Doom Metal is all about being heavy, slow and foreboding. Sure, you can achieve a heavy guitar sound in standard tuning. But there are several different Doom Metal tunings that the pros prefer. Today, we take a look at the top 5!
Doom Metal Tunings: Getting The Sludge Just Right
Over the past month or so we have talked about Doom Metal extensively. And to be fair, we can probably continue to talk about it for a long time. Doom Metal is one of the only genres of metal that really hasn’t changed too much over the years.
That isn’t to say that Doom and it’s genre offshoots aren’t interesting. Taking a sound that is generally pretty traditional and turning it into something new, is a talent all on it’s own. Because it is easy to copy Black Sabbath‘s first two albums and call it a day, but much harder to twist that sound into something wholly yours.
So we have talked about guitars, amps, and even pedals. Now it’s time to move on to our final phase…Doom Metal Tunings.
We are going to run through each tuning like this, as we try to explore why a tuning works:
- Notes for each string
- Suggested String Gauge.
- How does it work?
- Why should I use this tuning?
- Who else uses this tuning?
We will take an in-depth look at each tuning, and describe how it works. That way you can decide for yourself which one is the tuning for you. Take note, that the lower you go, you will have to change your string gauge. If the change in strings is drastic then you may need to setup your guitar.
Let’s dive into it!
#5 Doom Metal Tunings: Drop D/Db Tuning
This is a popular tuning amongst many guitarists because it is often one of the first “alternate tunings” you ever learn. This is one that we won’t be writing the notes out for, as the only string you are de-tuning is the Low E/Eb.
If you are just getting into Doom/Stoner/Sludge the Drop D tuning is where it’s at! Especially if you have played in Standard Tuning for a while. The low string being tuned down takes a little while to get used to. But it is definitely worth exploring!
Power chords will now be played with one finger across the lowest three strings, all on the same fret. This allows you to play a little more fluid, and also a little faster. This also changes how you play scales a little bit, especially if you anchor on the lowest string.
Drop D is the basis for a lot of the tunings that will be mentioned here. Almost all drop tunings are based on Drop D, just with different notes. There are tons of bands that have used Drop D:
- Early Melvins
- Early Fu Manchu
Drop D is like the starting point for learning about drop tunings. It gives you a good reference of how other drop tunings work, without needing to change much about your guitar, strings, or setup. Just tune down that lowest string one step down! So to make a D chord…
#4 Doom Metal Tunings: D Standard
Drop D is interesting because it changes the dynamic of how you play. But if you like standard tuning yet you want to go a little lower, then D standard is the way to go. Just like standard tuning goes from E to E… D standard tuning does from D to D.
Remember: 1st is always your highest string when tuning.
- 1st: D
- 2nd: A
- 3rd: F
- 4th C
- 5th: G
- 6th: D
D standard is used a ton in Metal music, and is probably most popular for being used by Metallica in the songs ” Sad But True” and “The Thing That Should Not Be”. Both of these songs are perfect examples of going slow and low.
Scales work the same way that they would work in standard tuning. You should use this tuning if you are familiar to chord voicings in standard, as it is identical…just lower in pitch.
While you can probably get away using a set of strings like 10’s, personally I recommend going a little heavier on the string gauge. This will maintain the same feel as playing in E standard. I use Ernie Ball 11-54 to ensure that the strings still feel natural and not too loose or floppy.
> GET THESE STRINGS
# 3 Doom Metal Tunings: Drop C
For modern doom metal, this seems to be the most popular option when it comes to tunings. Drop C is half a step down from D Standard. So the tuning is the same, but you just drop the 6th string down to C
- 1st: D
- 2nd: A
- 3rd: F
- 4th C
- 5th: G
- 6th: C
If you haven’t noticed a trend, we are just going a step or half-step lower each time, and dropping the thickest string. So drop C is almost identical to drop D. It works really well if you need a extra oomph for the lower notes and enjoy playing in drop D tuning.
There are tons of Doom/Stoner bands that play in drop C:
- The Sword
- Stoned Jesus
- Fu Manchu
- High on Fire
There are plenty of other big names that use drop C as well. That’s what makes it one of the most popular doom metal tunings. The single finger power chords make it easy to sludge your way through riffs, and drop C still retains tons of clarity. There may be a little bit of added bass to your sound, but you can simply adjust your amp settings.
As far as strings go, I use the same strings as mentioned above for D standard tuning. Once again, just dropping the bottom string doesn’t throw anything out of whack. The lowest string is a .54 in the Ernie Ball Set, and should handle the job fine.
#2 Doom Metal Tunings: C Standard
C standard is two whole steps down from E standard tuning. Like all of the other “standard” tunings, your chord voicings remain the same, as well as your scale patterns. It’s just LOW.
While the tunings above probably will not require any adjustments to your guitar, C standard is the tipping point. You will probably have to re-intonate your guitar. We will also have to go up a string gauge.
- 1st: C
- 2nd: G
- 3rd; D#
- 4th: A#
- 5: F
- 6th: C
C standard tuning is not as popular as drop C in the Doom Metal world. Some of the same bands that play in drop C, eventually moved on to play in C standard, or they switch back and forth between the two.
- High on Fire
- Queens of The Stone Age
- The Sword
- Royal Blood
- Chelsea Wolf
- Mrs. Piss
- Early Soundgarden
I enjoy playing in C standard. While it’s not the most popular of doom metal tunings, for some people the feel of standard tuning just works better for them. Sleep’s Matt Pike tends to favor this tuning. He used it on DOPESMOKER and Holy Mountain.
About the strings…
Ernie Ball makes a specific set for people wanting to tune this low. They call it the “Not Even Slinky” set. This set will be even feeling, and tight across all of the strings, even though you’re tuned two full steps down.
> GET THESE STRINGS
# 1 Doom Metal Tunings: Drop B
Drop B is pretty darn low. In fact, on the frequency scale you are heading into bass guitar territory. Drop B works just like any of the other drop tunings. I would say that this is primarily for a rhythm guitarist, as doing bends gets a little harder since you have upped the string gauge.
As far as the notes go, this one is just a little different. This is not just C standard with a dropped string. Drop B is a tuning all it’s own:
- 1st: C#
- 2nd: G#
- 3rd: E
- 4th: B
- 5th: F#
- 6th: B
As far as bands go, drop B is definitely not as popular when it comes to Doom Metal tunings, but there are a few bands that use it. And the bands that use it have an iconic sound because they are tuned so low. Some of these bands listed are more than just Doom Metal bands, but they certainly borrow from the genre often.
- Norma Jean
- Code Orange
As mentioned earlier, drop B is really low. Your Guitar will definitely need a full setup. I recommend “Mammoth Slinky” strings by Ernie Ball. This is a set of strings made especially for drop B or drop A tuning, and they work great. If you take a look at 7 string guitars (B standard) or baritone guitar sets, youll see that the Mammoth string gauges are pretty similar.
For this reason, you may need to cut the nut on your guitar, to fit the strings. You will also have to adjust the neck, string height, and intonation. I recommend using a specific guitar for drop B tuning, aside from your main guitar.
> GET THESE STRINGS
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Doom Metal Tunings: Is Lower Always Better?
Yes? Or maybe no?
This is totally up to your playing style, and the sound that you are going for. Personally, I like to play in different tunings because sometimes the sound will expand on a riff or idea that I have in mind. Or better yet, sometimes a tuning can help you come up with completely alien ideas!
I definitely play guitar a different way when in drop C, and the same with drop B. It’s all relevant. I like that you can force yourself to think in a more creative way. Guitar is a tool for making music, and anything that helps you think outside the box, is a good thing!
Likewise, if you like a certain band and you are inspired by their sound, then try out the tunings that they use.
On the devil’s advocate side of things, drop tunings are a good tool, but guitar is a mid-range instrument. I feel like if you go too low, you take the character out of the guitar that makes it…well, a guitar. This is why I didn’t list anything past drop B. I feel like anything past that is going into baritone territory.
So what are the best doom metal tunings? The ones that make you play different and better!
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Do I need to setup my guitar for Doom Metal Tunings?
It depends on how low you want to go. To keep even tension, you should use thicker strings for lower tunings.
Christoper HortonChristopher has been playing guitar and piano for 27 years. He has been active in the professional music industry for over two decades. He has toured for years with several bands and music projects. He worked in LA as a studio musician and engineer working with bands like IAMSOUND, Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk, Reflux, and Tripping Daisy. In between giving private lessons, he is recording a solo album for 2022-2023. Christopher plays Schecter guitars, BOSS amplifiers, and uses STL Tones in the studio.
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