• Db Standard (‘Iommi’) tuning •




Aged 17, Tony Iommi lost his middle and ring fingertips in a factory accident. His DIY prosthetics – home-made ‘thimble-tips’ fashioned from a leather jacket and a melted-down soap bottle – didn’t take the tension of bendy lead playing too well, leading him to experiment with thinner strings and slackened tunings.


This was a few years before the Polka Tulk Blues Band had even formed, let alone changed their name to Black Sabbath. Iommi, their lead songwriter, tuned ‘down three frets’ for most of Master of Reality – likely for a mix of physical comfort and to increase the low chug (n.b. he uses Standard for the first couple of albums, achieving similar slackness via lighter strings). Since sampled by many in Sabbath’s wake.


Db/C# tunings have likely been in use for long before this too – e.g. to match low voices, break in new strings, or fit with folk instruments. I use it to play along with Hindustani sitar recordings: sitar music is typically rooted around C#, and the slight buzz of super-slack strings can somewhat imitate the drones of the Indian tanpura, as well as allowing for sweeping alankar (‘decorative’) bends and fluid movements.

Pattern: 5>5>5>4>5
Harmony: Dbm7(11) | 1-4-b7-b3-5-1




Countless heavy groups of the post-Sabbath era have tried going ‘down three frets’ – e.g Slayer (Gemini), Pantera (Drag the Waters), Slipknot (Snuff), A Perfect Circle (Judith), Nirvana (All Apologies MTV), Blink-182 (Obvious). Also used by a scattering of others, including lots of jazz guitarist Jim Soloway’s output (Days of Wine and Roses).


  • Master of Reality – Black Sabbath (1971):


6str 5str 4str 3str 2str 1str
Note Db Gb B E Ab Db
Alteration -3 -3 -3 -3 -3 -3
Tension (%) -29 -29 -29 -29 -29 -29
Freq. (Hz) 69 92 123 165 208 277
Pattern (>) 5 5 5 4 5
Semitones 0 5 10 15 19 14
Intervals 1 4 b7 b3 5 1
  • 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…

  • C Standard (this -1): even slacker realms
  • Terz (this +6): 3 up rather than 3 down
  • Godzilla: another Db-rooted tuning


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

  • Db tuning: Tim Lerch features Db in his Low-Tuned Telecasters talk – and you can also browse Wikipedia’s unusually extensive Db track listing (n.b. it’s light on sourcing, and suspiciously long compared to other online lists – the few I haphazardly checked all appeared to be correct, but I can make no promises for the list in general…let me know what you can deduce!)
  • North Indian classical: bathe your ears in the infinite shades of the overtone series and jam over my HQ Tanpura Samples – and browse my introductory articles on Indian classical music for Darbar, Ragatip, and others. (The Hindustani Raga Index I’m writing will come out in 2021-22…)


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rāga: ‘that which colours the mind’

George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and other global improvised traditions. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them. Site above, follow below, & hit me up for…


—guitar & global music—

Dedicated to Nigel Tufnel – a true tuning connoisseur

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