Can You Tune a Guitar Up? [Tuning Higher Than Standard]

Different tunings lead to different results. It is not the same playing a song in standard tuning as playing the same song with a full step down. 

Some bands want heavier sounds, so they tune one or two steps down. Others want it even heavier, so they tune the strings even lower! 

The world of music is fascinating indeed. 

If you are an experienced guitarist, then you already know about tunings. You may even compose songs of your own in Drop D or Drop C#, just to name some examples. 

But what happens if you want to do it the other way around? 

In other words, what would happen if you tune the guitar strings to a higher tone than standard tuning? 

Could you tune the guitar up? 

Yes, you can tune your guitar half or a full step up. It leads to interesting chords and could fit certain voices with higher pitches. However, it could also cause neck relief issues or the strings could snap due to the extra tension exerted. 

There are some alternatives to tuning the guitar up. Also, there are tunings that require tuning up just some strings, not all of them. 

Yes, this topic is a bit more complex than what you might have expected. But this is something good because it makes it more interesting as well. 

Stick with us to the end and learn everything about higher tunings.  

Can you tune a guitar up a step or a whole step?

While guitars are not meant to bear tensions that are too high, it is still possible to tune half a step or even a whole step up. 

A full step is not really a problem, because some extra tension can be held up. 

Guitars are actually built way tougher than you think. 

Also, thinner or lighter strings make this task easier, because they counteract the extra tension that is being put on the neck by being less massive. 

This results in a more comfortable playing experience.

This last concept is key if you are planning to play for hours on end. 

After all, higher tunings ravage the neck with their string tension. 

As a result, it would be a good idea to apply some adjustments to it, in order to prevent future regrets.  

Take it easy. There are some steps you could take in order to avoid such issues. 

We’ll discuss them below. 

Are there any limits on how high you can tune a guitar?

The limits vary depending on plenty of reasons. 

The resistance of the neck and the gauge of the strings are two of them. 

And as I previously mentioned, lighter strings can help reduce the tension exerted on the neck, which could make for higher tunings above one full step up. 

All in all, we could say that three semitones are most probably the limit for most guitar strings.

If you go higher, the strings will be more likely to snap because of the extra tension employed. 

This, of course, is to go beyond the limit of the resistance. 

Some recommendations for tuning a guitar up

There are lots of concepts to consider before tuning your guitar up. 

First of all, make an effort not to go too high. In other words, avoid tuning more than a full step up. 

Sure, you could try tuning one and half a step up (or three semitones). However, this is most likely to break your strings or bend the neck if you don’t use the proper set of strings. 

Therefore, the next piece of advice is to use thin strings. Again, these types of strings counteract the extra amount of tension wielded on the neck. 

They’re great for still allowing you to have playable tension across the neck while tuning higher. 

In addition, you could play guitar with a capo

The capo transposes and shortens the playable length of the strings, which ultimately raises the pitch. 

Therefore, you can tune the guitar to a higher step without actually modifying it with the tuning pegs

Once you finish playing, you can take the capotasto out and the guitar will be back to standard tuning.  

Lastly, if you are planning to record or write a song in a higher tuning, do the following. 

Just practice or rehearse in such tuning for a while, to get a hang of it

More specifically, get used to the different feel of the instrument before jumping into a studio or a gig.

It might not work for you, and that’s nothing wrong with it.

Is it common to tune guitars higher than standard?

Higher tunings are not very common. 

However, some musicians (especially from folk or classic rock bands) play or have played with open tunings. 

Open tunings are alternate tunings that produce a triad when strumming all the strings together. They are used because certain chords are easier to play that way, or because they help guitarists that use slide techniques. 

Some chords require you to tune certain strings down. However, there are also some that demand tuning two or more strings up. 

For example, the Open E tuning requires raising the fifth and fourth string a whole step up, and the third one just half a step, leaving the rest in standard. 

Moreover, we have the Open C tuning. While it drops three strings to lower tones, it also commands to tune the second string (in B) all the way up to C. 

Lastly, we could mention Open A tuning, which consists of raising the second and third-string an entire step up, while lowering the fourth one. 

Are there any bands that use higher tunings?

There’s a thrash metal band from Arizona called Vektor. They tune in standard F (F A# D# G# C F).

Also, the song Little Guitars by Van Halen is in a higher tuning (F C F Bb D G), which suits the name of the song. However, the band mostly played in E-flat tuning, making Little Guitars an exception. 

Talking about Van Halen, in their song Ice Cream Man from their debut album, singer David Lee Roth plays an intro with an acoustic tuned in Open Eb (Eb Bb Eb G Bb Eb). 

Now that we mentioned the open tunings, let’s dig a bit more into them.

We can mention lots of bands and guitarists that have played with them, although mostly in some songs. Some of the most memorable ones are Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Robert Johnson, Derek Trucks, and Bonnie Raitt.   

As you noticed, it is not common to find bands playing in standard F. But maybe you could be one of those bands, why not? 

Are there any benefits from tuning up your guitar?

The main benefits are trying out and experimenting with new sounds. However, leaving aside the most obvious reasons, we find that playing with higher tuning brings more advantages with it. 

For instance, it creates a sound with a higher volume in acoustic guitars, which makes it richer and fuller. 

Also, higher tunings make it easier to play in certain keys. This tends to be especially the case for musicians who play guitar and sing simultaneously. 

A higher tuning may fit the higher pitch of the voice of certain singers, making the task of playing a song relatively easier. 

Additionally, using a capo allows for playing more songs using fewer chords. 

Just by learning five simple chords, you can play entire songs moving the capo in different positions. 

Although it is recommended to practice barre chords, a capo (and thus, a higher tuning) may save you from time to time. 

Lastly, let’s mention some benefits of open tunings (which don’t forget, may tune some strings either one or half a step higher). 

Once again, we find it easier to sing certain songs with open chords. This is the case of open voice or tone clusters that cannot be achieved in standard tuning. 

Finally, an open chord helps slide guitarists to move directly perpendicularly to the neck of the guitar.  

What are the drawbacks of tuning your guitar higher?

Of course, there are always two sides to the coin. If higher tunings have benefits, then it also has some drawbacks. 

But which are they? 

Well, the first one has to do with the strings. We have already covered it, but it is worth mentioning it again. 

Higher tunings have a bigger risk of breaking or snapping strings due to an increase in their tension. 

Furthermore, it can also generate unwanted neck relief

Last but not least, it would be a waste of time to tune the guitar up, then have to tune it down again. 

Let’s be real, unless you are planning on staying with such uncommon tuning long term, or have multiple guitars, you will want to go back to standard at some point.

Leaving your guitar tuned up a step or two might require a proper setup for it to work properly.

But is it worth it?

Finally, I’d like to emphasize that tuning your guitar up in pitch is very unlikely to damage it

I know that there are many worries about how the instrument’s neck bends when exposed to different tensions, but it’s usually fine and easily corrected with a proper setup.