Getting the right strings for Drop C Tuning can be a hard choice. Heck, getting the right strings for any tuning can be a real pain. Today we check out the 5 best brands for tuning down low.
Finding The Best Strings For Drop C Tuning: Why Strings Matter
Drop C is a very popular tuning across several Metal genres these days. Drop C tuning really became popular with Doom Metal enthusiasts like Sleep, and The Sword. But there has also been a revival with Prog Rock genres too, with bands like Periphery. Some other genres like Metalcore also use Drop C, like Norma Jean and Converge.
Personally, I’m glad it is being utilized in so many different ways! Drop C is a fun tuning to use for a myriad of different reasons.
Drop C is pretty versatile, and works the same way that Drop D tuning works in theory. The two lowest strings work in tandem to make a one finger power chord. This means you can play faster riffs, easier. I also like that Drop C is a low tuning, while still keeping the guitar in the “mid range” of the mix. It’s heavy, but not too heavy.
While tuning lower definitely makes things sound a little heavier, alternate tunings are more than just that. Different tunings can be a “secret weapon” for your band. Utilizing different tunings can change the way you write a song or riff. I know if I am in a rut, I usually try out a different tuning to see if it opens any new doors to my creativity. Nine times out of ten, it helps me come up with a new idea!
I like to look at tunings like a piece of gear. If you are looking for a new sound, or a new way of writing songs, then sometimes a different guitar pedal might be the key to finding your new voice. I look at different tunings as a tool, and Drop C can definitely change the way you write a riff… or even a whole album!
But what is Drop C tuning?
Drop C is the whole guitar tuned down a full step to D standard, with the heaviest string tuned down another step . From highest string to lowest, the tuning is:
- 1st: D
- 2nd: A
- 3rd: F
- 4th: C
- 5th: G
- 6th: C
So tuning down this far might sound really cool, but you need to prepare! Your strings for Drop C are going to be much different than the ones that you use for standard. They definitely need to be a heavier gauge to compensate since you’re going down. Lighter gauges used for standard tuning will probably be pretty floppy.
This is particularly true when considering the scale length of your guitar. If you’re not sure what the scale length of your guitar is, I recommend you check out our Complete Guide To Scale Length. This way, you can make sure you have the right strings for the specific brand of guitar you own!
*Pro Tip: Your guitar may require a setup when making changes to your tuning. There are tons of bridge variations, and guitar designs out there. But I have never had to make many adjustments for Drop C tuning on a fixed bridge guitar.
We will discuss scale length, and how it effects each set of strings on this list. We will also discuss play styles, and how the string gauges will make a difference in the way you play. So let’s take a look at our picks for the best strings for Drop C!
#3 Ernie Ball “Not Even Slinky” 12-56
Ernie Ball has been around for quite some time, and the company is one of the most used brands on the market! Our #3 pick is a great place to start in your search for the best strings for Drop C tuning. But this set is also made for a very specific purpose, if you ask me.
This set is one of the best picks when it comes to strings for Drop C because it will work great for just about every scale length. So it doesn’t matter if you play a guitar with a shorter Gibson-style scale, or the more modern 25.5 scale.
I like to use this set for heavy rhythm playing, mostly. For some people, these strings will seem a little too heavy for Drop C tuning, but that’s exactly why I like them! The 12-56 gauge is great for keeping the lower strings nice and tight. For me, it’s perfect for chugging and riffing!
These are also great for people that like to pick hard, or aggressively. Often, if you are tuned down, you might find the lowest string a little “floppier” than you’re used to. This can cause the strings to go a bit sharp if you hit them hard. This also applies to using “big” chords that utilize several strings. The “Not Even Slinky” set keeps even tension across all the strings.
So these are perfect for the riff enthusiast, and they are pretty balanced when it comes to using them with different scale lengths. If this is the first time you are trying to find strings for Drop C tuning, the “Not Even Slinky” set is the perfect place to start. This set is extremely versatile.
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#2 D’Adarrio NYXL 11-52
D’Adarrio is another brand that has been around for years, and are very trustworthy. I often switch between Ernie Ball and D’Adarrio as I think both companies make great products. However, the NYXL line of strings for Drop C tuning is something totally different than what other brands offer.
The 11-52 gauge set is another versatile option when looking for strings for Drop C tuning. When it comes to scale length, I personally think these work best with “Fender Scale” or 25.5”. But I have also tried them on a Les Paul before and I was pleasantly surprised. With any scale length, this set just works.
NYXL string sets are made to be more stable, and brighter than other string brands. I have tried them out before, and I actually agree with the claims! The NYXL sets that I have tried have taken less time to break in, and the stay in tune longer. The secret is in the way the strings are wound.
NYXL strings are based on a nickel plated steel wrap, but they still feel like regular nickel strings. The steel core doesn’t make them feel any different, but it does boost mid frequencies a bit, and makes the string more durable. I have never broken an NYXL string before, so I tend to believe their claims to endurance.
This gauge is perfect for people looking to be able to chug on the heavier strings in Drop C, but also retain some elasticity in the treble strings for solos. This is a slightly lighter gauge, and that makes bends easier. Some people may find the lower strings a little too “floppy” for their tastes. Especially with a shorter scale guitar, like a Les Paul.
So if you need your strings for Drop C to be a tad more “bendy”, this is the perfect set. These are also optimal when dealing with a Floyd Rose bridge, or any other type of locking tremolo since sometimes thick strings can cause a problem in the string blocks.
I have one honorable mention that I recently discovered, before we get to the #1 pick.
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Honorable Mention: DR Strings Drop Down Tuning 11-54
Oh DR Strings, why do you have to use the spider picture on the box? I hate spiders! But you definitely got my attention with the picture! DR Strings is a brand that I have never tried until this year. I was sent this set from a promotional offer, and I was pleasantly surprised!
DR Strings is one of those brand that you always see in the guitar shop, but you probably never thought about buying. If you are looking for something different, these might be your new favorite strings for Drop C tuning! That is, if you can get past the spider!
I didn’t have any tuning issues with the DR DDT set, and they sounded great. I used them on a short scale guitar, or “Gibson Scale”. These held nearly perfect tension across the board and were still great for playing solos. In fact, these didn’t FEEL as heavy as they are. Which is a very good thing!
I couldn’t put DR Strings at the number one spot, as I have not used them for an extended period of time. But I had to mention them because they were very nice for the limited time I got to use them. But I always go back to my #1…
#1 Ernie Ball Paradigm 11-54
Ernie Ball comes in at #1 for me, but this is not your regular set of strings. When a string company makes claims like “unbreakable” or “corrosion proof” it is usually easy to write it off as a gimmick. But a couple of years ago, I took a chance and paid the extra money for the Ernie Ball Paradigm Strings for drop C tuning. I was more than impressed.
I have used these strings for Drop C tuning on both types of scale lengths, and I find that this set works great for ANY scale length. The tension is near perfect for me, and they hold tune wonderfully with all scale lengths (I use them on my baritone also).
Ernie Ball makes some pretty big claims with the Paradigm series:
“PARADIGM continues our legacy of tone by pushing the boundaries of what a guitar string can be – stronger, more durable and longer lasting, without compromising the sound or feel. Our new state-of-the-art wire drawing process coupled with our patented RPS (reinforced plain string) technology dramatically increases tensile strength by up to 35% and provides up to 70% more fatigue strength than traditional strings.
PARADIGM wrap wire uses an exclusive plasma enhanced process to remove defects and greatly improve corrosion resistance. Our patented Everlast nanotechnology is applied once the strings are wound, changing the way they react to moisture and oils. Get strings that last longer and sound fresher – without the tone-killing side effects of a coated string.”
That sounds like a lot of BS huh? Well I am happy to report that there is no BS here at all. These are the real deal.
I noticed that my usually very corrosive sweat seemed to have no effect on the Paradigm strings. I usually change strings every two weeks, because they rust and corrode. These lasted me over a month, giving me twice the time I get from a regular set of strings.
My main guitar for Drop C tuning also happens to have a Floyd Rose tremolo system. This causes strings to sometimes break when you do a heavy dive-bomb with the whammy bar. I saw the videos of people abusing the strings, and I tried it out myself. I could not get the strings to break.
They also sound great to my ears. I have used coated strings before to combat corrosion, and they generally sound “dull” to me. Paradigm strings sound nice and bright, and they stayed that way for me, well over a month. I am not an easy person to impress, but Ernie Ball definitely managed to do that, and more!
I will say though, these are double the price of regular strings. Is it worth it? It is for me.
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The Best Strings For Drop C Tuning: Final Thoughts
When it comes to strings for Drop C tuning, everyone will have a different opinion on what is “the best”. And that’s ok…we have tons of different options out there, and everyone is unique when it comes to preference. I picked these 3 because I actually have used them, and they just work.
This list primarily works as an intro to what gauges work the best for Drop C tuning. Some people’s ideas will widely vary. But this is a great jumping off point if you ever wondered how to get the right strings for Drop C tuning.
Is Drop C tuning worth it?
Drop C tuning can be really useful when it comes to taking a different approach to writing riffs. It works the same as Drop D tuning, but is a full step lower. This is a popular tuning in Metal music.
Does string gauge matter when tuning down?
Yes! It absolutely does. Using the right string gauge for the tuning you are trying to achieve will make your playing experience more enjoyable.
What are the lightest gauge strings I can use for Drop C tuning?
Personally, I would not go below the standard 11-48 gauge sets that are popular across all brands. Having a tighter fit with the bass strings is very important to your tone. You ant overall good tension.
Is Drop C tuning hard to learn?
If you already know your way around Drop D tuning, it is essentially the same, just one step lower than Drop D. Chord voicings and such remain the same.