Here’s a handy table that details all the best strings for drop tunings – from D Standard to Drop A….
Chances are, if you’re on this site, reading about drop tunings on guitar, you like metal or doom or sludge and you want to start playing in lower tunings to dial in that HEAVY guitar sound.
But if you’re a complete beginner or novice player, you might not be aware that tuning down your guitar comes with some potential pitfalls. For starters, guitars strings designed for standard tuning, most of the time, do not like being tuned down below standard.
You could potentially take a set of standard gauge strings to Drop D but that’d be about as far as you’d get before string tension became an issue. For instance, if your guitar is in standard tuning and you take it down to C Standard, for instance, the strings will feel awful – they’ll be wobbly and sound like crap.
This happens because the guitar strings you use for standard tuning and Drop D have a different gauge than the ones you use for much lower tunings like C Standard and Drop C and B Standard. As a general rule of thumb, the lower your tuning, the higher your string tension needs to be – without adequate tension you get fret noise.
Ideally, you want the exact same tension you had in standard tuning when you tune down. That way, your guitar will play the same, sound great, and stay in tune for longer – again, if the strings move too much, as they do when there’s not enough tension, they stretch more and lose their tuning quicker. Tension is king when it comes to playing in lower tunings. And this is where different string gauges come into play…
Best Guitar Strings For Every Tuning – D Standard To Drop A
- D STANDARD – D’Addario EXL117
- C STANDARD – D’Addario XL148
- DROP C – D’Addario XL148
- B STANDARD – D’Addario NYXL1356W
- DROP B – D’Addario NYXL1356W
- A STANDARD – DR Strings Drop-Down Tuning Big-Heavy
- DROP A – DR Strings Drop-Down Tuning Big-Heavy
Things To Keep In Mind
These are the strings that the team recommends. We have gigged all over the world with them, recorded with them, and practiced with them. If you want to play in a lower tuning than standard, the guitar string brands listed above are the ones you should be using.
How did we choose them? Trial and error over a period of years of touring, recording, and practicing. When you’ve played for a long time and tried LOADS of different brands and gauges, you eventually find some favorites. And right now, the ones listed in the table above are our firm favorites for the most common drop tunings.
Is there anything else you need to consider? Of course, we’re talking about guitars here – there’s ALWAYS something else to consider…
Before you even think about getting strings and tuning down, you need to first understand what kind of scale length your guitar has. Why? Because scale length has a direct effect on string tension, alongside tuning and string choice. Longer scale lengths mean higher amounts of tension on the strings, while shorter scale lengths exert less tension on the strings, all things being equal of course.
For instance, a Les Paul-style guitar has a shorter scale length than a Strat or Tele-style guitar. This means that, on the Les Paul, your strings would naturally feel more forgiving than they would on the Strat or Tele in standard tuning and using the exact same strings because the scale length is shorter, so there’s less natural tension acting on the strings.
Similarly, if you decided to tune the Strat or Tele down to, say, D Standard, you’d have more wriggle room with tension because these styles of guitars have naturally higher tension – the distance from the bridge to the nut, AKA scale length, is longer.
And this WILL affect how your guitar sounds, so it is important to understand A) what scale length you’re dealing with, B) what tuning you want to use. Once you know this, you will be able to make a better-informed decision about the best strings for your exact guitar model and style of playing.
Another example: if you have a baritone guitar, the scale length is even longer, so you’d have even more tension on the strings – using the same tuning and strings as we did above – and this would make it harder to play. When the tension is too high, the strings are harder to bend, for instance, and this will have a direct effect on your playing.
Material Construction – Nickel or Steel Strings?
When it comes to guitar strings – for electric guitars – the most common options, with respect to build materials, are nickel and steel strings. If you want to play metal – or doom or sludge – you’ll be using lots of fuzz, overdrive, and/or distortion. If you want a warmer, fuller sound you’ll want to go with nickel-base strings.
If, however, you’re after a more screeching, wild sound – or you’re a lead guitarist – you might want to consider steel strings. Why? Steel strings have WAY more attack and will rip through any mix, either live or in the studio or practice space. Me? I prefer to play rhythm guitar, so I always go for the warmth and depth of nickel strings.
Is Your Action Set Up Correctly For Lower Tunings?
You can change the strings, drop your tuning, buy an expensive guitar, and get all the pedals in the world. But if your guitar’s action isn’t set up, you’ll sound terrible. If you’re getting a lot of fret noise when playing and the tension of your strings is fine, it means your action is out of whack – you need to raise it.
Mercifully, this is very easy to do. When you do set about raising your guitar’s action, do it incrementally and VERY slowly, a little bit by a little bit, take your time. It will probably only need a very slight adjustment to get rid of the fret noise.
Don’t just eyeball it either, make sure you’re hitting the offending strings while you do it. You will know when the action is at the right height because the fret noise will stop.
And if you need more advice on different guitar tunings, make sure you check out our Guitar Tuning Resource Center – it has pretty much everything you’ll ever need to know about different guitar tunings inside it.
RichardRichard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.
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