Imagine that you are listening to your favorite band and you want to play their songs, so you get your guitar and look for the tabs of the song just to realize that the piece is tuned lower than standard.
At first, you try to get on well with your tuner and try to tune every string but as it is too low, it is almost impossible.
A standard scale length guitar can usually be lowered until drop C tuning but some instruments could even reach drop A tuning as well. It always depends on the strings gauge, scale length, and string tension.
Although it is a frustrating situation, there are some alternatives that you can test when lowering tuning.
Through this article, I will evacuate every doubt that may come up regarding this amazing topic, from common low tunings to things you can do to achieve lower pitches. In the end, you will know everything required about this issue.
What are common low tunings for guitar?
There is a bunch of usual low tuning for a guitar which I would like to mention.
We usually think of standard E tuning as a starting point so every tuning in the list will be lower than this one.
This is the most used and known low tuning which consists of keeping the standard tuning in most strings except for the sixth string which should be dropped a whole step (or two frets) until you get a D.
In that way, you will have an octave interval between the fourth and the sixth string when playing them in their open form.
Through this tuning, you will find it easier to play power chords because the three comprised notes are in the same fret, it is also wonderful to play open-string riffs such as the one in Slither by Velvet Revolver. What is more, you can easily add a fourth to every power chord just by playing the third string two frets higher.
Double Drop D
Jimmy Page applied this tuning in Going To California and Robbie Krieger used it in s’ classic The End as well.
It is pretty similar to the previous tuning but in this case, the high E and the low E are both tuned an entire step down, being D open strings.
Since you have three open D strings, low, middle, and high, this tuning is wonderful for accompaniments in D major or minor.
What is more, you can get warm, mellow sounding chords voicings.
Standard D#, D, or even lower
These kinds of tunings are pretty used in rock music, they are quite simple to get.
The famous guitar player Slash from Guns N’ Roses is one of the best examples of this tuning.
What you have to do is to tune every string half, a whole, or even one and a half steps down.
Chord and scale shapes will be the same as standard E tuning but you will get lower tones.
We have a specific article on this tuning, you can check it out here:
Drop C, C# or lower.
This tuning is very similar to drop D, instead of just detuning the sixth string a whole step down you will have to drop it two full steps lower.
For the rest of the strings, only a whole step down will be enough, you will find the same shapes as in drop D but with lower notes.
Some of the bands that apply this tuning are System Of a Down in their song Toxicity.
Another good example could be Paramore in their beginnings with their popular song Misery Business.
How low can a normal guitar be tuned?
When talking about this topic, some factors must be considered because truly influence the outcome.
When it comes to tuning down a guitar string gauge, scale length and string tension play an important part.
If we focus on the standard scale length (24-25”), the lowest tuning you can achieve without the need of changing so much is drop C.
However, this varies from guitar to guitar so some instruments are able to achieve even lower tones such as drop A (AEADF#B) without any problem.
Why you can only tune a guitar so low?
As mentioned before, some aspects are involved when tuning a guitar, on this occasion string tension and neck scale are both truly important.
The strings need a specific tension to play in tune, when the tuning is lowered, the tension will be drastically reduced, the strings will be slinky or too loose, and depending on the string gauge would be quite difficult to keep them in tune.
Although most of you may already know what we are talking about, I will explain it simply for those who are not aware of it.
Having said that, we can now say that scale length also affects the tension, the longer the scale length of the instrument, the higher the tension required to bring the strings up to being tuned.
That’s why a guitar has a limit when lowering the tension to tune, it always depends on the string tension and neck scale.
Things to do to be able to achieve even lower tunings
If you notice that your guitar cannot achieve lower tunings in the desired way, what you can do is change your string gauge.
Strings come in several gauges which means they are thicker or lighter depending on the gauge.
To increase the tension you will need lower gauge strings, being them thicker.
By doing that, you will be able to drop the strings without having intonation problems, you will keep your strings in tune.
As mentioned before, the neck scale plays an important part when lowering tuning.
You can also get a shorter scale guitar, in that way you won’t need as much tension as in a standard guitar to properly achieve lower tunings.
Consider getting a baritone guitar
If you have already tried the methods previously explained and you are not satisfied with the result, you should consider getting a baritone guitar.
Although they were crafted in small numbers due to their low popularity back then, this kind of guitar has been produced since the 1960s.
A baritone guitar is a longer scale guitar, commonly with a larger body, and can be tuned in a lower pitch.
The standard baritone guitar’s tuning is E2–A2–D3–G3–B3–E4 but it can be tuned a perfect fourth lower than a regular guitar, a perfect third lower, or even a major third lower.
The interesting thing about baritone guitars is that as they have larger bodies, you can tune them while maintaining the normal tension.
Of course, they use thicker string gauges being 013 gauge (the most common) and 014 gauge baritone guitar strings or even 012 guitar strings.
Guitars with 7 or more strings are also a great alternative
Another alternative to get a powerful sound in the low section could be getting a seven (or more) strings guitar.
Those instruments are usually designed with a larger scale length (from 25.5 inches to 27 inches or above) and although there are guitars with eight or more strings, if you want to move from a six strings piece, a seven strings guitar would be better to make a quick comfortable transition.
What is more, as these instruments provide a longer scale length they offer some advantages particularly for players who seek to tune down the lowest string half step, a whole step, or the entire guitar a whole step down.
Hello there, my name is Ramiro and I’ve been playing guitar for almost 20 years. I’m obsessed with everything gear-related and I thought it might be worth sharing it. From guitars, pedals, amps, and synths to studio gear and production tips, I hope you find what I post here useful, and I’ll try my best to keep it entertaining also.