A Guide to Alternate Guitar Tunings

Andy McKee guitar player drop D tuning on guitar

A Guide to Alternate Guitar Tunings

One of the first things an aspiring guitarist learns is how to tune their guitar.

Everyone knows the standard tuning for a guitar is EADGBE (low to high) but there are a number of other tunings you can utilize to achieve new sounds and styles.

Here are a few alternate tunings if you are looking for a way to create some new interesting new sounds on your guitar.

Drop Tunings

A "drop" guitar tuning essentially refers to lowing the tuning of one string in relation to the other strings.

Andy McKee guitar player drop D tuning on guitar

Andy McKee, well known guitarist playing guitar in alternative tunings. This is very common for both electric and acoustic guitarists, but especially for fingerpicking guitar players.  

Drop D

The simplest and most popular dropped tunings is Drop D (DADGBE). This tuning is achieved by lowering the 6thstring of your guitar from an E  DOWN a whole step to a D.

Drop D is used in many styles of music from classical and blues to alternative rock and metal.

The lowered 6thstring opens up a lower register for bass notes and makes it easy to play power chords by barring the lowest 3 strings. 'Moby Dick' by Led Zeppelin, 'Killing in the Name of' by Rage Against the Machine, and most songs by Tool are some popular examples that utilize Drop D tuning.

A popular variation of this tuning is Double-Dropped D (DADGBD) which is achieved by dropping both E strings down to Ds.

Tommy Emmanuel Guitarist Guitar tunings

Drop C

The second most popular dropped tuning is Drop C (CGCFAD) . This tuning is essentially the same tuning as drop D with all the other strings ALSO detuned down an additional whole-step. This tuning is very popular among hard rock and metal bands because of its lower register and its ease when playing power chords.

You can drop all the strings down one more half-step to put your guitar in Drop B (B F# B E G# C#). This tuning has the same traits as Drop D or Drop C but in an even lower register, making it popular among metal bands such as Slipknot, Slayer, etc. Guitarists that play in these lower tuning regularly will often use a heavier gauge string. For example, the light E string tuned down 2 whole steps feel more like rubber bands that guitar strings (and often sound like them too.)

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Open Tunings

An open tuning is any tuning in which the open strings of your guitar make a chord. Most commonly, the chord created by the open tuning is a major chord, though it does not have to be.

Open A Major and Open G Major

Two of the most popular open tunings are *Open A Major (EAEAC#E) and  Open G Major (DCDGBD). Open tunings are very popular in folk and blues music. Since the open strings form a chord, you can play full chord progressions by barring all strings and moving around the fretboard.

This makes open tunings ideal for slide guitar. Some popular examples of songs in Open A and Open G are 'Crossroads' by Robert Johnson; 'Lonely Years' ; 'Walking Blues' by Eric Clapton; 'Tumbling Dice' by The Rolling Stones ; 'Seven Nation Army' by The White Stripes. Some other popular open tunings are Open D Major (DADF#AD) and *Open E Major (EBEG#BE).

Open Minor Tunings

Note that any of these open major tunings could easily be turned into open minor tunings by altering one note.

A minor would be EAEACE,

G Minor becomes DGDGBbD,

D minor is DADFAD, and E minor would be EBEGBE.

The benefit of using open tunings over other tunings is that the I IV and V chords are VERY easy to create. In all 4 examples above, you can play the I chord by playing all open strings, the IV chord by barring all strings at the 5thfret, and the V chord by barring all strings at the 7thfret.

Of course this isn’t the only reason these tunings are popular. If you experiment with these tunings, you will often find some very useful “2 finger” chords that still allow you to strum all 6 strings. Experiment and see what you can come up with!

Open Tuning Cheat Sheet

Open A Tuning= Strings 6, 5, 1 stay the same. String 4 goes UP a whole step to E from D, String 3 goes UP a whole step to A from G, String 2 goes UP a whole step to C# from B.

*Be careful with this one, tuning strings sharp can result in broken guitar strings if you haven’t mastered the art of using a tuner yet.

Open G Tuning=Strings 4,3,2 stay the same. 6,5,1 all go DOWN 1 full step.

Open D Tuning= Strings 5 and 4 stay the same. Both E strings go down to D. The 2ndstring goes DOWN a whole step to A from B. The 3rd string goes DOWN a half step to F# from G.

Open E Tuning=Strings 6, 2, 1 stay the same. The 5th string goes UP a whole step to B from A. The 4thstring goes UP a whole step to E from D. String 3 goes UP a half step to G# (or Ab on your tuner) from G. *Be careful when tuning strings UP above normal pitch. Tune slowly!

Other Tunings on the Guitar 

Standard Eb Tuning

One popular method of alternate tuning involves lowering or raising all of the strings of your guitar by one half or whole step. For example, lowering all your strings by one half step will result in Standard Eb Tuning (EbAbDbGbBbEb).

This slightly lower register appealed to many artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Guns N' Roses, Weezer, and Metallica. In fact, many Alternative Rock bands in the 1990s favored a guitar tunes down a half step.


(DADGAD) is another popular guitar tuning that is similar to the open tunings. Slightly different since all open strings don’t create a standard major chord. IN this respect,  DADGAD could be viewed as Open Gsus4 tuning.

This unique tuning has been used by many artists, including Johnny Cash and Ben Howard. 'Kashmir' by The Rolling Stones is one popular use of this tuning.

Now that you understand how these tunings work, make something interesting with them!

About the authors:

Eric Dieter and Mark Mara collectively have 45+ years of guitar experience. Together they teach all skill levels of guitar at Quarter Bend Guitar Studio.  Contact them if you are looking for the very best guitar lessons in Lancaster, PA.