Alternative Guitar Tunings

Top 4 Alternative Guitar Tunings

By Jason Hall
In Sep 4, 2021

Alternative guitar tunings are very popular amongst major artists. Other than the standard tuning on the guitar, there are many other tunings that we will explore below. As versatile as the guitar is, the vast majority of the time we spend playing the instrument exists in a fairly limited spectrum of possibilities known as standard tuning. Commonly referred to as E2 A2 D3 G3 B3 E4. But the status quo can be broken by tuning your strings to a multitude of different configurations that may inspire new creative opportunities for you. Below are some my favourites alternative guitar tunings that I recommend you give a shot.

Alternative Guitar Tuning 1: D A D G A D

This is also known as Celtic tuning. This guitar tuning involves tuning both E strings down to D and tuning the B string down to A. Playing all the strings open in this tuning produces a Dsus4 chord, giving it a unique sound that avoids being categorised as major or minor.

Example: Kashmir by Led Zeppelin.

Alternative Guitar Tuning 2: D-G-D-G-B-D

Also known as Spanish Tuning or Open G Tuning, this configuration spells out a G major chord. Thus this gives the guitar a strong major tonality by default. It was popularised by rock bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

Examples: ‘That’s The Way” by Led Zeppelin; ‘Fearless’ by Pink Floyd.

Alternative Guitar Tuning 3: Ostrich Tuning or E-E-e-e-e’-e’

This tuning involves tuning every string to the same note, such as E. On a side note, any note could be used for this tuning. The result is an open sound full of intense drone notes that be played in conjunction with moving chords to create extremely atmospheric music. Just be careful with this one as tuning each string to the same note won’t bode as well for old and rusty strings (see below).

Example: “Mind Riot” by Soundgarden.

Alternative Guitar Tuning 4: Drop Tuning: D-A-D-G-B-E

This tuning is very popular and varies from standard tuning only by dropping the low E string a full step down to D. Doing so increases the low range of the guitar and makes power chords playable using only one finger. It’s used by many heavy rock bands that favour a deeper sound. I especially enjoy using this tuning on acoustic guitar as the low D string creates a beautiful resonance and opens up many new creative possibilities. The low E string can be ‘dropped’ even further down if required, especially for heavy metal. The lower tuning depends on how bassy and menacing you’re feeling!

Example: Many songs by Tool, including ‘Vicarious’.

Note: Always be careful when fiddling with alternative guitar tunings and avoid extreme tunings as strings can break if they’re stretched hard enough. This is especially true if you’re not changing your strings regularly enough Have a look here to see how often you should charge your strings.

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• Currently a top music student at the University of the Witwatersrand • Can teach music theory up to grade 8 ABRSM. • Looks a bit like Kurt Cobain but can play like Jimmy Page • Can play the keys and guitar simultaneously • Gigs with a professional jazz quintet • Police clearance issued

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