Alternate Tuning: Everything You Need To Know
by Frederik Nielsen, Jun 19, 2019 . 7 min read
We’ve covered alternate tunings extensively on this blog, and recommended several great songs you can learn to play with new tunings. We’ve even written an entire ebook on it.
But rather than have you randomly rummage around on our blog (you totally should!); We decided it would be great to have all the alternate tuning material in one place.
So, in this guide to alternate tuning, you will find
•First, the common alternate tunings you should try out;
• The different tunings created by famous guitarists
• AND, Where to find more alternate tunings
There are countless hours of education and entertainment here, so prepare to break off contact with your loved ones and postpone that Netflix marathon.
Common alternate tunings you should try
The list of possible guitar tunings is indeed a long one. Fortunately, you don’t have to learn every single one to discover the Holy Grail of rock stardom.
Below we’ll go through some of the most common alternate tunings used by the greats. Adding these to your repertoire will greatly improve your skills.
1. Open A tuning
The Open A alternate tuning is popular in Blues music, and we initially wrote about it in our blog on open alternative tunings you should try out.
How to tune your guitar in the Open A tuning
E A E A C# E
What can you play with Open A tuning? Check out these popular songs and see if you can nail one or two of them:
Led Zeppelin – In My Time of Dying
Robert Johnson – Cross Road Blues
John Mayall & Eric Clapton – Lonely Years
2. Open C tuning
The Open C alternate uses the three notes from the C major chord triad. We’ve previously written about how John Fahey has used it extensively in his music.
How to tune your guitar in the Open C tuning
C G C G C E
What can you play with Open C tuning?
John Fahey – Poor Boys Long Way From Home
3. Open D tuning
The Open D is quite similar to the Open E, and the latter can sound like the former if you put a capo on the second fret. Check out our article on how Joni Mitchell uses the Open D.
How to tune your guitar in the Open D tuning
D A D F♯ A D
What can you play with Open D tuning?
Joni Mitchell – Big Yellow Taxi
The Rolling Stones – You Got The Silver
4. Open G tuning
Open G tuning has been used by famous acts like Dire Straits, Jeff Buckley, and, of course, The Rolling Stones. You can read about how Keith Richards uses the Open G here on our blog.
How to tune your guitar in the Open G tuning
D G D G B D
What can you play with Open G tuning?
The Rolling Stones – Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’
5. Drop A tuning
Drop A is another favorite among rock bands, and we’ve mentioned several of its uses in our blog post on iconic alternate tunings you need to try.
How to tune your guitar in the Drop A tuning
A A D G B E
What can you play with Drop A tuning?
6. Drop D tuning
The infamous Drop D alternate tuning is a staple in the heavier rock divisions. Naturally, we’ve also covered this in our post on iconic alternate tunings — it’s simply too notorious to leave out.
How to tune your guitar in the Drop D tuning
D A D G B E
What can you play with Drop D tuning?
Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name
The Beatles – I Want You (She’s So Heavy)
7. Modal D tuning (DADGAD)
If you stopped and wondered what Modal D was, then don’t worry — everyone knows it as DADGAD. Fans of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin will know the power of the DADGAD tuning.
How to tune your guitar in the DADGAD tuning
D A D G A D
What can you play with DADGAD tuning?
Led Zeppelin – Black Mountain Side
Steel Panther – That’s When You Came In
Tip: many of these tunings come already built-in the Roadie Tuner.
Different tunings created by famous guitarists
We’ve covered some of the most common alternate tunings, and that should get you well on your way to the path of the virtuoso.
But actual virtuosos make up their own alternate tunings. So let’s have a look at some that have been popularized by famous bands and solo guitarists.
1. Darkness Within tuning (Drop B#)
Machine Head is largely credited with popularizing the Drop B# alternate tuning; But many other bands (including everyone’s favorite — Nickelback) have used it as well.
How to tune your guitar in the Darkness Within tuning
B F# B E G# C#
What can you play with Darkness Within tuning?
Machine Head – Darkness Within
2. Iommi tuning (Drop C#)
Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath had a problem; when he lost half of his right hand as a teenager. The solution to that problem was the Drop C# alternate tuning — and his signature sound.
How to tune your guitar in the Iommi tuning
C# G# C# F# A# D#
What can you play with Iommi tuning?
Alice in Chains – We Die Young
Avenged Sevenfold – Hail to the King
3. Nashville tuning (high strung)
The Nashville tuning is used in (you guessed it…) a lot of country and blues. However, it does require you to replace four of your six guitar strings in order for it to work.
How to tune your guitar in the Nashville tuning
Replace the E, A, D and G strings with lighter gauge strings and tune them an octave higher.
What can you play with Nashville tuning?
The Rolling Stones – Wild Horses
Iggy Pop & The Stooges – Gimme Danger
4. Nick Drake tuning
Now, Nick Drake has been known to use many an alternate tuning. But there is only one “Nick Drake tuning”. if you’re a fan of the man, this one is a must-have in your repertoire.
How to tune your guitar in the Nick Drake tuning
C G C F C E
What can you play with Nick Drake tuning?
The Tallest Man On Earth – A Field of Birds
Where to find more alternate tunings
As mentioned, there are many, many, many ways to tune a guitar — and any other stringed instrument, for that matter. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available on tunings.
We’ve done the heavy lifting for you and aggregated the best alternative tuning resources we could find online — so knock yourself out!
Ready to learn more?
Hopefully, you’ve got a good understanding of the many options you have with alternate tunings. In conclusion, this list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good foundation for the would-be virtuoso.
We actually have an entire ebook written on alternate tuning, and you’re welcome to grab it for free right here on our site.
PS: For those using a Roadie Tuner, trying different tunings will be as easy as tuning to standard. Roadie comes with a whole bunch of alternate tunings already preset. You can also create new tunings using the free Roadie Tuner app!