius (6th), Dvořák (7th), Vaughan Williams (8th), Shostakovich (12th), Beethoven (9th), and Haydn (80th) – as well as examples from modal jazz (John Coltrane‘s uptempo standard Impressions), latin rock (Santana’s Black Magic Woman), Delta blues (Skip James’ Bentonia-tuned Illinois Blues), and 21st-century pop (Beyonce & Jay-Z’s smash-hit Crazy in Love: which repitches an Em horn sample from the Chi-Lites’s 1970 song Are You My Woman?)

Header image: Neil Young on the Homegrown album cover

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George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Home & Writings, and hit me up for Online Lessons!

“An intrepid guitar researcher…”

(Guitar World interview)

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