‘Menu’ of 60+ altered tunings for 6-string, stemming from my tuning work for Guitar World. Listed by common enharmonic spellings, with name variants and listening links. Clips prepared from pristine Guitar Pro samples, compressed for a steadier resonance. Feedback welcome! email@example.com
Part of RJ’s ‘World of Tuning‘
- Standard: EADGBE | -1 | -2 | -3 | -4 | baritone
- Drop: drop D | ‘DDD’ | drop C | full drop C | ‘slack thwack’ A
- Open/Slide: open Ds | open Gs | open Cs | E, A, F | all 12 keys
- Interval: min3 | maj3 | per4 | tritone | per5 | min6
- Misc: Zen | overtones | banjo | lute | lefty | Dobro | Nashville | Orkney | C6 ‘Mauna Loa’ | Icarus | Haircut | maj-min 3rds | Wahine | Esus2 | Mi-composé | ‘Papa-Papa’ | Fripp’s NST | Gambale | Karnivool | Wind of Change | Atta’s C | José González | Bruce Palmer | Albert Collins | Ostrich | ‘Cabbage’ | ‘Iraqi’
- Microtonal: necessary imperfections | just intonation | quarter tones | ‘prepared’ | ‘stretched’ | Indian raga
- By Artist: Joni Mitchell | Nick Drake | Ben Howard | Michael Hedges | Jimmy Page | MBV | other notable quirks
Guitarists have turned to countless tunings over time. None are the ‘best’, but ‘standard’ remains deservingly popular for its balance of geometric clarity and harmonic versatility. Naturally, all transpositions below take the ‘tuning pattern’ of 5>5>5>4>5 from string to string, giving (with open 6str as the root) the intervals 1-4-b7-b3-5-1:
- ‘EADGBE standard’ has roots in Renaissance Europe – the Italian guitarra battente (‘beating guitar’) was tuned to ADGBE in the 16th-century, with the low E possibly being added by Spanish luthiers a few generations later. (n.b. See GW’s Ultimate Tuning Guide for my thoughts on how to efficiently reach standard while also warming up your ears, hands, and mind.)
Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb (down a semitone, ‘Eb standard’)
- Immortalised by Jimi Hendrix, who preferred singing lower and bending with more freedom. Used by countless players since – most work by SRV, Slash, KISS, Slayer, Motörhead, Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Smashing Pumpkins, Yngwie Malmsteen, Rise Against, Alice in Chains, Weezer. Many others too – e.g. Song 2 (Blur), Highway to Hell (AC/DC), Get the Funk Out (Extreme)
D-G-C-F-A-D (down a tone, ‘D standard’)
- Yesterday (Paul McCartney), Come As You Are (Kurt Cobain), Sad But True (Metallica), Walk (Dimebag Darrell), Dogs (Dave Gilmour), Between the Bars (Elliot Smith), Budapest (George Ezra), many live Neil Young tracks
Db-Gb-B-E-Ab-Db (down a min 3rd, ‘C#/Db standard’)
- Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, after accidentally slicing off his fretting fingertips in a welding accident, used Db to ease the strain on his prosthetics (home-made from a soap bottle and a leather jacket) – e.g. most of Master Of Reality, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and Vol. 4. Many heavy groups since – Slayer (Gemini), Pantera (Drag the Waters), Slipknot (Snuff), Blink-182 (Obvious), A Perfect Circle (Judith), Nirvana (All Apologies MTV)
C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C (down two tones, ‘C standard’)
- The Everlasting Gaze (Billy Corgan), Sorrow Throughout the Nine Worlds (Amon Amarth), The Jester Race (In Flames), Here My Train A’ Comin’ (Jimi Hendrix live acoustic take), That’s The Way I Always Heard It Should Be (Pat Metheny), early Queens of the Stone Age
B-E-A-D-F#-B (down a perfect 4th, ‘Baritone’)
- By the 1990s, many Scandinavian death metal acts were tuning right down to the baritone register – e.g. Bloodbath (Hades Rising), Edge of Sanity (Twilight), Arcturus (The Sham Mirrors), and Amon Amarth (Twilight of the Thunder Gods), some of whom played 7-strings at times (n.b. 6-string baritone guitars can come in a variety of different tunings, commonly based 4 to 9 frets below standard).
(Ẹ-Ạ-Ḍ-G̣-Ḅ-Ẹ – down a full octave…is effectively a 6-string bass)
A few ‘drop’ tunings, centred around lowering the 6th string. Quick, versatile, and great for modal music – try tuning your 6th to the song’s root. (n.b. c=capo, and +/- indicate transpositions of the same interval ‘pattern’):
D-A-D-G-B-E (drop D)
- Countless – e.g. Killing in the Name (Tom Morello), Harvest Moon (Neil Young), Dear Prudence (John Lennon), Spoonman (Soundgarden), Everlong (Foo Fighters), Bad Horsie (Steve Vai, -1), All Apologies (Kurt Cobain, -1), Mr. Tambourine Man (Bob Dylan, c2), and the flamenco danzas of Sabicas.
D-A-D-G-B-D (‘DDD/Double Drop D’, ‘D modal’)
- ‘Double Drop D’ (‘DDD’). Used on Going to California (Jimmy Page), Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young), Song for George (Eric Johnson), The End (Robbie Krieger, nudged about a quarter-tone flat).
C-A-D-G-B-E (drop C)
- Neon (John Mayer), Map Of The Problematique (Matt Bellamy), The Sparrow and the Medicine (Kristian Matsson), Flirtation (Brad Richter), Desolation Row (Bob Dylan, c4)
C-G-C-F-A-D (‘full drop C’)
- Question! (System of a Down), Ill Wind (Jonny Greenwood), Vox Stellarum (Arch Enemy), Radiant Eclipse (Avenged Sevenfold), Nottingham Lace (Buckethead), She Found Now (MBV, -1), most of St. Anger (Metallica)
A-A-D-G-B-E (drop A, the ‘slack thwack’)
- Acoustic Revenge (Antonio Forcione), Bangers + Mash (Jonny Greenwood), Caligulove (Josh Homme), Citizen Erased (Muse), Moor (Every Time I Die), Sorceress (Opeth)
‘Core’ open shapes: D, G, C
D-A-D-F#-A-D (open D maj, ‘Vestapol’)
- [resembles E maj chord shape] Used everywhere, e.g. Dust My Broom (Elmore James), Place to Be (Nick Drake), Freedom (Richie Havens), Street Fighting Man (Keith Richards), I Speak Because I Can (Laura Marling), Interlude 2 (Alt J), Over Now (Jerry Cantrell, -1)
D-A-D-F-A-D (open D min, ‘D cross-note’)
- [resembles Em chord shape] Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues (Skip James), Red Pony (John Fahey), Even Flow (Stone Gossard), Day After Day (Joni Mitchell), Ghost of Perdition (Opeth), most of Mitski‘s guitar parts
D-A-D-G-A-D (open D sus, ‘Celtic’)
- [resembles Esus4 chord shape] Popularised by Davey Graham, who used it to jam with Moroccan oud players in the 1960s. Used by Jimmy Page on Kashmir and Black Mountain Side (-1), Nick Drake (Far Leys), Celtic guitarists (e.g Dáithí Sproule & Mícheál Ó Domhnaill), and solo acoustic players (notably Pierre Bensusan). Also Man of Constant Sorrow (Soggy Bottom Boys, c3), and This Life (Dave Kushner – the Sons of Anarchy theme).
D-G-D-G-B-D (open G maj, ‘Taro Patch’, ‘Spanish’)
- [resembles A maj chord shape] Origins with Mississippi slide players such as Charley Patton and Son House, later used on Bad to the Bone (George Thorogood), Dancing Days (Jimmy Page), Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits), Fearless (Pink Floyd), Bohemian Like You (Dandy Warhols), Jealous Again (Black Crowes, -1), and many Keith Richards parts (e.g. Brown Sugar, Honky Tonk Women), sometimes with no 6th string. Known as ‘Taro Patch‘ in Hawaiian slack-key.
D-G-D-G-Bb-D (open G min, ‘G cross-note’)
- [resembles Am chord shape] Somewhat rare, but fantastic when used – e.g. The Mist Covered Mountains of Home (John Renbourn), Chester County (John Miller), Where Do My Bluebird Fly (Kristian Matsson), Sparkling on the Wind (Stefan Grossman, with microtonal tweaks)
D-G-D-G-C-D (open G sus, ‘Sawmill’)
- [resembles Asus4 chord shape] Nicknamed for the ‘sawmill’ tuning of old-time banjo (GDGCD), although it has many possible origins. Now used by Martin Simpson occasionally, e.g. on Betsy the Serving Maid
C-G-C-G-C-E (open C maj)
- Ocean (John Butler), Friends (Jimmy Page), Old Pine (Ben Howard, c5), King of Spain (Kristin Matsson, c8), Busted Bicycle (Leo Kottke, -3)
C-G-C-G-C-Eb (open C min, ‘C cross-note’)
- Mystifyingly rare, although used superbly on Carlo Domeniconi’s famous Turkish-inspired classical guitar composition Koyunbaba (+2)
C-G-C-G-C-F (open C sus)
- Several songs by Kelly Joe Phelps (e.g. Beggar’s Oil, c2, River Rat Jimmy, c5) – also the acoustic part on Steve Vai’s Dyin’ Day.
E-B-E-G#-B-E (open E maj)
0|+2|+2|+1|0|0 [open D+2]
- Many electric slide masters, who can tune higher than on acoustics – e.g. Duane Allman (Statesboro’ Blues) and Derek Trucks (Demo). Also Jumping Jack Flash, Gimme Shelter (Keith Richards), Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh), Come in Alone (MBV, c3), The Headmaster Ritual (Johnny Marr), much of Blood on the Tracks (Bob Dylan)
E-B-E-G-B-E (open E min, ‘E cross-note’)
0|+2|+2|0|0|0 [open Dm+2]
E-A-E-A-C#-E (open A maj)
0|0|+2|+2|+2|0 [open G+2]
- Seven Nation Army (Jack White), In My Time of Dying (Jimmy Page), Boogie Chillen (John Lee Hooker), Mean Town Blues (Johnny Winter). Robert Johnson may have favoured it (e.g. Cross Road Blues, Come on in My Kitchen), often capoed at 2nd…but we don’t even know what speed to play his records at.
C-F-C-F-A-C (open F maj)
-4|-4|-2|-2|-2|-4 [open G-2]
C-F-C-F-Ab-C (open F min)
-4|-4|-2|-2|-3|-4 [open Gm-2]
- Ain’t Nobody (Jon Gomm)
Open shapes for all 12 keys: The three ‘core’ patterns – D, G, C – can be transposed to cover all keys (although a capo will often serve you better). Electrics tend to be able to go higher than acoustics – e.g. open E usually works fine on a light-strung electric, but is too tight on most acoustics:
- Open A: G+2
- Open A#/Bb: C-2
- Open B: C-1
- Open C: ‘Core’ pattern
- Open C#/Db: C+1 or D-1
- Open D: ‘Core’ pattern
- Open D#/Eb: D+1
- Open E: D+2 / G-3
- Open F: G-2
- Open F#/Gb: G-1
- Open G: ‘Core’ pattern
- Open G#/Ab: G+1
If you want some texture behind your explorations, try matching them to some overtone-rich drones from India – HQ samples on my tanpuras page, covering Sa-Pa (perfect 5th) in all keys.
G-G-D-G-B-D (‘Overtones’, ‘Banjo’)
- Open Gmaj with 6str tuned to G (upwards or downwards) – which resembles the first six tones of the harmonic series: 1-1-5-1-3-5 (and also the common GDGCD banjo tuning). Variants used by Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs (Hey Hey), Joni Mitchell (For the Roses, Electricity, This Flight Tonight +1), and most Eagles of Death Metal songs (e.g. So Easy, c1). Similar to Keith Richards’ 5-string setup.
G-B-D-G-B-D (‘Dobro’, ‘Hawaiian slack’)
- Dobro resonators, banjos, and 7-string Russian guitars often take ‘repeated open G’ tunings, that ‘loop’ GBD in sequence to cover the strings. Used widely on 6-string in Hawaiian kī hōʻalu (‘slack-key’) music, by guitarists such as Ledward Kaapana.
C-G-D-G-B-E (‘Wahine’, ‘Three Bouzoukis’)
- Used in Hawaiian slack-key as ‘Wahine‘ (or ‘Keola’s C‘, after Keola Beamer). Elsewhere used by Pavement (Zurich is Stained), Fleetwood Mac (Never Going Back Again, c6), John Butler (Spring to Come), and Soundgarden (Mailman, Limo Wreck). Dr. Costas Kyritsis points out that it simultaneously covers two Greek Bouzouki tunings (G-D-G and D-G-B-E) and one from the Irish bass Bouzouki (C-G-D-G), as well as a common low configuration for the Bağlama (C-G-D).
C-G-C-G-A-E (‘Mauna Loa’, ‘C6’)
- A ‘balanced’ Cmaj6 voicing, known in Hawaiian slack-key guitar as ‘Mauna Loa’ – the world’s largest volcano, which has now been erupting continuously for over 700,000 years. Popularised by great master Gabby Pahinui (Mauna Loa), and also used by others around the world, e.g. Fahey (Stoll). (n.b. ‘Old Mauna Loa’ tuning is C-G-C-G-A-D.)
- An alternate form of open Gsus4, popularised by folk guitarist Steve Baughman (Shady Grove, Danny Boy), although the link to Scotland’s outlying Orkney Islands is unclear. Also used by Martin Simpson (Never Any Good), Doug Young (Miss MacDermott, Second Chances), and Nic Jones (Canadee-I-O, -1), who jestingly described it a “fake way of playing” due to its inherent beauty.
C-G-E-G-C-E (‘Atta’s C’)
- Associated with Hawaiian master Leland ‘Atta’ Isaacs (1929–1983), who used it to access jazzier voicings than were often associated with the slack-key style of the era. Also used by his contemporaries including Cyril Pahinui (He’eia), but otherwise seems to be bewilderingly rare.
Ė-Ȧ-Ḋ-Ġ-B-E (‘Nashville’, ’12-string-in-6′)
- Often used as a high-strung ‘double’ part on the Nashville session circuit and elsewhere. e.g. Dust in the Wind (Kansas), Phase Dance (Pat Metheny), Wild Horses (Mick Taylor’s part), Wide Eyed & Legless (Andy Fairweather Low), Gimme Danger (James Williamson), Tomorrow Tomorrow (Elliott Smith), Hey You (David Gilmour – with an E1 strung on the E6, i.e. 2 octaves up…a bit like a ‘hyper-banjo’).
- Standard notes, but D3 is an octave high (strung with a top E). Possibly invented in the 1950s by flamboyant Congolese guitarist Zacharie Elenga, also known as ‘Jhimmy the Hawaiian’ – after his (not-actually-Hawaiian) thumb-and-forefinger style, and country star Jimmy Rogers (listen: Andila and Na Kombo Ya Jhimmy Putulo, meaning ‘sweep Jimmy’s dust’). He disappeared into obscurity around 1952, but variants of his tuning can still be found in soukous and other African popular styles.
- Seemingly quite rare, but its characteristic maj 2nd interval offers unique possibilities. Used superbly on a few tracks, e.g. Something’s Missing (John Mayer), Causeway (Alex De Grassi), Only Shallow (MBV)
G-B-D-F-G-A (‘Overtones 4-9’)
- My ‘squeezed’ arrangement of tones 4 to 9 of the harmonic series – if ‘squashed’ to equal temperament, they spell out a 9th arpeggio as an ordered stack of thirds: 1-3-5-b7-9. Theorist William Sethares’ variant adds a register-jump in the middle as C-E-G-Bb-C-D.
D-A-D-A-A-D (‘Drone’, ‘Zen’, ‘Megadad’)
- Included by NYC busker Philip Toshio Sudo in his famous Zen Guitar book as a gateway to spontaneous improvisation for beginners. Used on Save It For Later (Dave Wakeling), Hope (Alex Lifeson), Let the Records Play (Stone Gossard), A Little Opera Goes a Long Way (Adam Young), One For His Nob (Allen Maslen). The same pattern tuned down a tone (CGCGGC) is used in many Ben Howard Songs (e.g. The Wolves, c3, and Old Pine, c5), and on Robots (Jamie Woon).
E-B-G-D-A-E (‘Lefty flip’, ‘Mirror standard’)
- Spare a thought for lefties everywhere – though they can count Hendrix among them, this comes as little solace when people hand them a ‘normal’ guitar. This ‘mirror of standard’ is one workaround, creating strange inversions from ‘lefty’ chord voicings. Try out some shapes you think you know…
- Many tunings for the Renaissance lute and vihuela move the irregular maj 3rd jump ‘back’ a string (n.b. add a capo at 3 for standard lute pitch: GCFADG). Used by today’s classical guitarists to read tablature from those eras, and also by John Renbourn (Bicycle Tune), Nick Drake (Cello Song, Thoughts of Mary Jane, both c6), and in the flamenco rondeña style pioneered by Ramón Montoya.
- Forms a voicing of 1-5-1-4-6-b7, with a fantastic, floating resonance derived from its four ‘clustered’ scale tones (4-5-6-b7). I used it to write messy folk instrumentals as a teenager (Icarus, c1), but can’t possibly have been the first…an incredible tuning, and not even so far away from standard. Almost like a ‘mirrored’ drop tuning.
C-G-D-A-E-G (‘New Standard Tuning’)
- Robert Fripp, famed for his work with King Crimson and Brian Eno, devised his fifths-based tuning in the early 1980s to maximise melodic freedom. He has used it near-exclusively since 1984, showcasing its unusually wide range in his various guitar ensembles and other projects while also teaching it on restrung Ovations at his Guitar Craft academy. Fascinating, but requires thinner high strings or a big downward transposition.
- An odd, restrung arrangement of the ‘standard pattern’ – the whole guitar is raised up by a fourth, but the top two strings are then tuned down an octave. Developed by fusion virtuoso Frank Gambale for chord-melody playing (via “messing with a Nashville tuning patch on a Roland VG-88”). He describes it as a “revelation”, opening up many new 4-, 5-, and 6-note voicings – see this interview, and watch him demo it to Rick Beato.
D-A-D-F#-B-E (‘José González’)
- Like a cross between open D and standard (or ‘drop D lute’). Featured on many José González tracks, e.g. Crosses and Heartbeats (c1), also Jigsaw Falling Into Place (Jonny Greenwood) and Pink India (Stephen Malkmus)
C-G-D-A-B-E (‘Cello’, or ‘Haircut’)
- Resembles a cello’s four stacked 5ths, and can perhaps serve as a no-restring taster to Fripp’s NST layout above. Associated with Cut Your Hair by Pavement, also used on Weenie Beenie (Foo Fighters).
F-Ab-C-Eb-G-Bb (‘Alternating Thirds’/’Harmonic Tuning’)
- ‘Stack of thirds’ proposed by Dr. Costas Kyritsis, who mathematically analysed how to optimise access to every basic diatonic chord shape. His ‘harmonic tuning‘ places a different note on each string – but is otherwise deceptively simple, moving in a regular ‘loop’ of ‘minor 3rd > major 3rd’ (i.e. 3 frets, then 4 frets…or start the other way round). The idea is enticing, but hard to trace in the wild.
D-D-D-A-D-F# (‘Wind of Change’)
- An alternate form of open D maj showcased on Peter Frampton’s track of the same name. He recounts coming across it while browsing George Harrison’s guitar collection (“It’s a very strange tuning, but oh my God, it sounds huge…”)
F-C-F-Ab-C-F (‘Albert Collins’)
- Alternate open F min layout (‘open D min +3’) associated with legendary bluesman Albert Collins, who usually added a high capo to his Tele at 5th, 6th, or 7th fret.
E-E-E-E-B-E (‘Bruce Palmer’)
- Droning arrangement devised by Buffalo Springfield’s bassist Bruce Palmer, and made famous by his bandmate Stephen Stills at Woodstock on Judy Blue Eyes, as well as later on Déjà Vu, Word Game, Carry On, and Love the One You’re With (-4).
- 4 Plus 20 (CSNY), London Conversation (John Martyn), Treat Your Mama (John Butler), Fingerdance (Billy McLaughlin), Your Love Is Enough (Jon Foreman)
- Curious collection of notes, with three Bs and three other notes that overall resemble a strange inversion of either Em9 or Gmaj13. Used on most of Australian rock group Karnivool’s output – e.g. Shutterspeed, Simple Boy, New Day.
- Named for Lou Reed’s droning configuration on The Ostrich. Also used on All Tomorrow’s Parties and late into Venus in Furs. Soundgarden move it up a tone for Mind Riot, as E-E-E-E-E-E.
- Rob Scallon’s 7-string CABbage is surprisingly tasty, if rather impractical
- ‘There was once a mysterious guitarist from the Middle East, who would only teach in his local tuning…’
a.k.a. ‘Regular’, or ‘symmetric’ tunings – all strings are separated by the same interval. I’ve tried to make them somewhat accessible on a ‘normal’ guitar (listening links may be other transpositions), but some don’t really work with standard-gauge strings. Often better for giving insight into the ‘nature’ of the interval itself rather than for general playing:
G-A#-C#-E-G-A# (all minor thirds)
- [1-b3-b5-bb7: dim7 arpeggio from all notes] Melodically and harmonically constraining, but interesting as a radical way of shuffling your ear around and coming up with some strange new sounds. Discussed here.
E-G#-C-E-G#-C (all major thirds)
- [1-3-#5: augmented triad from all notes] Generally rare, but used to great effect by jazz guitarist Ralph Patt in the early 1960s, who sought to clarify his approach to playing Schoenberg and Coltrane’s melodic patterns. Also used by Tony Corman.
E-A-D-G-C-F (all perfect fourths)
- [Dmin11 chord tones] Works fine on a standard-strung guitar, and not so different to standard tuning. Most prominently used by Stanley Jordan as the canvas for his incredible two-handed ‘touch tapping‘ style, and also employed by other jazzers such as Ant Law and Tom Quayle.
C-F#-C-F#-C-F# (all tritones)
- [C-Gb tritone interval] Reachable on most guitars, and notable as the only tuning (with more than just one note) that preserves ‘lefty involution’ – i.e. the ability to play the ‘other way up’, and have intervals will work the same in either direction. (And no, the tritone was never ‘banned’ for being the devil’s interval…but it can create strange audiology paradoxes). Used tastefully by Shawn Lane on Tri 7\5.
A-E-B-F#-C#-G# (all perfect fifths, ‘Mandoguitar’)
- [maj13 or min11 chord tones] Akin to a violin, viola, cello, or mandolin. The cycle of 5ths, as the basis of much of the world’s music, is in some ways a very logical layout – although its melodic freedoms are counteracted by difficulties in voicing many common chords. Used well by jazz pioneer Carl Kress in the 1930s (e.g. Love Song, +1).
F-C#-A-F-C#-A (all minor sixths)
- [1-b6-3 = 1-3-#5: ‘wide’ augmented triad from all notes] Physically impractical without a restring at both ends – its open string range of 3-and-a-half octaves nearly matches the entire fretted range of a standard-tuned electric. Could work on a baritone with a ‘regular’ 1st string, but ‘all fifths’ would probably be a much better reference point.
Embracing imperfection: No guitar can ever be tuned perfectly. Some physical variance is ineradicable (e.g. ‘inharmonicity’, explored in the Impatient Meditation article) – and it’s unclear what ‘perfection’ refers to here anyway: ‘textbook’ string frequencies, or the ideal resonances for the music at hand?
To me, the latter is definitely more important – many styles can certainly benefit from a little ‘spice’, if applied properly (e.g. Delta blues, 12-string folk, shoegaze, classic Hendrix).
● We can’t escape microtonal ‘imperfection’, so why not embrace it? Don’t be afraid to nudge things around based on ‘feel’ to find a sound that works for you (…and the audience) – e.g. blues players may G3 string slightly, and Stefan Grossman goes further on his Lament for a Goodman. I used it to bring a slight ‘disbalancing’ effect on No Kanjira.
‘Just intonation’ tunings: You can tune some or all intervals to the ‘justly-intoned’ frequencies of the harmonic series, rather than rounding every note to its nearest ‘piano-key’ equivalent (more here).
e.g. with ‘Banjo’ (G-G-D-G-B-D), if you flatten the B by 0.14 cents to match the ‘JI maj 3rd’ then the open chord has a ‘purer’ resonance. For a more radical effect try ‘Overtones 4-9’ in its JI tuning, cent-modifying its intervals (1-3-5-b7-1-9) as follows:
● G6: (0) | B5: -14 | D4: +2 | F3: -31 | G2: (0) | A1: +4 (Play vertically on the less ‘deviant’ strings, and strum the others for washes of unique colour. More on this in a forthcoming Guitar World lesson)
‘Quarter tone’ tunings: Many Middle Eastern traditions, such as Arabic maqam, use ‘quarter tones’ (half-a-fret distances) and subtle intervals around them. Some, like Tolgahan Çoğulu, re-fret to access these frequencies (he even builds microtonal neck inserts from lego bricks).
● You can access a little of this flavour on a normal guitar by microtonally retuning some of the open strings and playing ‘vertically’, substituting some scale tones for their open string variants. e.g. tune the 5str up to B (+2 frets) and tune the 4str down to a quarter tone above it (-2.5 frets). Now, you can mimic having 24 frets to the octave!
‘Stretched tunings’: These are primarily designed to avoid unwanted microtonal influence. James Taylor’s is the most famous – he lowes each string by a small but precise amount to counteract the sharpening effects of inharmonicity and capo pressure. See my Tuning Puzzle for more, going into depth on the ‘harmonic beating’ method, and also check out Paul Davids’ sound comparison. This is Taylor’s configuration, albeit designed for the quirks of his own guitar:
‘Prepared’ guitar: Placing objects somewhere along the path of the strings enables you to escape the standard 12tet (’12-tone equal temperament’), by changing the string length relative to the (unchanged) frets.
● e.g. Stephen Weigel precisely wedges a pencil under the strings to reach 11edo tuning (’11 equal note divisions per octave’).
Raga tunings: Proper content on this coming soon, after I’ve finished Darbar’s Index of Hindustani Raga later in 2020. Example:
● Kalavati: A-A-C#-E-F#-G (-7|0|-1|-3|-5|-9). Tuned low for sitar-like buzz, and fine-tuned to be closer to the harmonic series: flatten C# by -14 cents and F# by -16. Can also sharpen E3 by +2 and flatten G by -4 for hyper-accuracy.
(here’s another one I made earlier:)
Joni Mitchell (more here)
- C-G-D-F-C-E: Coyote, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Ladies Of The Canyon (c2), Shadows And Light (-1)
- C-G-D-F-G-C: Hejira, My Secret Place (+1), In France They Kiss On Main Street (+2 & c2)
- D-A-D-F#-A-D: Blue On Blue, Amelia (-2), Court & Spark (c2), Both Sides Now (c4), Cactus Tree (c5), Night In The City (c5)
- Ab-Ab-Eb-Ab-C-Eb: This Flight Tonight, Electricity (c4)
- Eb-Bb-Db-F-Ab-Bb: Song For Sharon
- Bb-Bb-Db-F-Ab-Bb: Black Crow
Nick Drake (more here)
- Standard: River Man (c3), Time Has Told Me (c3), Things Behind The Sun (c4), Day is Done (c5), Horn (-1), Leaving Me Behind (possibly -2 & c2)
- B-E-B-E-B-E: From the Morning (c1), Time of No Reply (c3), Man in a Shed (c3), Harvest Breed (c4), At the Chime of a City Clock (c4), Northern Sky (c4), Fly (c4)
- C-G-C-F-C-E: Hazey Jane II, Pink Moon (c2), Hazey Jane I (c2), Parasite (c3), Which Will (-1), Hanging on a Star (-1)
- E-A-D-E-B-E: Voice From The Mountain (c1), Road (c2)
- E-A-D-F#-B-E: Cello Song (c6), Thoughts of Mary Jane (c6)
- C-G-C-F-G-E: Place To Be (c5)
Ben Howard (more here)
- C-G-C-G-G-C: many, including The Wolves (c3), The Fear (c3), 7 Bottles (c3), Old Pine (c5), Three Tree Town (c5). Often capoed to leave the 6str fully open, e.g. Everything (c3) and Diamonds (c7), or alternatively to exclude the highest two, e.g. Further Away, I Will Be Blessed, and Under the Same Sun (which otherwise take a capo at 5).
- C-F-C-G-G-C: Soldiers, Video Games, Follaton Wood (c3), A Hand to Hold (c5), Black Flies (c3 open 6str)
- D-A-D-G-A-D: recent songs, e.g. In Dreams, Am I in Your Light, Wildest Moments, and almost all of Noonday Dream
- C-F-C-G-F-C: Gracious, Promise (both c2)
- E-A-D-G-A-D: Keep Your Head Up
- Standard: seemingly only Wouldn’t Be a Lie (c3)
Michael Hedges (more here)
- Tended to tune individually for each track:
- C-C-D-G-A-D: Aerial Boundaries
- C-G-D-G-A-C: Bensusan
- B-A-D-G-A-D: The Funky Avocado
- D-A-D-G-A-D: Ragamuffin
- D-A-D-G-C-C: Ritual Dance
- A-B-E-F#-A-D: Hot Type
- D-A-C-G-C-E: Layover
- A-A-D-G-B-D: The 2nd Law
- D-A-E-E-A-A: All Along the Watchtower
- C-F-C-G-A-E: Magic Farmer
Jimmy Page (more here)
- D-G-D-G-B-D: Traveling Riverside Blues, Dancing Days, Black Country Woman, That’s the Way (-1), Bron-Y-Aur Stomp (-2), When The Levee Breaks (-2)
- D-A-D-G-A-D: Kashmir, Midnight Moonlight, Black Mountain Side (-1)
- D-A-D-G-B-E: Moby Dick, Ten Years Gone
- D-A-D-G-B-D: Going To California
- D-G-C-G-C-D: Rain Song
- E-A-E-A-C#-E: In My Time of Dying
- C-A-C-G-C-E: Friends, Bron-Yr-Aur, Poor Tom
- C-G-C-E-G-C: Hats Off To Roy Harper
My Bloody Valentine (more here)
- Standard: Only Shallow, Only Tomorrow, What You Want, When You Sleep (-1)
- F#-F#-F#-F#-C#-F#: Soon (may include an extra C# somewhere)
- D-A-D-D-A-D: Sometimes (tape sped +0.5)
- E-B-E-G#-B-E: Come in Alone (c2)
- F-C-F-A#-A#-G: Blown A Wish (c1)
- D-A-D-G-B-E: She Found Now (-1)
- G#-G#-D#-A#-A#-D#: Wonder 2
- E-A-B-G-G-E: I Only Said
Other notable quirks
- The Beatles: often repitched their guitar parts in post-production, e.g. slowing them down a semitone (I’m Only Sleeping, Yellow Submarine), or a tone (Strawberry Fields Forever, Rain), or even a full octave (Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da) – or raising them up a semitone (She Said, She Said), or a tone (Revolution).
- Neil Young: used D-A-D-G-B-D (‘double drop D’) and many other other lowered tunings in his live sets.
- Johnny Cash: sometimes tuned up a half-step (‘F standard’) in his early career – oddly, it seems, to fit with his low voice (e.g. he just about reaches a deep C, the 5th of the key, on ‘…mine’ on this version of Walk the Line).
- Soundgarden: many varieties of drop D – e.g. D-G-D-G-B-E (Superunknown, Dusty, Fresh Tendrils, Never Named), D-G-D-G-B-C (Like Suicide), C-G-D-G-B-E (Mailman, Limo Wreck) – big list here
- John Rzeznik: guitarist of the Goo Goo Dolls has used several drone tunings in the past, e.g. D-A-E-A-E-E (Name) and B-D-D-D-D-D (Iris).
- Machine Head: have traditionally tuned to ‘Db standard + 40 cents’, or transpositions of this. Other heavy guitar groups including Van Halen and Black Sabbath have done similarly, although it is unclear how deliberate this tends to be.
- Kelly Joe Phelps: sometimes tunes the string pairs on his 12str to ring with different notes – e.g. on See That My Grave is Kept Clean the 5str and 4str pairs are both tuned to D/A, and on Roll Away the Stone the whole guitar is tuned as C/G, G/D, C/G, E/B, G/D, C/G (more info on his tunings here).
- Albert King: the mighty bluesman was left-handed, but played a normal guitar upside-down. His exact tunings seeem to have varied, although Dan Erlewine, his former guitar tech, cites C-F-C-F-A-D (an open Fmaj9 voicing) as his choice circa 1989. (In John Mayer’s words, “Albert King is the reason guitar players break high E strings” – maybe his slacker tunings have a lot to do with this…).
See the rest of Raga Junglism’s ‘World of Tuning’ for more tuning ideas, approaches, and analysis. And for further info on altered setups, see these sites and books:
- William Sethares’ Altered Tunings Guide
- Jimmy Brown’s GW lesson: 10 Altered Tunings
- Stefan Grossman’s Book of Guitar Tunings
- Dick Weissman’s Comprehensive Tunings Guide
- Paco Sevilla’s translation of Altered Tunings in Flamenco
- Ranga Pae’s overview of Hawaiian Kī hō‘alu Tunings
George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them. Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here! everything here will remain ad-free and open access
George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.
Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!
everything here will remain ad-free and open access