You can tune your guitar however you like but there are certain guitar tunings that are most commonly used by professionals and amateur players alike. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the seven most common…
Most guitarists cut their teeth in Standard tuning. If you pick up a guitar in a store, it’ll be tuned to standard. Most classic rock and pop is in standard. This is why 99.9% of guitarists learn to play in standard.
But standard guitar tuning is just one of many different and alternative tunings you can use on the guitar. And the type of tuning you end up using will largely depend on the type of music you want to play. From metal and funk to sludge and doom, there’s a myriad of guitar tuning options out there. But what are the most commonly used guitar tunings?
There are far more alternate guitar tunings than we’ve listed below. If we listed them all, this post would be 10,000+ words long. Instead, we have focussed on the most commonly used guitar tunings in classic rock and metal during the last 50 years, covering everything from standard tuning to open tunings and, of course, drop tunings.
The 7 Most Commonly Used Guitar Tunings In Rock & Metal
1. Standard Tuning
The most commonly used guitar tuning across all genres of music is, of course, standard tuning, whereby the guitar is tuned as follows: EADGBE. If you buy a new guitar, it will ship to you in standard tuning. If you pick up a guitar in a store, it’ll be tuned to standard. Nearly all classic rock, folk, and blues are played in standard tuning. There’s a reason it is called “standard” after all.
You might think “standard tuning” is boring, that to achieve massively heavy sounds you need to tune down. Well, I’d invite you to listen to Metallica, OPETH, and Dillinger Escape Plan – they all play in standard, and the latter two are about as heavy as it comes. Plus, all the greats – Hendrix, Clapton, Blackmore – all played in standard too, although a few of them, Hendrix, for instance, liked to tune down half a step for a slightly lower tone.
2. Drop D Tuning
When most people think of Drop D tuning, they think of nu-metal. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit. And while it is true that Drop D was massively popularised by these bands in the early 2000s, Drop D had been doing its thang well before Fred Durst and Munky from Korn entered the scene. The Beatles used Drop D, Kurt Cobain played in Drop D a lot and quite a few blues players from back in the day.
With Drop D tuning, your strings are tuned as follows: DADGBE, so it is standard tuning with the sixth string dropped one whole step from E to D. This little hack allows you to play power chords with one finger, as the root and the fifth are now on the same fret, whereas in standard they’re located two frets lower on the A and D string. This means you can rip through power chords faster, and this is why Drop D is used A LOT in metal.
The other reason Drop D tuning is so popular is because it sounds heavier and darker than standard tuning. In standard, the lowest note you can play is an E, but in Drop D you can go one step lower and play a D – and a D will always sound lower than an E. And this “lowness” helps make your riffs sound meatier, more full.
Bands That Use Drop D Tuning: Lamb of God, Nirvana, Foo Fighters, TOOL, Deftones, The Beatles, Neurosis, Slipknot, Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold
3. D Standard Tuning
Not to be confused with Drop D tuning, D Standard tuning is where you drop each string on your guitar down a whole step. In Drop D, you only drop the sixth string down one full step. This tuning is popular with bands like Mastodon as it creates a much darker tone but gives you all the freedom of playing in standard tuning.
In D Standard tuning, your guitar strings are tuned as follows: DGCFAD. As you can see, each string is one step down from standard. The E goes to D, the A goes to G, the D goes to C, and so on. If you learned in standard, all the scales, shapes, and patterns you spent decades learning all work the same, albeit in a different key.
In many respects, D Standard is an easier tuning to use than Drop D, especially if you’ve only ever played in standard tuning. You have to play power chords the same, all your scales work the same, but you get a much lower, heavier sound that is really good for metal and rock music, as well as blues.
Bands That Use D Standard Tuning: Mastodon, OPETH, Death, Dream Theater, CKY, Children of Bodom, Chelsea Wolfe
4. Drop C Tuning
If you want to get real heavy, real quick, Drop C tuning is where you want to turn next. Like Drop D tuning, with Drop C tuning you can play power chords with one finger. That’s because, once again, the root and the fifth have been smushed together on one fret. But unlike Drop D tuning, you will need to tune down all the strings on your guitar in Drop C.
Basically, to tune your guitar to Drop C you need to tune it to D Standard (DGCFAD) and then drop your sixth string down another whole step to C. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be in Drop C tuning and you will immediately notice how much heavier EVERYTHING sounds. This type of tuning is great for metal, doom, and drone metal.
Bands That Use Drop C Tuning: Converge, Sleep, High on Fire, Deftones, Mastodon, The Sword, August Burns Red, Stoned Jesus, Ministry
5. Drop B Tuning
As the name suggests, Drop B tuning is two and a half steps lower than standard tuning. And you can do Drop B tuning in two ways:
- Method One (BADGBE) – the first is when you tune down your sixth string to B and leave the rest in Standard tuning, as you do in Drop D tuning.
- Method Two (BGbBFAbDb) – The second, and most popular method, requires you to tune down ALL of your strings. This method is most popular because it creates a denser, lower sound. And if you’re tuning down, that’s what you’re looking for, so you might as well go all the way.
If your guitar is set up for standard tuning, or even Drop D tuning, you may need to get thicker strings to play in Drop B or lower. The reason for this is simple: as you lower the tuning of your strings, they lose tension, and this can create noise and annoying vibrations. For lower tunings, you’ll want to use specific guitar strings designed for Drop B and Drop C tunings.
Bands That Use Drop B Tuning: Machine Head, At The Gates, Three Days Grace, Disturbed, Halestorm, Linkin Park, Sevendust.
6. Drop A Tuning
If Drop B isn’t low enough for you, you can always take it one step further with Drop A tuning. In Drop A tuning your guitar is tuned as follows: AEADF#B – this results in a ridiculously low sound that is ideal for sludge metal, doom, drone metal, and anything else that is slow and dirty.
When you’re dealing with Drop A tuning you will also come across something called enharmonic pitches. What are enharmonic pitches? Basically, on your second string in this tuning, the note is sometimes written as F# or Gb. These two notes sound exactly the same but they have different names. You can use either, it doesn’t matter. But it is confusing, so I wanted to address it.
Drop A tuning is a pretty extreme tuning for a six-string guitar, so you will need to change up the strings you’d normally use. I recommend using .012-.056 gauge strings. This gage of string will allow you to tune down to Drop A and play normally. Do not try this tuning without swapping these strings in, it will sound awful – trust me, I know from experience.
Is Drop A necessary? I’d argue no; I think you can get all the heaviness required for metal, doom, and drone metal with Drop C tuning. Hell, even D Standard can sound heavy enough – just listen to early Mastodon records if you don’t believe me. As with all tunings, it is entirely up to you what you use. Drop A is pretty extreme, but you can get some great sounds out of it with the right setup.
Bands That Use Drop A Tuning – Whitechapel, Carnifex, Suicide Silence, The Acacia Strain, Nile, Salt The Wound, Mastodon
7. Open G Tuning
Open G Tuning is a bit of a weird one. It isn’t used all that often, but it is a fairly common tuning in rock and blues. In Open G Tuning, you tune down to the sixth string to D, the five to G, the fourth to D, the third to G, the second to B, and the first to D, giving you DGDGBD.
As you can see, there’s a lot of D and G in there. This makes transitioning from playing in standard to Open G Tuning actually pretty easy, providing you know your musical alphabet. If you know your D and G strings, you’re basically good to go.
Open G Tuning is most famously used by Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. With Open G Tuning, you can play a G major chord simply by strumming all the open strings. Pretty cool, right?
With other chords, you simply barre across all the strings to play them. Want to play an E chord, barre the strings on the second fret, and, BOOM, you’re playing an E chord. Similarly, if you wanted to play an F, you’d just barre across the third fret and so on.
Bands That Use Open G Tuning: The Rolling Stones, Coldplay, Muddy Waters, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, George Thorogood, The White Stripes
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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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