May 05, 2016 by Don Russo
Alternate Guitar Tunings
After studying the guitar for many years, one of my favorite things to do is to twist the tuners into a different tuning. It forces me back to basics of just experimenting and relying on my ears. I find this is a great way to explore creativity. I’m gonna explain some common alternate guitar tunings, share some more obscure ones, and talk about how to create some of your own.
Common Alternate Guitar Tunings
Drop D: D A D G B E (all Tunings are Low E to High E left to right)
This is the most common alternate tuning. Simply lower your low E to a D. This gives you a nice lower sound and an easy way to make power chords. You’ll find this tuning from rock to finger-style.
Double Drop D: D A D G B D
This guitar tuning is similar to Drop D except that you move the high D down as well. From here you can maneuver into a few other tunings:
Dadgad: D A D G A D
This tuning is just like its name suggests.
Ex. tune: “Barton Hollow” by The Civil Wars
Open D: D A D F# A D
Open G: D G D G B D
This tuning is used a lot by Rolling Stones lead guitarist, Keith Richards. Although, he sometimes took off the Low D string as it “got in the way.”
All of the above tunings are very similar.
Other alternate guitar tunings include:
Open E: E B E G# B E
This is a great slide guitar tuning. Make sure you have extra strings handy, because you just might pop a string tuning to this one.
More Alternate Guitar Tunings
Shift that G# down to F# and you have Open E Sus2. This is the tuning used for “In Your Atmosphere” by John Mayer.
Another interesting tuning that John Mayer uses is Drop C in “Neon”. Simply tune the low E down to a C.
You can pretty much make any tuning you want simply by twisting the tuners to create an open chord. Here are some examples of tunings I’ve used in my own songs:
Open A: basically open G (as explained above) and capo on the 2nd
Open C: E G E G C E
In my newest song, I used an open A6/9 tuning: E A C# F# B E
This tuning is rich and was so much fun to play with.
Here is my “secret” alternate guitar tuning that I’ve been holding on to. I call it “Open Cello.” It’s called so because you tune the bottom four guitar strings to the notes of a cello and then I shift the B up to C:
C G D A C E
Open Cello is a blast to play in.
Make Your Own Alternate Guitar Tunings
So, how do you go about getting started? There are a couple approaches. One is to pick a random chord and try to spell it out with open strings.
For example, if you wanted an E Major 9, you need these notes: E, G#, B, D#, F#
So, take your existing strings to those pitches:
A-G# or B
G-F# or G#
E-D# or F# or E
The second approach is to just “ear it out.” Change the pitches until it makes an open chord that you like the sound of.
So, what are you waiting for? Twist your tuners, create a tuning, and see what creation is ahead of you. It will be like the first time you played the instrument. You’ll have that child-like wonder and rely more on your ears. You’ll have more fun than you could imagine. Best of luck!