6 Alternative Tunings Every Guitarist Should Try | How To

Consider how many hours you’ve spent crafting a sound through amplifiers, guitars and effects pedals with the intention of making it your own identity, only to feel that your lacking that certain something. An alternative tuning is what you’re looking for.

In this tutorial, I’ll explain how tuning your guitar to a nonstandard tuning gives your music a unique sound and approach and gives you an unique identity.

In this tutorial, I’ll cover the following topics:

  1. Equipment
  2. String gauges
  3. Setup
  4. Tuning tips
  5. Multiple guitars
  6. Types of guitar tunings

1. Equipment

Use a chromatic tuner. For tuning at home, a mobile phone application will be sufficient.

VITALtuner by Otreus Inc
VITALtuner by Otreus Inc

For live performing, invest in a chromatic tuner like the popular Boss – TU-3. Speed up the tuning process using a string winder.

String Winder by Jim Dunlop
String Winder by Jim Dunlop

2. String Gauges

You should restring a guitar with a different string gauge then the one you’re using for standard tuning. This helps in keeping the appropriate tension across the strings for consistency of tone and ease of playing.

When selecting a string gauge, you should be aiming for a gauge that gives you the same tension that the guitar was setup for, but with an alternative tuning.

The table below shows the average tension of a set of gauge 0.010 – 0.046 guitar strings.

Pitch String Gauge
E 0.010 16.2
B 0.013 15.4
G 0.017 16.6
D 0.026 18.4
A 0.036 19.5
E 0.046 17.5

Lets say you want to up-tune your 6th string from the standard E to a F—a rise of a semi-tone.

  1. Locate the tension for the 6th string (lower E) with a gauge of 0.046″ – This will be 17.5 Ibs.
  2. Now locate the closet string tension to 17.5 Ibs in the F column. The closet is 18.0 Ibs, which gives you a string gauge of 0.042″.
(Lower E)
c B A G F E D C
0.039 32.2 28.7 22.8 18.1 14.3 12.8 10.1 8.0
0.042 37.2 33.1 26.3 20.9 16.6 14.8 11.7 9.3
0.044 40.5 36.1 28.7 22.7 18.0 16.1 12.8 10.1
0.046 44.0 39.2 31.1 24.7 19.6 17.5 13.9 11.0
0.048 47.7 42.5 33.7 26.8 21.2 18.9 15.0 11.9
0.049 49.5 44.2 35.0 27.8 22.1 19.7 15.6 12.4
0.052 55.4 49.4 39.2 31.1 24.7 22.0 17.4 13.9

You may wish to use the site String Tension Pro in selecting the most appropriate gauge for your alternative tuning.

3. Setup

Be aware that the guitar may bow slightly, which is normal, due to a change in string gauge and tuning. If so, a setup will most likely be required, which will involve altering the truss rod to correct the bow of the neck, and bridge to correct string height and intonation.

You may find Fariz Pahlevi’s tutorial on setting up a guitar to be helpful.

4. Tuning tips

Always start with the 6th string. Once the strings are tuned, pull on each string about an inch between the neck and the bridge, most likely send them out of tune.

Repeat the process until pulling the strings from the fretboard doesn’t alter the guitars tuning.

5. Multiple guitars

If you’re performing live with, for example, three different alternative tunings ideally your going to need three different guitars for the following reasons:

  1. Repeated tuning wears on strings
  2. Strings don’t become immediately stable
  3. Setup will alter—neck relief, string height and intonation
  4. Retuning takes time

6. Types of Guitar

The alternative tunings have been divided into 6 types:

  • Dropped—D, Double D and B
  • Lowered
  • Open
  • Nashville
  • Signature

How to read the tuning tables below

  • The top row contains the string numbers—6th string being the lowest in pitch
  • The bottom row contains the pitches. If a pitch is in bold, then this indicates that this string is in non-standard tuning


Dropped D

Drop D is often the first alternative tuning that everyone tries. It’s not surprising given the amount of well known songs that have been created from drop D tuning and that it’s quick and easy to do.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommend listening:

  • Dear Prudence by The Beatles
  • Go by Pearl Jam

Double Dropped D

The same as dropped D but now with the 1st string detuned to D too.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommend listening:

  • Nobody’s Fault But My Own by Beck
  • Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young

Dropped B

Play a power chord on the 6th and 5th strings in dropped B and the playing octaves.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommend listening:

  • The Worm by Audioslave
  • March of The Fire Ants by Mastodon


This is when all the strings are lowered but at the same interval. You may find Ryan Leach’s tutorial helpful on intervals.

Lowered tuning is often used in hard rock and heavy metal music. Easy to play with guitars that have a high action or larger gauge strings or just to simply to keep in range with the voice.

One Half Step Lower

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st
Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb

Recommend listening:

  • Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix
  • The God That Failed by Metallica

Two Full Steps Lower

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st
C F Bb Eb G C

Recommend listening:

  • No One Knows by Queens Of The Stone Age
  • The Everlasting Gaze by The Smashing Pumpkins


Open tuning is where you tune a guitar to a chord.

So, for example, if you strummed the open strings with out fretting them it would play a chord. It can also be good for complete beginners, as you only have to use one finger to barre the strings to perform a different chord.

This tuning is also useful for rhythm or slide guitar.

Open G

As the root is played from the 5th string, it’s not uncommon to remove the 6th string from the guitar.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommended listening:

  • Walking Blues by Robert Johnson
  • Fearless by Pink Floyd

Open D

The open D has often has more bass to the sound then open G. This is due to the root note of the chord being on the 6th string, unlike the open G above where the root lies on the 5th string.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2nd 1st
D A D F# A D

Recommended listening:

  • Time for Me to Fly by REO Speedwagon
  • It Hurts Me Too by Elmore James


Sometimes refereed to as Celtic tuning, this catchy named tuning has found its way into folk and rock music.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommended listening:

  • Ain’t No Grave by Johnny Cash
  • Save It for Later by Pete Townshend


Nashville tuning was born in the home of country music. This doesn’t mean that it is used by country musicians only. It’s the same notes as standard tuning, but with the lower four strings (6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd) pitched an octave higher.

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2nd 1st

The EADG strings should be replaced with lighter unwound string gauges. You might one to read Toby Pitman’s tutorial for an more in depth look at Nashville tuning.

Recommended listening:

  • Dust in the Wind by Kansas
  • Skyway by The Replacements

Signature Tunings

Throughout guitar history artists have made a huge number of inspiring tones. Theses sound aren’t always created from amps and effect pedals alone. Below are a few guitarists who have sculptured their own sounds by exploring an alternative tunings that they have made their own.

Sonic Youth

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st
F# F# F# F# E B

Recommend listening:

  • Pipeline/Kill time by Sonic Youth

My Bloody Valentine

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2nd 1st
F# F# F# F# C F#

Recommend listening:

  • Swoon by My Bloody Valentine

Nick Drake

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommend listening:

  • Place to Be by Nick Drake

Jimmy Page

6th 5th 4th 3rd 2rd 1st

Recommend listening:


tuning can open up a whole new world of possibilities. I hope this tutorial inspires you to write a first piece of music in nonstandard tuning and maybe even to create your own tuning, giving you and your music an individual identity.

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