Alternate tunings refer to pitch sets other than standard tuning, also referred to as non-standard or alternative. While musicians start off learning guitar in standard tuning, experimenting with alternate tunings is a progressive means of developing creatively as a musician. Many famous musicians even created their own alternate tunings (Nick Drake Tuning,"Iommi Tuning") and these are now a signature of their unique sounds.
The concept of alternate tunings is deep and wide with limitless possibilities. Whether you’re stuck in a rut with your guitar playing and songwriting or want to broaden your horizons as a guitarist, alternate tunings are an ingenious way to harness creativity.
Alternate Tuning Types
Step Down Tunings
They’re the easiest kind of tunings to get your head around. Quite simply, step down and step up tunings mean tuning all the strings on the guitar a given number of steps higher or lower than standard.
They typically start with standard tuning and then lower (drop) the pitch of a single string – almost always the low E string. By far the most famous dropped tuning, and the one you’re most likely to come across, is Drop D.
Open tunings make playing chords easy: by simply barring all the strings across a single fret, all similar chords in the chromatic scale can be played. They allow better intonation of chords, dialling out dissonance and creating a big chord sound.
'Standard' guitar tunings feature five perfect fourths and a major third because it’s convenient and comfortable for the guitarist and creates consonance between the outer strings.
One of the really great things about alternate tunings is that they’re not prescriptive. If you can’t find the sound you’re looking for with any of the tunings in our library, you can go out and make your own!
These are the most famous custom tunings, popularized by various contemporary artists. This guide did a great job at compiling a list of the best ones out there!
Most Popular Tunings
New to alternate tunings?
Check out these great articles to get you started:
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