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Alternate Guitar Tuning
Open Chord | Drop Tuning | Instrument | Cross-Note | Modal | Fripp's Standard | Nashville

   There are many different ways to tune the guitar, they vary from slightly off standard, (“concert pitch”), to as far away from standard as the imagination and the quest for a particular sound can take you. The most common use for an alternate tuning is in slide or “bottle-neck” guitar. In this method the slide is used instead of ones finger to create the intonation on the strings and  since the slide usually contacts all 6/12 strings the use of open chord tuning makes for a better sound. Alternate tuning is also commonly used in finger-style guitar where it allows the player to create sounds that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, in standard tuning.

Open Chord Tuning is, as the name implies, tuning the guitar to match the notes of a particular chord.

Drop, Slack or Hawaiian Tuning is when one or more strings are lowered a half step or more.

Instrument Tuning is when the guitar is tuned to match that of another instrument, (banjo, mandolin, balalaika…).

And an interesting tuning I particularly like called Nashville Tuning.

   There are  probably others, but I'll stick to those I'm familiar with, and  those listed below are just the more common ones. The number of different tunings available to the guitarist are only limited by the  imagination and of course the maximum number of permutations allowed by six strings and twelve notes. Keep in mind also that these tunings can be made into a  minor (cross-note), diminished, suspended (modal), etc. by moving the respective intervals, (see chord structures), and that for obvious reasons the traditional chord formations are going to change, sometimes considerably, based on the tuning used. All Tunings listed are from Low string (6th) to High string (1st).

  Open Chord Tuning
Creates a nice droning effect when played, due to the repetition of the notes composing the triad,
and a lot of sound can be attained with minimal effort from the fret hand.

  Open Tuning has the strings tuned for an open chord without fretting. Other chords may be played by simply barring a fret or by using a slide. Open tunings are common in blues folk, and some rock music. They are particularly used in steel guitar and bottle-neck guitar playing.

C tuning - C, G, C, G, C, E 
(William Ackerman's - Townsend Shuffle and John Fahey's - Requiem for Mississippi John Hurt)

G tuning – D, G, D, G, B, D
(CharliePatton - High Water Everywhere,  Robert Johnson - Travelin' Riverside, John Hammond - Drop Down Mama, and Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines. Jorma Kaukonen - Water Song, James Taylor - Love Has Brought Me Around, Ry Cooder - Available Space, Nancy Griffith - Love at the Five and Dime, and many other artists. It's purported to be Eric Clapton's favorite slide tuning.)

D tuning -  D, A, D, F#, A, D 
 (Joni Mitchell- Big Yellow Taxi and the Allman Brother's - Little Martha)

A tuning – E, A, C#, E, A, E
(Common in Delta blues and bottleneck tuning)

Drop Tuning
Lowers one or more strings in pitch and is likely the most common of the alternate tunings.

Drop D tuning – D, A, D, G, B, E
Probably   the most common alternate tuning, because it is easy to get to, (only the low E string is lowered), and because most chords and scales remain unchanged from standard tuning. The  Beatles, Pete Seeger, James Taylor, Happy Traum, and Jorma Kaukonen have all written and/or recorded tunes in the Drop D tuning. This tuning is used frequently in folk music, but has found common use in the rock and heavy metal genres as well. It allows chords/power chords to be played with a single finger on the bass strings

Double Dads – D, A, D, D, A, D - This tuning was popularized by Crosby,
Stills, Nash and Young in their songs Four and Twenty.
( Suite: Judy Blue played in  E,  E,  E,  E,  B,  E, can be played quite nicely in double dads as well)

Dadgad  - D, A, D, G, A, D -    Used by Davey Graham (attributed with the invention of dadgad), John Renbourn, Michael Hedges, Bert Jansch,  Martin Simpson, Jimmy Page, Nick Drake, Stefan Grossman, John Hoskinson

D modal tuning - D, A, D, G, A, D and D, A, D, A, D, D
D, A, D, G, A, D is now encountered in Celtic music and contemporary music.     

Bruce Palmer modal tuning / Stephen Stills - E, E, E, E, B, E.
String 5 must be tuned down to E, though string 4 would be tuned up to E. String 3 would be tuned down to E. This tuning was used for his interludes on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.

Instrument Tuning
Tuning the guitar to match a different instruments tuning.

Balalaika - The balalaika is a three stringed Russian folk instrument with a characteristic triangle  shaped body.     
Balalaika tuning - E, A, D, E, E, A

Cittern - The cittern (cithern) is a stringed instrument of the lute/guitar family dating from the Renaissance
Cittern (1) tuning - C, F, C, G, C, D
Cittern (2) tuning - C, G, C, G, C, G

Dobro is a type of guitar with a metal resonator, commonly played across the lap with a slide.
Dobro tuning - G, B, D, G, B, D

Russian Open G - D, G, B, D, G, B, D (the standard tuning for the Russian seven string guitar).

Cross-Note Tuning

Cross-note Tunings - Since we guitarists love those minor chords, open tunings can be adapted by lowering the pitch of one of the strings forming the open chord by half a step. Such tunings are referred to as "cross-note tunings". By fretting the lowered string at the first fret, it is possible to produce a major chord very easily. Cross-note tunings include

Modal Tunings-
These can be especially effective with droning open strings.

Modal tunings include:

Robert Fripp's "New Standard Tuning" - C, G, D, A, E, G
This is a tuning devised by Robert Fripp of King Crimson, The tuning is similar to all fifths except the first string is dropped from B to G'.

Nashville Tuning is a little more involved than just tuning your guitar differently.  It's also known as high-stringing a guitar and different strings need to be used. The low E, A, D, and G strings are tuned one octave higher like on the 12-string guitar.

Replace the low E string with a lighter gauge D string (.027 - .032 gauge)

Replace the A string with an un-wound B string (.014-.019 gauge), or by a wound G string (.022- to.026 gauge). I prefer using the G string.

Replace the D string with an E string (.012- .014 gauge) or a B string (.014 - .019)

Replace the G string. With an un-wound E string (.009- .013 gauge).

So basically from low to high you have replace the 6th "E" with a D string, the 5th "A" with B or G string, the 4th "D" with a B string and the 4th "G" with an E (1st) string.

Tune the replaced strings 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6t, one octave higher than standard, the 1st and 2nd string are tuned normally.

This is called High Stringing for a Reason, the tension applied to your guitar’s neck is increased, so it’s best not to leave it this way for extended periods, or you can lower the tuning down a step and capo on the second fret.

A free, easy to use chord finder for PC with alternate tuning capability can be downloaded here. Courtesy of Sami Saarnio

The Music Staff | Rests | Dotted Notes | Tied Notes | Timing | Time Signatures | Music Notation | Chromatic Scale | Major Diatonic Scale
Minor Diatonic Scale | Scale Modes | Complimentary Scales | Pentatonic Scale | Blues Scale | Chord Theory | Circle of Fifths
Alternate Guitar Tuning | Finger Picking | More Fingers | Intonation

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