Making Music with Marshall

Alternative Tunings

Posted: 25 August 2020

Once you've got to grips with guitar it's time to get your head around alternative tunings, which can help you find new chords, and phrases and open a new world of creative freedom.

Although the standard tuning of EADGBE has dominated most western popular music, there’s still a great deal to be said about alternative tunings. Some alternative tunings are heavily used in certain genres and experimenting allows you to expand your playing and better understand your guitar. Below we go through the most popular alternative tunings and how they’re used.

Read time - 4 mins

Drop D

One that most people may be familiar with is ‘Drop D’. This is where you take the first E string and tune it down one whole step. Creating DADGBE from standard. This tuning is primarily used in rock and metal, you can hear it used in popular tracks by Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Rage Against The Machine and countless others. As the Drop D has taken the First E string down a whole step, the tuning allows you to fret the first 3 strings in any position to create a power chord with one finger, barring them with your index finger.

Popular songs in Drop D:

Foo Fighters - Everlong
Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name
Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun

E flat standard - Also called Half step down

A commonly used tuning, Half step down does exactly what it says on the tin and takes all the strings down a semitone to Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb. This is great for singer/songwriters who sing in slightly lower ranges as it allows them to play first position chords and sing with ease. This tuning also allows some tension release on the fretboard which helps for string bends and fretting.

Popular songs in Eb standard:

Weezer - Say It Ain't So
Guns N' Roses - Paradise City
Smash Mouth - All Star

Open D

Similar to DADGAD, the Open D tuning takes your open Dsus4 chord to a D major chord tuning. Tunings for each string are D A D F# A D. As the tuning is open, it’s ideal for using a slide across the fretboard, and as a result is often used for blues.

Popular songs in Open D:

Rolling Stones - Street Fighting Man
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi
Seasick Steve - Walking Man

Open G

Similar to the technique used with Open D tuning, open G takes your standard tuning to DGDGBD. This tuning was also a favourite of Keith Richards who usually removed the bottom D string to make his chord playing sound more open. Open G tuning makes for comfortable barre chords using your index finger, allowing your other fingers to fret the D or G strings two frets up for further embellishments.