WA's Encyclopedia of Alternate Guitar Tunings

WA's Encyclopedia of Alternate Guitar Tunings

© Warren Allen, 30 Dec 1997. Last edited 22 Sept 2011.

Many, but not all, of the following are 'open' tunings, in which the strings are intentionally tuned to produce a particular chord when one strums across all of the open strings. Open tunings are great for slide playing, since the slide wants to play all the strings it contacts at (above) the same fret. The rest of these tunings are not really open tunings; they're simply tunings that are different from 'standard' tuning. Some are minor modifications, involving tuning just one or two strings a bit higher or lower (Double Drop D), and some are wholesale reorganizations of the pitches assigned to the strings (Keola Beamer's Bb "slack key" tuning). Just as with standard tuning, they necessarily sound some sort of chord when all of the strings are played open, but this is a side effect of the intention to make certain notes more available to the player (DADGAD, Martin Carthy's C tuning), to extend the range of the instrument (Robert Fripp's Crafty Tuning), or to achieve a special effect (Nashville Tuning).

In these 'other' tunings, the strings are most often lowered relative to their pitches in standard tuning. I've tried to specifically indicate instances when strings are raised in pitch. The tunings are categorized according to the particular key they are designed for use in, or are most naturally suited to. Some of them, however, work well for more than one key -- DADGAD, notably.

String order: 6th (lowest) to 1st (highest), left to right: 6 5 4 3 2 1

Tunings in each section are ordered from higher at the top to lower at the bottom, roughly.

Quick links: DADGAD    Open G   Nick Drake's tunings   Michael Hedges's tunings

Google Search within WA Tunings page



  Tunings especially for the keys of G and Gm
      1  1  5  1  3  5
  •   g  G  D  G  B  D -- banjo-style open G   This tuning especially reveals how the various open G tunings are (per Pat Kirtley) derived from the standard tuning for 5-string banjo: g D G B D (low to high). Replace the 6th string with a guitar 2nd string, and tune it to G, in unison with the G on the 3rd string. You could use a guitar 3rd string, of course, but the unwound 2nd string rings more like the high-tuned G string on a 5-string banjo. This tuning was suggested by banjo and guitar player Alden Witham, who uses it primarily for the key of G. He says, "I could see any banjo player thinking of it, but nobody taught it to me. I had a beater guitar and I had just started playing banjo and liked the tuning. It ended up not sounding like banjo at all; it sounds kind of Celtic, I guess. I play banjo chords on the bottom four strings and use the top two for drones."

      1  1  5  1  1  9
  •   G  G  D  G  G  A -- Gadd9   A favorite of Sonic Youth, used for Dripping Dream, Unmade Bed, others. - article in Guitar Player magazine, Sept 2004.

      1  1  5  1  3  5
  •   G  G  D  G  B  D -- Joni open G   Used by Joni Mitchell on This Flight Tonight (from Blue, 1971). Acoustic Guitar magazine notes that Joni tunes the 6th string, like the 5th string, down to G. That's a long ways down from E - a major 6th - but after listening to the recording, and trying it myself, I believe it. She must have used a heavier string than my light .052, which plays and sounds like a clothesline when I tune it down that far.

      1  1  4  1  4  5
  •   G  G  C  G  C  D -- Gsus4  Used by Ani DiFranco. Heavier 6th string down to G, presumably.

      1  3  5  1  3  5
  •   G  B  D  G  B  D -- Open G (standard dobro tuning)   6th string tuned up to G, presumably?!

      1  3  5  1  9  5
  •   G  B  D  G  A  D -- Gadd9 (alternate dobro tuning)   Hammer-on, or slide (dobro-style) the A of the 2nd string up to B -- the 3 of the G major chord.

      1  b3 5  1  b3 5
  •   G  Bb D  G  Bb D -- open Gm   It's unnerving to tune the 6th string up that far - lots of tension. A heavy string could be tuned down that far.

      5  1  5  2  #2 6
  •   D  G  D  A  A# E -- Used by David Russell for Ben Verdery's composition Now and Ever. For one of the movements, a capo is clamped at fret 9 (except for on string 6) which transforms the tuning to D E B F# G C#.

      5  1  5  1  b3 5
  •   D  G  D  G  Bb D -- open Gm   Used by Mary McCaslin. Tune the 6th, 5th, 2nd and 1st strings down, 4th and 3rd stay put.

      5  1  5  1  b3 b7
  •   D  G  D  G  Bb C -- Gm7   Used by Michael Hedges, for Two Days Old. Strings 6 and 5 down a whole-step, string 2 down a minor second (half-step), string 1 down a major third.

      5  1  5  1  5  1
  •   D  G  D  G  D  G -- G5   Used by Nick Drake on Man in a Shed.

      5  1  5  1  5  7
  •   D  G  D  G  D  F# - Gmaj7   Used by Nick Drake on Parasite.

      5  1  5  1  3  5
  •   D  G  D  G  B  D -- open G   Used by Nick Drake on Rider on the Wheel.

      5  1  5  5  9  5
  •   D  G  D  D  A  D -- Gadd9   Used by Nick Drake on Road.

      5  1  5  1  4  5
  •   D  G  D  G  C  D -- Gsus4   Used by Martin Simpson, for Seven Yellow Gypsies(?). Ralph Denyer says this one is sometimes called 'Sawmill tuning' (a term more often applied to a banjo tuning). Martin Simpson notes that "...in England they have Gsus4 [DGDGCD] and Gsus4/4 [CGDGCD] which are straight lifts from the five-string banjo." - Acoustic Guitar magazine, March 2004.

      5  1  5  1  1  5
  •   D  G  D  G  G  D -- G5   Used by John Fahey, for I Am the Resurrection (from Fahey's 1965 album "The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death"), and by Michael Hedges, for Come Together. Strings 6 and 5 down a whole-step, string 2 down a major third, string 1 down a whole-step.

      5  1  5  1  3  6
  •   D  G  D  G  B  E -- G6 / Drop-G   Randy Scruggs and Chet Atkins - Both Sides Now and Yellow Bird, John Renbourn - John's Tune, David Gilmour, Pat Kirtley... This is just a step beyond Drop-D tuning: the 5th string is also lowered a full step, leaving the upper four strings as in standard tuning. Used by David Gilmour... "I use that for The Great Gig In the Sky [on a lap steel guitar]. That allows me to form a minor chord on the first three strings, and a major chord with all the other strings." - David Gilmour, 1997 [Good idea: those chords are the relative minor and relative major of each other: Em and G, respectively, in open position.]
        "Open tunings are by definition rather restrictive, so I found a tuning which is kind of an open G6. The first four strings are the same as a regular guitar -- E B G D -- and if you tune the bottom A down to G and the E down to D, you get a five-string open G chord; but you've also got a three-string E minor chord at the top, so you can do quite effective majors and minors. And that's the tuning I tend to use quite a bit, and that's the one I originally laid down for The Great Gig in the Sky." - interview with David Gilmour, titled Shine On, Guitar World magazine, March 2006


      5  1  5  1  3  5
  •   D  G  D  G  B  D -- Open G / Spanish Tuning / Taro Patch
        Pat Kirtley says that this tuning is derived from 5-string banjo tuning, and has been in use since at least 1880. This seems very likely, since the standard tuning for 5-string banjo is g D G B D (low to high, with a light hign-tuned G string for what would otherwise be the lowest string). Mary McCaslin says it is "...probably the most popular open tuning."
        Tune the 6th, 5th and first strings down a full tone. This tuning can be thought of as a step beyond Double Drop-D tuning: the 5th string is also lowered a full step, leaving the 'middle' three strings as in standard tuning, in which they just happen to form a G major triad.
        Open G tuning has been used extensively for bottleneck slide-guitar styles by many of the great Mississippi Delta bluesmen, notably Charley Patton - High Water Everywhere, Screamin' And Hollerin' The Blues, Sun House, Robert Johnson - Travelin' Riverside, Bukka White, Willie Brown, Muddy Waters and Mance Lipscomb. It's been used more recently by blues-saturated players such as John Hammond - Drop Down Mama, and Bonnie Raitt - Write Me a Few of Your Lines.
        Rory Block claims, "Open G is incredibly versatile for practically every song by Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, WIllie Brown, Charley Patton, Buddy Boy Hawkins." - Acoustic Guitar magazine, Jan 2004.
        Phil and Don Everly learned this tuning from their Aunt Hattie, and independently from their dad Ike. Dark-haired Don Everly used it for his composition Give Me a Future, and later for his power-chord part on Wake Up Little Susie (capo-ed up 7 to D), with younger brother Phil playing in standard tuning, in D. (This song, by the way, was written not by The Everlys, but by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant.) - David Simons, article Rock Foundation in Acoustic Guitar magazine, August 2000.
        Keith Richards cites Don Everly's use of Open G as the direct inspiration for his five-string variation. - minus the 6th string, presumably to keep the tonic G in the bottom. Richards uses his Open G tuning - with and without a slide - as often as he uses standard tuning. - David Simons, article Rock Foundation in Acoustic Guitar magazine, August 2000, and other sources, including Mark Hanson. "Toward the end of the 60s, Richards had gradually made the switch from open-E tuning (which he employed on rockers like Street Fighting Man and Jumpin' Jack Flash to the now familiar open-G (his five-string tuning), thanks in large part to the influence of [Gram] Parsons and guitarist supreme Ry Cooder. For Wild Horses, Richards wound up using both tunings." [12-string acoustic in open-G and open-E tuned Gibson six-string capo-ed up three to G]. - David Simons, article The Rolling Stones step out of the limelight to record "Wild Horses" in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Dec 2000.
        Ike Turner, in turn, picked it up from Keith Richards, right down to the eschewed string 6. "I used a G tuning on Nutbush City Limits that I learned form Keith Richards when Tina and opened for the Rolling Stones in 1969. I have a 5 string Tele clone tuned to G." - Dave Rubin, article Rollin' on The Rhythm in Guitar Player magazine, Dec 2006.
        Open G was one of Leo Kottke's favorite tunings, when he was first becoming well-known, and it has also been used by Joni Mitchell - Nathan La Franeer, Mary McCaslin, Jorma Kaukonen - Water Song, John Renbourn - Old Mac Bladgitt, James Taylor - Love Has Brought Me Around, Ry Cooder - Available Space, Nancy Griffith - Love at the Five and Dime, Pat Kirtley, and many other artists. It's Eric Clapton's favorite slide tuning.
    - Keith Wyatt, article Touch of Gold in Guitar World Acoustic, Spring 2000.
        Mark Knopfler reports, ""When I started playing bottleneck at age 16, I began doing Elmore James stuff in [open] E. Later, when I became a fingerpicker, I was drawn to open G. I've never played much bottleneck on record. I really don't know why I haven't, because I love it. [Knopfler's "bottleneck" is a brass slide turned on a lathe by his dad.]
    - Andy Ellis, article Postcards from Shangri-La in Guitar Player, Jan 2005.
        See also (below) the other 'Spanish Tuning' - Open A (E A E A C# E) which is the same pattern up a whole step. It was also used by the Delta bluesman, Robert Johnson, at least.
        Open G is also one of the most widely-used of the Hawaiian 'slack key' tunings. In this tradition, it is called Taro Patch tuning.
        "When you switch to open-G, the VG [auto-retuning Fender Stratocaster] naturally tunes all strings to their even-tempered pitches. But Sonny Landreth, Keith Richards and other open-G masters often lower the second string slightly so the major third [the 3] is in tune with the overtone series. This adjustment dials out the dissonance, and makes those big one finger major chords come alive."
    - Jude Gold, review of Fender VG Stratocaster in Guitar Player, June 2007.  [See WA's comments on pure versus tempered thirds]
        The VG Stratocaster guitar noted above, by the way, doesn't actually retune the strings at all; it digitizes the signals from the Roland hexaphonic (six-element) pickup, digitally shifts the pitches (to Drop-D, open-G, DADGAD or baritone (B E A D F# B) tuning, and then mixes and converts these six data streams back to a single analog output.
        I'm noticing, Apr 2001, that this tuning works very well for the key of D as well as for G. Either key faces the limitation of not having an open bass string for one of the three principle triads. In G, there's no c bass for the IV chord, though one solution is to use the open g on string 5, since it's the 5 of the C chord. In D, there's no a bass for the V chord of D, and its 5 (e) is not handy either, but even with a slide on board, it may well be possible to fret some kind of an A or A7 chord. This A7sus4 works for me: x2x020. The suspended 4 tone adds some mystery, but since it is d, it can't be too far out of line for the key of D. The other advantage for D is that it owns the deepest bass note, on open string 6.

      5  1  5  1  9  5
  •   D  G  D  G  A  D -- Gadd9   Used by Nick Drake. Strings 6, 5, 2 and 1 dropped a whole step, with strings 4 and 3 left as is. The A on string 2 is begging to be hammered into B, the natural 3, to complete the G major triad.

      5  1  5  7  3  5
  •   D  G  D  F# B  D -- wahine tuning (Gmaj7)   Hawaiian slack key tuning used by Ledward Kaapana, and many other Hawaiian players, probably. Also used by Mark Hanson for his arrangement of Angels We Have Heard On High. I don't think that Hanson uses the F# for a Gmaj7 (in this song at least). It comes in very handy, though, for the D6 chords that he plays in it.

      5  1  4  1  4  5
  •   D  G  C  G  C  D -- Gsus4   Used by Jimmy Page, for The Rain Song. Strings 6, 5 and 4 dropped a whole step, string 2 raised a half-step, string 1 dropped a whole step. - Duly noted by Joe Ongie, 13 June 2007.

      4  1  5  1  4  5
  •   C  G  D  G  C  D -- Gsus4/C 'Orkney tuning'  Long used by many players, including Martin Simpson, Seth Austin, Tony McManus, Chris Proctor, Anton Emery, Joni Mitchell, and Sonic Youth. Named by Steve Baughman, after the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland.
        String 6 is dropped way back to C (after replacement with a heavier gauge string). String 5 is lowered a whole step to G, strings 4 and 3 are left as is, string 2 is raised a half step to C, and string 1 is lowered a whole step to D.
        Martin Simpson notes that "...in England they have Gsus4 [DGDGCD] and Gsus4/4 [CGDGCD] which are straight lifts from the five-string banjo." - Acoustic Guitar magazine, March 2004.
        While many alternate tunings are more or less married to a particular key, Orkney works well for at least the keys of G and C, and Steve Baughman also uses it for the key of D, and it may be usable for Cm as well. This flexibility owes much to open bass strings set to C, G and D respectively (rather than to a 1, a 5, and an octave of the 1, as in many other tunings).
        DADGAD players note: many chords and other fingerings are directly transportable to Orkney tuning, because the intervals between Orkney's strings 1-5 are the same as between DADGAD's strings 2-6.
        As explained on Steve Baughman's website, "It is a wonderful tool for melodic (non-linear) playing, in which you avoid playing subsequent notes on the same string. This technique (Pierre Bensusan calls it "harp style") allows for a very smooth and gentle delivery of the melody and avoids the staccato effect that marks many guitar arrangements of fiddle tunes."
        In an e-mail message, Baughman further disclosed that, "It is also becoming a tuning used by singer-songwriters as accompaniment." See Baughman's article for much helpful information about using Orkney tuning, including chord charts and a sample song.       - article Orkney Tuning by Steve Baughman, Acoustic Guitar magazine, Dec 2008
        See also the encyclopedic book The Orkney Companion with hundreds of chords and many tunes.


      4  1  5  1  3  5
  •   C  G  D  G  B  D -- G/c   Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Eleven Small Roaches. It seems likely that this tuning would be for the key of G, with a big low C for the IV chord. Strings 6, 3, and 1 each lowered to their target pitches, almost surely.

      4  1  5  1  2  5
  •   C  G  D  G  A  D -- Gadd9/C   This tuning can be thought of as DADGAD with the 5th and 6th strings dropped yet another whole step. Used by Lawrence Juber, who sometimes switches to it from DADGAD. "It works well for the keys of C, C minor, G, and G minor." Lawrence Juber, Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, Oct 2003.

      4  1  1  5  1  5
  •   C  G  G  D  G  D -- G/c   Used by Nels Cline, for Grow Closer and Red Line to Greenland. Tune each string down to target pitches, very likely. This tuning would also be very much at home in the key of C.

  Tunings especially for the keys of F and Fm
      1  5  1  b3  5  1
  •   F  C  F  Ab  C  F -- F minor   Used by Albert Collins, as his standard tuning, with a capo to change keys — positioned mostly at frets 5 (Bb minor), 7 (C minor), and 9 (D minor).
        "Of course, with him using a capo and being tuned to Fm, a lot of his vibrato notes were not bent. He'd just hold a note at the top of the chord on the first string, and shake the hell out of it."
    - Coco Montoya, in interview in Guitar Player, May 2007. Collins played with his right hand thumb and forefinger, popping and snapping the strings.
        Don't even try this tuning, except on a solid body electric, with light strings -- since every string is tuned up (some quite a ways),. Collins played a blonde maple-neck 1966 Fender Telecaster, strung up as follows: .010, .013, .015, .026, .032, .038.
        String 1 up a half-step to F, string 5 up a minor third to C, string 4 up a minor third to F, string 3 up a half-step to Ab, string 2 up a half-step to C, string 1 up a half-step to F.
        Collins famously played with a 100-150' long guitar cord, so that he could stroll out into the audience, or down the street to a payphone to order pizza (just once, apparently).
        Some of this information is from the Fender Players Club.


      1  3  6  9  4  7
  •   F  A  D  G  B  E -- WA, March 2003. This is just standard tuning, with the low E string screwed up a half step to F. I stumbled upon this little trick while working up chords for Rhett Miller's There Is a World Inside the World, in F [see transcription on WA's Songs page]. I like using x87565 for the F chord (against colleague Jim R's 133211). I found it all too easy, though, to hit the open low E string, which sounds about as wrong as can be against an F major triad. Tweaking that open 6th string up to F solved that problem and then some -- it gives me a low 1 note for the F chord. Because I'm playing all the other chords for this song as 4 and 5 string grabs, no other chords were injured in the process. Next thing I knew, we were playing this song in G(!).

  Tunings especially for the keys of E and Em
      1  5  1  4  5  1
  •   E  B  E  A  B  E -- Esus4   Used by John Sherman. One full step up from DADGAD. One finger on string 3, fret 2 yields a big E5 chord.

      1  5  1  3  5  1
  •   E  B  E  G# B  E -- Open E   Used by Robert Johnson - Preachin' Blues, Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Syd Barrett, The Allman Brothers - Little Martha. Duane Allman's favorite slide tuning. - Keith Wyatt, article Touch of Gold in Guitar World Acoustic, Spring 2000.
        The 4th and 5th strings go up a full step, and the 3rd string is raised a half step, to the major third. The pattern is the same as the most common open D tuning (DADF#AD), but a full step higher.


      1  5  1 b3  5  1
  •   E  B  E  G  B  E -- Open Em   Used by Bukka White, Skip James, and, more recently, David Gilmour (lap steel on One of These Days). This tuning is most closely identified with Delta bluesman Nehemiah "Skip" James (1902-1969). "One of the guitarists James played with regularly during his youth, Henry Stuckey, showed him an open tuning he'd allegedly picked up from some black Bahamian soldiers while serving in France during WWI. Spelled E,B,E,G,B,E, this E minor "cross-note" tuning, as James called it, became the basis for the majority of his compositions." - review of James' albumStudio Sessions: Rare and Unreleased in Guitar Player, May 2003.
    "The tuning that James learned form Henry Stuckey (E B E G B E) is usually called E minor, but James didn't generally use it to play in minor keys. He would usually fret the third string at the first fret to give the song a major tonality and then use the open string (the minor third) [the b3 - ed.] in conjunction with slides and pull-offs for bluesy melodic runs. On his Paramount session, however, he pitched the tuning lower, to D minor. On his 1960s cuts he was closer to Eb minor."
    - Orville Johnson Wyatt, article Skip James in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Sept 2010.
    [James also played in open G 'Spanish Tuning' (Special Rider Blues). He may not have used standard tuning at all. Even his Cream-popularized song I'm So Glad was set in his E minor tuning, per Orville Johnson Wyatt, in the article noted above. Eric Clapton re-arranged it for standard tuning, key of E major, apparently.]
        Tune the 4th and 5th and strings up a full step; the other strings remain as in standard tuning.





     1  5  1  1  5  1
  •  E  B  E  E  B  E -- open E   Invented by Crimean Tatar tapping virtuoso Enver Izmaylov. "I use these tunings to help convey the characteristics of the [Crimean Tatar] folk music I explore." Izmaylov's other tuning invention is C C G C C C. - article in Guitar Player magazine, July, 2010.

     1  5 b7  3  5  1
  •  E  B  D  G# B  E -- E7   used by M. Ward. Just two strings re-tuned: string 5 up a whole-step, string 3 up a half-step.

      1  5 b7  3  5 b7
  •   E  B  D  G# B  D -- E7 Phil Keaggy. Note the convenient flatted 7s. String 5 up a whole-step, string 3 up a half-step, string 1 down a whole-step.

      1  5 b7 b3  4 b7
  •   E  B  D  G  A  D -- 'Guinnevere tuning' (Em7sus4)  David Crosby. Used for the Crosby, Stills and Nash epic Guinnevere [Crosby's spelling] as well as other Crosby songs including Déjà Vu and Song With No Words. Two b7s poised to become 8s, and a 4 willing to experience 5-ness. It's could be thought of as a key-of-E-specific DADGAD.

      1  5  5 b3  5 b7
  •   E  B  B  G  B  D -- Em7  Used by Ani DiFranco.

      1  4 b7  9  5  1
  •   E  A  D  F# B  E -- E9sus4   Nick Drake, on Cello Song (capo-ed 6th fret... played as if in E, sounds in Bb. Nick holds 022000 as a Iadd9 chord.), and on The Thoughts of Mary Jane.

      1  4  6 b3  5  1
  •   E  A  C# G  B  E -- 'Doo-Wop E tuning'   Invented by Will Brady of Laguna Beach, CA. to support the VIm chord -- C#m -- with an open-string root bass note. The VIm chord is very often encountered in pop songs, and is sometimes the only other chord employed beyond I, IV and V7 (Oh, Donna, Under the Boardwalk...). This tuning suits Brady's thoughtful and ringing fingerstyle approach very well, as he typically teases the melody out of the first three strings (often via 6ths) against sustained bass notes, often entirely from open strings. From Standard tuning, simply tune string 4 down a half-step -- from d to c#.

      1  3  1  9  5  5
  •   E  G# E  F# B  B -- Eadd9   Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Out on the Parkway. String 5 down a half-step to G# surely, string 4 up a whole-step to E, string 3 down a half-step to F#, and string 1 almost surely down a fourth to B.

      1  3  5  3  5  1
  •   E  G# B  G# B  E -- open E   Used for Manolo Escobar's 'Chopi' for classical guitar, as reported by classical player David Russel, in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Jan 2004. String 4 down to G#, I suppose... with a heavier string, very likely.

      1  1  1  1  5  1
  •   E  E  E  E  B  E -- 'Bruce Palmer modal tuning'   Bruce Palmer, presumably, and Steven Stills, notably - on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Mark Hanson confirms that the tuning Stills used for this song was E E E E B E.
    Crazy as this tuning might appear at first glance, only three strings are re-tuned; strings 6, 2 and 1 stay as is. String 5 must be tuned down to E, though string 4 would be tuned up to E. String 3 would surely be tuned down to E.
        "For tunings on the electrics and acoustics he [Steven Stills] uses standard, open E, open D, and a "Bruce Palmer Modal tuning", with the strings E, E, E, E, B, and E... This tuning was used for his interludes on Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."
    - Lowell Cauffiel, article Steven Stills in Guitar Player, January 1976.
        Used also by Scott Ainslie, for Wayfaring Stranger and other songs. "The derivation of the tuning was Stephen Stills's Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, and also 4 + 20. John Hurt also used the tuning for Pay Day."
    - Scott Ainslie, interview in Acoustic Guitar magazine, June 2010.

  Tunings especially for the keys of Eb and Ebm
      5  1  5  5  1 b3
  •   Bb Eb Bb Bb Eb Gb -- open Ebm   Michael Hedges, for Like a Rolling Stone. String 3 might be tuned up a minor third to Bb, and string 1 is very likely tuned up a major second to Gb. Other strings are tuned down, most likely.

  Tunings especially for the keys of D and Dm
     b3  5  1  1  4  1
  •   F  A  D  D  G  D -- Dmsus4   Used by The Edge. "He [U2's The Edge] also created unusual tunings, such as the FADDGD heard along with an E-Bow on the title track (The Unforgettable Fire)"- Guitar.com, mid-2001.

      1  5 b3  4  5  1
  •   D  A  F  G  A  D -- Dmadd4   Used by M. Ward. Strings 6 down a whole-step, string 4 up a minor third, strings 2 and 1 down a whole-step.

      1  5  2 b3  5  9
  •   D  A  E  F  A  E -- Dmadd9   Used by Michael Hedges, for Oracle. Strings 6, 3, and 2 down a whole-step, string 4 up a whole-step.

      1  5  1  1  5  1
  •   D  A  D  D  A  D -- D5   Used by Alvin Lee, Pat Kirtley...

      1  5  1  4  1  4
  •   D  A  D  G  D  G -- Dsus4   Used by Nick Drake, on Northern Sky. 2nd and 1st strings probably both tuned up a minor third to D and G, respectively. I don't think I'd want to leave them at those pitches for long, especially with heavier strings.

      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   D  A  D  G  D  F# -- Dadd4   Used by Nick Drake, on Introduction (Bryter Layter), Pink Moon, Hazey Jane I, and Hazey Jane II (capo-ed up one half-step). 2nd string probably tuned up a minor third to D, and 1st string up a whole step to F#.

      1  5  1  4  b7 9
  •   D  A  D  G  C  E -- D9sus4   Used by Patty Larkin, somewhere on her 2003 album Red=Luck.
      1  5  1  4  b7 b9
  •   D  A  D  G  C  Eb -- Db9sus4   Used by Andreas Kapsalis. b9, no less... perhaps in part to facilitate a b7m chord (Cm) on the top four strings... and / or to support Greek and Arabic scales that include a b2... like the Byzantine / Hijaz Kar scale: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7.
      1  5  1  4  6  9
  •   D  A  D  G  B  E -- Drop-D   There are probably few experienced players who haven't used Drop-D at some time or other. A few classic examples: Jorma Kaukonen - Embryonic Journey, James Taylor - Country Road, The Beatles - Dear Prudence, Leo Kottke - Louise, Robbie Robertson - Jemima Surrender, John Denver - Rocky Mountain High, The Doobie Brothers - Black Water, Ry Cooder - FDR in Trinidad, Jimmy Page - Going to California. Drop-D is the most straightforward of all the alternate tunings: simply drop the 6th string one full step, from E to D. Now you have a deep bass d root for your D chords. This tuning is also popular with guitarists backing up fiddle tunes in D, especially the Irish jigs and reels.

      1  5  1  4  6  1
  •   D  A  D  G  B  D -- Double Drop-D / D modal   Used by Joni Mitchell - Free Man In Paris, Buffy St. Marie, Neil Young - The Loner, Cinnamon Girl, Ohio... Stephen Stills - Bluebird, enabling that huge Cadd9 chord toward the end, just before the banjo part, The Doobie Brothers, Black Water. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top reports: "This puts a partial D chord on the bottom and a G chord on the top three. I use this on a lot of the slide cuts we do."

      1  5  1  4  6 b7
  •   D  A  D  G  B  C -- D7-6sus4   Used by Mary Chapin Carpenter.
      1  5  1  4  5  3
  •   D  A  D  G  A  F# - Dsus4   Used by Nick Drake. Tune the first string up to F#, presumably.

      1  5  1  4  5  1
  •   D  A  D  G  A  D -- 'DADGAD' (Dsus4, no 3)   Owing to its 'pronounceability', DADGAD enjoys the very rare distinction of being a word, as well as a tuning.
        Used by a great multitude of players, including Davey Graham, Pierre Bensusan, Lawrence Juber, John Renbourn, Michael Hedges (Peg Leg Speed King), Bert Jansch, Peppino D'Agostino, Martin Simpson, Jimmy Page (Black Mountain Side, Kashmir, others), Nick Drake (Three Hours), Stefan Grossman (Woman From Donori), John Hoskinson (Uncharacteristic)...
        The invention of DADGAD is generally attributed to the enigmatic and English Davey Graham (1940-2008). "Graham invented the DADGAD tuning in order to play Eastern and Arabic music on the guitar."
    - Colin Harper, article In the Moment, Acoustic Guitar magazine, Sept-Oct 1993. "Graham came up with the DADGAD tuning while accompanying oud players in Morocco." - Mark Hanson, in The Alternate Tunings Guide for Guitar, 1991. I asked Pierre Bensusan, at one of his workshops, if his understanding was that Graham was the inventor of DADGAD. He nodded affirmatively, adding, "Well, that's what they say." Other sources indicate that it's not entirely clear whether or not Graham originated the tuning, though it is at least well-established that he introduced it to British guitarists including Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy, in the early 1960s. Remarkable BBC footage of Davey Graham playing..
        Recently, Martin Carthy had this to say about it: "There was no question that Davey Graham was 'the man'. He led the way and everyone else came later. He played absolutely wonderfully, but he also allowed you to play. ...he was ahead of all of us and we were all following where he went, and then he came up with DADGAD." and "We were all messing around with tunings already, all the guitar players were. For me it was part of searching for a way to play English folk songs in a way that was appropriate to the music, so that the guitar would seem natural and not like an interloper. I started looking around for a tuning that could give me what I was hearing, and I came up with DGDGAD. The suspension was right, but it wasn't quite there until Davey turned up at the Troubadour [Earl's Court, London] one night and played 'She Moves Through the Fair' in DADGAD." - Duck Baker, article TRADDAD, Acoustic Guitar magazine, July 2005
        DADGAD can be seen as one step progressively further than Double Drop-D, on a vector dropping below standard tuning: the 2nd string is also lowered a full step, to A. This brings the 1st and 2nd strings back into the familiar interval of a fourth apart, convenient for melody playing. The very odd thing is that the interval from the 3rd string to the 2nd string is just a major second - the g and a notes will be adjacent scale tones in most any key for which one would use DADGAD. Lawrence Juber explains how this opens up an alternative approach to melody playing, wherein combinations of stopped and open strings yield successive scale tones on adjacent strings, which allows one to rapidly play arpeggiated 'cascading' melody lines, full of ringing open string tones. He demonstrates with the D major scale: fret zero (open) of 1st string (d), fret four of 2nd string(c#), four of 3rd (b), zero of 2nd (a), zero of 3rd (g), four of 4th (f#), seven of 5th (e), zero of 4th (d). Playing the d major scale this way allows up to four notes to ring simultaneously, as if they were played on a piano with the sustain pedal depressed. Physically, it's very easy to play, but mentally.... one must overcome the tendency to always reach for the next lower note on either the next lower fret or the next lower string. If you step through the example above, you'll encounter two instances where the next lower note is played on the next higher string...!
        While Davey Graham may well have originally conceived DADGAD with the key of D in mind, guitar players have used it for many other keys as well. Lawrence Juber, for one, employs it for pieces in F, Bb, C, G, A, Am, and E, as well as D. "It allows for textures and chord voicings that do not exist in standard tuning. I love DADGAD because it lets me go to these impressionistic sounding voicings." "I found that Strawberry Fields Forever works best in Bb with DADGAD tuning. Functionally, that was the original key. The original is actually in the crack somewhere between A and Bb because George Martin spliced two different versions and altered the tapes's speed. In terms of making a guitar arrangement, DADGAD works well -- the Ebmaj7 chord sounds glorious." - Lawrence Juber, article in Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, Oct 2003
        Martin Simpson advises, "They're a very tightly-related family. Basically, D A D G A D is exactly the D equivalent of Gsus4 [D G D G C D] [?], and Csus4add9 [C G C F C D] has much more in common with D A D G A D and with Gsus4 than if you just look at it as a series of notes. They all have root, fifth, root, fourth, and whatever else is going on. It's very clear when you think about it like that. - Acoustic Guitar magazine, March 2004.
        French virtuoso Pierre Bensusan may be the greatest exponent of DADGAD today. He plays entire concerts and records entire albums (Spices and Solilai) in DADGAD. "The best tuning will be a tuning that is not too colored. To me, standard would be one of the very best. DADGAD is another tuning that is not too colored... I mean a tuning that is going to have a third in it which is going to describe a major or minor triad [as in one of the 'open' tunings, like DADFAD (D-F)]. That's too colored for me. It already implies certain attitudes. DADGAD doesn't. I use DADGAD as my tool. Any key; it doesn't matter."
    - Pierre Bensusan, quoted in article Designing Space, Acoustic Guitar magazine, Feb, 2002.
        Martin Simpson agrees, with Open G [D G D G B D] in mind: "You're always fighting the existence of the major third, and I play a lot of modal music, which is outside that. [The major third is between the G and B of strings 3 and 2, respectively, and there's also a minor third between the B and D on the highest two strings.] - Acoustic Guitar magazine, March 2004.
        At a workshop he conducted at Shade Tree Stringed Instruments, Laguna Niguel, CA, in April 2000, I asked Bensusan how much of his playing is in DADGAD, these days. "What do you think?", he asked back. "95%?". He shook his head, "All the time."
        Bensusan's 1986 text The Guitar Book offers much advice about using DADGAD, as well as about guitar playing, making music, and cooking.


      1  5  1  3  6  9
  •   D  A  D  F# B  E -- D6add9   Used by M. Ward. Just two strings re-tuned: string 6 down a whole-step, string 3 down a half-step. Also used by Amber Rubarth.

      1  5  1  3  6  1
  •   D  A  D  F# B  D -- D6   Used by Phil Keaggy. String 6 down a whole-step, string 3 down a half-step, string 1 down a whole-step.

      1  5  1  3  5  1
  •   D  A  D  F# A  D -- Open D / 'Sebastopol'   Used by Mississippi Fred McDowell, Blind Willie McTell, Lottie Beamnan, Son House, many other Mississippi Delta bluesmen, Elmore James, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Mary McCaslin, Joni Mitchell - Chelsea Morning and Big Yellow Taxi, Leo Kottke - Watermelon, Peter Lang, David Lindley, Ry Cooder - Thirteen Question Method.
        This is the same intervallic pattern as the also-popular Open E tuning, but with every string tuned one full step lower, making for less stress on the guitar's neck than imposed by Open E, which requires three strings to be raised in pitch. As for Open E, the first-position E7 grip from standard tuning can be used to great effect in its usual position (to add the 6 and sus4 tones to the tonic D), and as a launch point for running 6th intervals on strings 3 and 5, as in this major scale pattern...

               D    Em   F#m  G    A    Bm   C#o  D    Em   F#m
          
    (or) F#m  G    A    Bm   C#o  D    Em   F#m  G    A
         1 D ----------------------------------------------------
         2 A ----------------------------------------------------
         3 F# -0----1----3----5----7----8----10---12---13---15---
         4 D ----------------------------------------------------
         5 A --0----2----4----5----7----9----10---12---14---16---
         6 D ----------------------------------------------------
        Since the surrounding open strings sound D, A, D, and D respectively (high to low) -- which are the 1 and 5 notes of the key of D -- they can be incorporated to fill out the sound, and to create all sorts of interesting 'accidental' harmonies.

        Another way to view the pattern of this tuning is as one step beyond DADGAD - with the third string dropped a half-step, in addition to strings 1, 2 and 6 (dropped a whole step).
        Muddy Waters: "He (Son House) showed me how to tune my guitar in three ways -- natural [standard], Spanish [open G] and cross-note [open D]." - Muddy Waters to Alan Lomax, reported in an article in Acoustic Guitar magazine, July, 2003.
        "Guitarists have been strumming in open D since the 1800s. Often called Vestapol or Sebastopol (after a popular 19th-century guitar piece by the same name), this tuning was embraced by blues slide guitarists in the early 1900s. Since then, players of all persuasions -- from Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now) to the Allman Brothers (Little Martha) to Nirvana (Lithium) to Adrian Legg (The Irish Girl) -- have drawn inspiration from this handy tuning." - Andy Ellis in Decoding Open D in Guitar Player magazine, May, 2001.
        Peter Lang says, "It's the greatest all-purpose tuning I know of. It's very versatile in that it lets me play really snappy, bluesy stuff, while also being magnificent for more complex material. It lets you access some colorful sounds as you work out the melody lines on the higher strings, and also get rich notes out of the bass strings that a lot of other open tunings don't offer." - Interview with Peter Lang, by Anil Prasad in Guitar Player magazine, April, 2008.
        Open D is the tuning that Bo Diddley (Ellas Otha Bates / Ellas McDaniel, 1928-2008) used exclusively, if I understand correctly... though with his guitar just roughly at standard pitch, and sometimes with a capo... per this video of a medley of the aptly yclept and mono-chordal 'Hey, Bo Diddley' and 'Bo Diddley'.
        According to Mr. Diddley, "My sister bought me a guitar, and I started beating and banging on it. I finally figured out how to tune it, but I tuned it my way. I liked the way it sounded, and I learned how to finger it, trying to get this and that out of it, and finally, I made up some songs of my own. I still tune my guitar the same way. I never did know exactly what key I was tuned to, but I came to find out from some old people that it was called 'Sepastopol' [or Open D, low to high -- D A D F# A D]. It's not hard for other musicians to play with me -- they just have to transpose a bit." - Story by Jeff Hannusch, in Guitar Player magazine, June, 1984.
        ...and according to Ry Cooder, "It's the blues bag. Here you have Elmore James and Blind Willie Johnson and those kinds of sounds. It's not as bright and strident as Open G -- it's more introspective sounding. Open G wants you to change chords, Open D doesn't care if you change or not. You've got the tonic on the bottom, and that's very nice -- you're rooted. In my mind, your blues chops come together in this tuning." - per Andy Ellis in Decoding Open D in Guitar Player magazine, May, 2001.


      1  5  1 b3  5  1
  •   D  A  D  F  A  D -- Open Dm   Used by Nehemiah "Skip" James, John Cephas. "I think everyone is affected the same way when they hear Skip James play... His sound has so much soul and so much eeriness that when you hear it, it amazes you. .. Immediately I said I got to learn what this man is doing. ..finding my way around in the D-minor tuning.. that was all new." - John Cephas, in article Blues Ambassador Acoustic Guitar magazine, March, 2001.
    "The tuning that James learned form Henry Stuckey (E B E G B E) is usually called E minor, but James didn't generally use it to play in minor keys. He would usually fret the third string at the first fret to give the song a major tonality and then use the open string (the minor third) [the b3 - ed.] in conjunction with slides and pull-offs for bluesy melodic runs. On his Paramount session, however, he pitched the tuning lower, to D minor. On his 1960s cuts he was closer to Eb minor."
    - Orville Johnson Wyatt, article Skip James in Acoustic Guitar magazine, Sept 2010.
    Also used by the Indigo Girls.


      1  5  1 b3  5 b7
  •   D  A  D  F  A  C -- Dm7   Used by guest book corespondent "the exhumer", who reports, "i like that c.". It's the flatted 7 of D. Maybe he likes to be able to hammer the tonic d on top of it...
      1  5  1  9  5  1
  •   D  A  D  E  A  D -- Dadd9   Used by Pat Kirtley, and Annie Gallup (who uses it exclusively). Facilitates hammered-on major third (F# on 3rd string), which is handy for all sorts of folk-style playing, as well as for country licks. It also places adjacent scale tones on the 3rd and 4th strings, as DADGAD does on the 2nd and 3rd strings. Use the same fingering as DADGAD, oddly enough, for the first position D chord: just press down fret two of the 3rd string. With this tuning however, this brings in the natural 3 (F#) rather than the the 5 (A).
        Lower the 3rd string down to E. Though it's a drop of three half-steps, there's no real tension loss problem, even with light gauge strings.


      1  5  1  1  5  1
  •   D  A  D  D  A  D -- D5   Used by Jim Kweskin, for Chevrolet. String 6 down a whole-step, string 3 way down a fourth, strings 2 and 1 down a whole-step.

      1  5 b7  4 b7 b3
  •   D  A  C  G  C  F -- Dm7sus4   Used by Bruce Cockburn for his Down to the Delta, in Dm. Strings 6 and 4 down a whole-step, strings 2 and 1 up a half-step.

      1  5 b7  4  5  1
  •   D  A  C  G  A  D -- D7sus4  Used by Ani DiFranco.

      1  5  4  4  5
  •   D  A  G  G  A  x -- Dsus4   (4th string down to G, no first string) Used by "the exhumer", who says, "it might sound kind of eccentric, but i got used to it and can come up with some really FULL sounds. of course, i have been using it for 4 years...".

      1  4  1  4  6  9
  •   D  G  D  G  B  E -- Drop-D-G   Used, possibly, by bluesman Lonnie Johnson (a big influence on Robert Johnson and many of his contemporaries). "Almost everything he [Lonnie Johnson] recorded is in the key of D. There is a slight controversy over his guitar playing. Stefan Grossman thinks he played in Dropped-D tuning, while Woody Mann and Lenny Carlson think he played in a Dropped D-G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-E). I do not have the answer, but both tunings seem to work." - Olav Torvund [see his Olav Torvund's Guitar Pages for great gobs of guitar and guitar-playing advice]
    Drop strings 6, 5, and 1 a full tone each. One advantage of this Drop-D-G tuning is that the open G on the 5th string affords a convenient low open root for the IV chord of the key of D.... at the expense of what would otherwise be a deep open root for the V chord. Still, one can always hold down the A at the 2nd fret...


      1 b3 b7  4  5  1
  •   D  F  C  G  A  D -- Dm7sus4   Used by Michael Hedges, for Ignition. Only string 3 is left as is; strings 6, 4, 2, and 1 down a whole-step, string 5 down a major third.

      1  1  1  5  1  3
  •   D  D  D  A  D  F# -- open D   Invented by George Harrison, and used by Peter Frampton (who learned it from George) on Winds of Change. Strings 6 down a whole-step to D, string 5 down a 5th to D [requires heavier string], string 3 up a whole-step to A, string 2 up a minor 3rd to D, string 1 up a whole-step to F#.

      5  5  1  3  5  5
  •   A  A  D  F# A  A -- open D   Used by Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Tomorrow Never Knows. Strings 6, 3, 2, and 1 all lowered to their target pitches, almost surely.


Most of these 'D tunings' above can be thought of as a series of progressive departures from Standard Tuning. See the illustration below. Beginning at the top of the list, each new tuning has one further lowered string, as indicated by the notes colored red. The strings are generally lowered a whole step, except in the case of the 3rd string, which drops by half steps to open up six string D major and D minor chords, in turn.
    •   E  A  D  G  B  E -- Standard
    •   D  A  D  G  B  E -- Drop D
    •   D  A  D  G  B  D -- Double Drop D
    •   D  A  D  G  A  D -- DADGAD
    •   D  A  D  F# A  D -- Open D
    •   D  A  D  F  A  D -- Open Dm
    •   D  A  D  E  A  D -- Dadd2
Here is nearly the same sequence, but with Phil Keaggy's D6 tuning taking the place of DADGAD in the fourth 'slot':
    •   E  A  D  G  B  E -- Standard
    •   D  A  D  G  B  E -- Drop D
    •   D  A  D  G  B  D -- Double Drop D
    •   D  A  D  F# B  D -- D6
    •   D  A  D  F# A  D -- Open D
    •   D  A  D  F  A  D -- Open Dm
    •   D  A  D  E  A  D -- Dadd2
Note that the 5th and 4th strings remain unchanged throughout both sequences, since they are already the 5 (A) and the 1 (D), respectively, of the key of D.

  Tunings especially for the key of C and Cm   (6th string always tuned down to C)
      1  1  2  5  6  9
  •   C  C  D  G  A  D -- C6sus2   Used by Michael Hedges, for Aerial Boundaries. String 6 down to C, and string 5 up to C, per the "C2 C3 D3 G3 A3 D4" notation in the Michael Hedges tunings list compiled by John Stropes, who worked directly with Hedges in transcribing much of his music. The open 2 (D) on string 1 echoes the hammer-on-the-3 (E) opportunity present on string 4 (as in standard tuning).
        Tuning string 5 up a minor third to C will substantially increase the tension pulling across the guitar's top. Don't leave your guitar in this tuning for any longer than necessary.


      1  1  1  5  1  3
  •   C  C  C  G  C  E -- open C   Used by John Fahey, for Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip the 14th of Spain. String 6 down to C, string 5 up to C, string 4 down to C. - per Pat Missin. Tuning string 6 up a minor third to C will substantially increase the tension pulling across the top of the guitar. Don't leave your guitar in this tuning for any longer than necessary.

     1  1  5  1  1  1
  •  C  C  G  C  C  C -- open C   Invented by Crimean Tatar tapping virtuoso Enver Izmaylov. "I use these tunings to help convey the characteristics of the [Crimean Tatar] folk music I explore." Izmaylov's other tuning invention is E B E E B E. - article in Guitar Player magazine, July, 2010.

      1  6  2  5  7  3
  •   C  A  D  G  B  E -- Drop C   6th string down to C, and everything else as in Standard tuning. Used by Bob Dylan, for It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. - Acoustic Guitar magazine, Dec 2000

      1  6  1  5  1  3
  •   C  A  C  G  C  E -- C6   "It's a C tuning, but it's not a C tuning [not an open C tuning]. I made it up. It's [thinks., long pause], from low to high, E, C, G, C, A, C. I used that on Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp." - Jimmie Page, Guitar Legends magazine, Fall 1993. At the urging of Derek DePrator, who writes "The reason the Jimmy Page tuning makes no sense is because you have it backwards."... I have inverted Jimmy's recollection of this tuning to the much more likely (low to high) C, A, C, G, C, E. String 6 would be tuned down to C (after replacement with a heavier guage). String 5 stays put, string 4 drops a whole step to C, string 3 stays as is, string 2 comes up a half step to C, and string 1 holds steady. The A of string 5 may seem out of place in a C tuning (being the 6) but it affords a low tonic bass note for the potentially important relative minor chord: Am.

      1  5  3  5  1  3
  •   C  G  E  G  C  E -- open C   Noted by Pat Missin.

      1  5  2  1  5  9
  •   C  G  D  C  G  D -- Cadd9   A favorite of Sonic Youth, used for Pattern Recognition, Dude Ranch Nurse, and I Love You, Golden Blue. - article in Guitar Player magazine, Sept 2004. All strings tuned down to their respective pitches, probably.

      1  5  2  5  1  2
  •   C  G  D  G  C  D -- Orkney tuning   Used by Martin Simpson, Seth Austin, Tony McManus, Chris Proctor, Anton Emery, Joni Mitchell, and Sonic Youth. Name suggested by Steve Baughman, after the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland.
        String 6 is dropped way back to C (after replacement with a heavier gauge string). String 5 is lowered a whole step to G, strings 4 and 3 are left as is, string 2 is raised a half step to C, and string 1 is lowered a whole step to D.
        While many alternate tunings are more or less married to a particular key, Orkney works well for at least the keys of G and C, and Steve Baughman also uses it for the key of D, and it may be usable for Cm as well. This flexibility owes much to open bass strings set to C, G and D respectively (rather than to a 1, a 5, and an octave of the 1, as in many other tunings).
        DADGAD players note: many chords and other fingerings are directly transportable to Orkney tuning, because the intervals between Orkney's strings 1-5 are the same as between DADGAD's strings 2-6.
        As explained on Steve Baughman's website, "It is a wonderful tool for melodic (non-linear) playing, in which you avoid playing subsequent notes on the same string. This technique (Pierre Bensusan calls it "harp style") allows for a very smooth and gentle delivery of the melody and avoids the staccato effect that marks many guitar arrangements of fiddle tunes."
        In an e-mail message, Baughman further disclosed that, "It is also becoming a tuning used by singer-songwriters as accompaniment."
        See Baughman's article for much helpful information about using Orkney tuning, including chord charts and a sample song.       - article Orkney Tuning by Steve Baughman, Acoustic Guitar magazine, Dec 2008
        See also the encyclopedic book The Orkney Companion with hundreds of chords and many tunes.


      1  5  2  5  1  3
  •   C  G  D  G  C  E -- Cadd2   Used by Michael Hedges, for Spring Buds. Good bass support for the V chord (G). Drop strings 6 and 5 down to target pitches, and raise string 2 up a half-step to C.

      1  5  2  5  7  3
  •   C  G  D  G  B  E -- C G - standard   Used by Duck Baker, by Sérgio Assad (who describes it as "like a cello"), and by John Leventhal, who notes, "You keep the top four strings the same so you can sort of voice chords the way you're familiar with doing it, and then it gives you a lot of rich root-fifth possibilities underneath it."
        Used by Richard Thompson, who says, "Modal tunings such as C G D G B E low-to-high, also extend the possibilities of the guitar by giving you a richer bass sound, and making it almost like having three keys available at once with just a very slight adjustment of your fingers."
        Used by Andreas Kapsalis who says, "The .060 guage sixth string still sounds good when tuned down to C. In fact I'll often tune the sixth and firth strings down to B and F#."
        Good bass support for the V chord (G). Works well also for keys of G and D, if we understand Thompson's statement correctly. Drop strings 6 and 5 down to target pitches, and leave the other four strings as is.


      1  5  2  5  6  9
  •   C  G  D  G  A  D -- C6add9   This tuning can be thought of as DADGAD with the 5th and 6th strings dropped yet another whole step. Used by Lawrence Juber, who sometimes switches to it from DADGAD to play a song in C. "It works well for the keys of C, C minor, G, and G minor." Lawrence Juber, Fingerstyle Guitar magazine, Oct 2003.

      1  5  2  4  1  3
  •   C  G  D  F  C  E -- Cadd2   Invented by Joni Mitchell, for Sistowbell Lane. Drop strings 6, 5 and 3 down to target pitches, and raise string 2 a half-step to C.

      1  5  1  5  1  4
  •   C  G  C  G  C  F -- Csus4   Used by Kelly Joe Phelps. "I like to tune the guitar to C G C G C F because the tuning functions much like DADGAD. It's that same roots and fifths thing with a fourth thrown in." Kelly Joe Phelps, Guitar Player magazine, Oct 2001. Tune strings 1 and 2 up a half step. Tune strings 4, 5, and 6 down.

      1  5  1  5  1  3
  •   C  G  C  G  C  E -- open C   This tuning has been widely used, per Pat Missin, who calls it 'standard C tuning', and points to John Fahey: Revolt of the Dyke Brigade, Requiem for John Hurt, Sunflower River blues, and Banks of the Owchita... and also Leo Kottke, for Busted Bicycle and Watermelon. Also used by Bob Brozman, for C Stomp Blues on his album 'Blue Hula Stomp'. - e-mail exchange with Pat Missin, May 2007.
        Employed also by Bill Frisell, who wrote the tune Brother while experimenting with this tuning. "...the guitar would ring with these wonderful overtones."
    - Acoustic Guitar magazine, Sept 1997


      1  5  1  5  1  b3
  •   C  G  C  G  C  Eb -- open Cm   Used by Bob Brozman for Agogostein's Lament. Also used by Charles Saufley. - e-mail exchange with Pat Missin, May 2007.

      1  5  1  5  1  2
  •   C  G  C  G  C  D -- Csus2   "Nic Jones used to play beautifully in in Csus2 tuning. That's equivalent to double-C tuning on the five-string banjo." - Martin Simpson, in Acoustic Guitar magazine, March 2004.

      1  5  1  5  1  1
  •   C  G  C  G  C  C -- open C (no 3)   Variant of C G C G C E open C tuning used by John Fahey for Requia - Arvid Burman Smith Jr, in his book Contemporary Slide Guitar. Pat Missin says that Fahey probably also used it for When the Catfish Is In Bloom

      1  5  1  4  1  4
  •   C  G  C  F  C  F -- Csus4   Used by Nick Drake, for From the Morning. This tuning has the same 'layout' as DADGDG, but down a whole step.

      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   C  G  C  F  C  E -- Csus4   Used by Nick Drake, for River Man, Time Has Told Me, Ride. This tuning has the same 'layout' as DADGDF#, but down a whole step.

      1  5  1  4  1  9
  •   C  G  C  F  C  D -- Csus4add9   Invented by Martin Simpson, who uses it especially for slide playing.

      1  5  1  4  6  9
  •   C  G  C  F  A  D -- Drop-C   This tuning is not as strange as it looks. It's the same 'layout' as Drop-D, with all strings tuned one full step lower, so the relationships between the strings (except for the 5th and 6th) are the same as in standard tuning. Used by Joseph Spence, Neil Young, Leo Kottke - for the studio version of Louise, which Kottke has also performed live, tuned half a step lower yet - in Drop-Bb... not on light gauge string, I expect. Used almost exclusively by Orange County rockers Atreyu. "

      1  5  1  4  5  7
  •   C  G  C  F  G  B -- Cmaj7sus4   Used by Michael Hedges, for Aura Muunta. All strings down to target pitches, very likely. Great support for the V7 chord (G7: G B D F).

      1  5  5  9  5  9
  •   C  G  G  D  G  D -- Cadd9   Used by Nels Cline, for Grow Closer and Red Line to Greenland. Tune each string down to target pitches, very likely. This tuning would also be very much at home in the key of G, with the low C string supporting the IV chord.

      1  4  1  5  6  3
  •   C  F  C  G  A  E -- C6add4 / Am7b6   Used by Michael Hedges, for The Magic Farmer. All strings tuned down to target pitches, surely. This tuning appears to be arranged with the IV chord in mind: F (F A C), as well as the relative minor key's I chord: Am (A C E)

      1  4  1  1  5  1
  •   C  F  C  C  G  C -- Cadd4   Used by Michael Hedges, for Shell Shock Venus. All strings tuned down to target pitches, probably. The lowest three strings might appear to suggest the key of F, but the F string is probably for the benefit of the IV chord. The tuning could be named "Csus4" but the 4 has no opportunity to "un-suspend" to the 3. It's probably best understood as the 1 of the IV chord, rather than the 4 of the I chord... which indicates how insignificant is the chord described by the open strings of most altered tunings (unlike the truly 'open' tunings, where the chord name really does mean something).

  Tunings especially for the keys of B and Bm
     b3  1  1  5  1  4
  •   D  B  B  F# B  E - Bmsus4   Used by Andreas Kapsalsis, for the key of Bm, presumably...

      1  5 b3 b6  1  4
  •   B  F# D  G  B  E -- B F# - standard   Used by Andreas Kapsalis, who says, "The .060 guage sixth string still sounds good when tuned down to C. In fact I'll often tune the sixth and firth strings down to B and F#." The top four strings remain in standard tuning. String four's D (b3) and string three's G (b6) strongly suggest the key of B minor.

      1  5  9  5  5  5
  •   B  F# C# F# F# F# - Badd9 (no 3)   Used by Michael Hedges, for Follow Through. All strings tuned down, very likely, except for string 1 -- up a full step.

      1  5  9  5  5  1
  •   B  F# C# F# F# B -- Badd9 (no 3)   Used by Michael Hedges, for Dream Beach. All strings tuned down, very likely.

      1  5  9  4 b7 b7
  •   B  F# C# E  A  A -- Bm9sus4   Used by Michael Hedges, for Pinball Wizard. All strings tuned down, very likely.

      1  5  9  3 b7  3
  •   B  F# C# D  A  D -- Bm9   Used by Michael Hedges, for After the Gold Rush, Dirge, Face Yourself, Menage a Trois. All strings tuned down, very likely.

      1  5  1  5  1  3
  •   B  F# B  F# B  D# - open B   Used by Tom Rush - for Rockport Sunday[?], Long John[?], Urge for Going[?]. 6th string down to B. 5th string down to F#.

      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   B  F# B  E  B  D# - Bsus4   Used by Nick Drake, for Which Will.

  Tunings especially for the keys of Bb and Bbm
      5  1  2  5  7  3
  •   F  Bb C  F  A  D -- Bbmaj7add2   Keola Beamer - Namakelua's Tune. 6th string up to F, 5th string up to Bb, other strings dropped one whole step each. This one must be meant for Bb, given the strings tuned to F (the 5) and D (the 3). The C on the 4th string is the 2, facilitating internal resolves to the 3. (D) It's very unusual to include the 7 (A) in a tuning, though it makes sense as part of the V7 chord (F7), and would enable hammered-on resolutions to the Bb tonic. This is one of the many Hawaiian slack-key tunings.

      1  5  2  2  4  1
  •   Bb F  C Eb  F  Bb -- Bbadd2sus4   Michael Hedges, for I Carry Your Heart. All strings lowered to their pitches, most likely.

      1  5  1  2  5  1
  •   Bb F  Bb C  F  Bb -- Bbadd2   Michael Hedges, for Baal T'Shuvah. All strings lowered to their pitches, probably.

  Tunings especially for the key of A and Am
      5  1  5  b7 9  5
  •   E  A  E  G  B  E -- A9   Used by Nick Drake, on One of These Things First (capo-ed 4th fret... played as if in A, sounds in C#).

      5  1  4 b7  1  5
  •   E  A  D  G  A  E -- 'A Tuning'   Used by Steve Gillette, Mary McCaslin...
        Used by "I learned this wonderful tuning from Steve Gillette way back in the 1960's. Over the years I've used it for lots of songs, it's a favorite."
    - Mary McCaslin
        This is a 1/6th tweak on standard tuning: the 2nd string is lowered from B to A, opening up an opportunity for a 3-less modal-sounding A 'chord' with the 2nd string ringing open. As with standard tuning, great for hammering-on 5 on top of 4 (on 4th string) and 1 on top of flatted 7 (on 3rd string). Together with the omission of the 3, this points toward the pentatonic pipe-tune scale: 1, 2, 4, 5, b7 (a, b, d, e, g). In any case, this tuning is great for playing melodic lines (in A, especially) on the 3rd string, or intervals on the 3rd and 4th strings together, against the open A and E of the 2nd and 1st strings (not to mention the open A and E of the 5th and 6th strings).



      5  1  4 b7  1  4
  •   E  A  D  G  A  D -- A7sus4   Used by Sarah McLachlan, Lisa Loeb, Ani DiFranco...
        "There was a chord voicing that Sarah McLachlan showed me in an open [sic] tuning, E,A,D,G,A,D. I showed it to Dweezil [Zappa, her boyfriend], and he came up with some cool instrumental things. I took that music, rearranged it a little and added lyrics, and then we finished up the song [Underdog] together."
    - Lisa Loeb, article in Aug 2002 Acoustic Guitar magazine
        Similar to the A tuning above, but with also the first string altered from standard -- down a full step to D. Despite its kinship to DADGAD -- the same except for the 6th string held at E -- this tuning may be best suited to the key of A.


      5  1  4 b7  1 b3
  •   E  A  D  G  A  C -- Am7add4   Michael Hedges, for Road Music. Only strings 2 and 1 are retuned -- both lowered to their pitches.

      5  1  4  5  1  5
  •   E  A  D  E  A  E -- 'pipe tuning'   Martin Carthy, Davey Graham, Pat Kirtley...
        "I use a pipe tuning for playing the Irish pieces. The 2nd string is tuned down to A, and the 3rd string is tuned down a tone and a half to E. Martin Carthy taught me the tuning."
    - Davey Graham, British Fingerpicking Guitar, Stephan Grossman, 1976.
        "My very favorite tuning, EADEAE, is the hardest of the bunch [of the more difficult tunings] to comprehend. Only two strings are changed from standard, but they are the 2nd and 3rd strings, and they are changed by 1 and 1-1/2 steps down, respectively... resulting in the total brain-death of your accumulated chord and scale knowledge. Ironically... it is where I've had the greatest productivity as a composer and arranger; I have written or arranged about 40 tunes in EADEAE. It is at its best in the key of A, and contrary to expectations, it is just about useless in E!" - article Opening Up to Open Tunings, Pat Kirtley, Acoustic Guitar, 1999.

      5  1  5  1  3  5
  •   E  A  E  A  C# E -- Open A / Spanish Tuning
        Used by Robert Johnson, for his Cross Road Blues, and Terraplane Blues (capo-ed up 2 to sound in B). "This high-pitched approach to a tuning commonly used in country blues complemented Johnson's voice and lent a taut, searing quality to his upper-register bottleneck figures."
    - column Off the Record, Acoustic Guitar, Aug 2003.
        Used by John Lee Hooker. "Hooker played in several tunings, but favored open A (E A E A C# E) for his boogies." [like Boom Boom and Boogie Chillun]. - article How to play like... John Lee Hooker, by Andy Ellis, Guitar Player, Jan 2005.
        It may be convenient to think of this tuning as a ratcheted-up version of Open G tuning, with all of the strings tuned up one full step higher. Relative to standard tuning, the 6th and 5th strings stay the same, the 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings are each pushed up a full step to E, A, and C#, respectively, and the 1st string remains at E. The extra tension of the three raised strings may put an undue strain on your guitar's neck, unless your strings are relatively light, therefore this tuning may be best suited to electric guitars, where the strings tend to be lighter.


      4  1  3  5  1  5
  •   D  A  C# E  A  E -- A/d   Invented by Cheryl Wheeler, searching for something functionally equivalent to DADGAD for the key of A. Used by her for Rainy Road Into Atlanta, If It Were Up To Me, and several other songs. The 6th tuned to D makes possible a huge IV chord: 001200, offering the ever-welcome 2 to 3 hammer-on (e to f#) on the 3rd string. For an A major triad, she frets the 6th string at the 2nd fret and plays the rest of the strings open: 200000. - Acoustic Guitar magazine, Oct 1999. Also used by Patty Larkin on her 2003 album Red=Luck.

      5  1  5  1  b3 5
  •   E  A  E  A  C  E -- Am   "My favorite is still Am -- E, A, E, A, C, E with the minor being the signature of rock and roll and Am being perfect like the key C." [How's that again...?] - johnnybgood104@_______.com

     b3 b7  5  5  9  5
  •   C  G  E  E  B  E -- Am9   Used by Joni Mitchell, for Help Me [?!] Hmmm.... should we refile this one under C, as Cmaj7... or should we imagine Joni fretting string 5, fret 2 for a big Am9...?

      1  1  4  1  1  3
  •   A  A  D  A  A  C# - Aadd4   Used by Nick Drake, for Hanging on a Star.

      1  5  1  4  6  1
  •   A  E  A  D  F# A - Double-Drop A   Used by Steve White for many songs, including Faial. As White explains, "Now I play in double drop D tuning (DADGBD), 5 half steps below standard." In other words, all strings tuned down a fourth, to a baritone-range edition of standard tuning, and then strings 1 and 6 dropped another whole step -- yielding a fourths-down version of Double-Drop D, which could be thought of as Double-Drop A. White further notes, "I’ve been tuning my guitar lower and lower and use especially heavy strings: 017 to 68. The string gauge compensates for the low tension." Strings this heavy must be necessary for intonation and playability. White must have strong hands to wield such massive strings, even though the tension must be relatively low, considering how far down they're tuned.

  Tunings especially for the keys of Ab / G# and Abm / G#m
      5  1 #4  7 #9 #5
  •   Eb Ab D  G  B  E -- Used by Sérgio Assad, specifically for Ab.

      4  1  5 b6  1  5
  •   C# G# D# E  G# D# -- G#(b6)   Michael Hedges, for Theme from Hatari!. The C# for string 6 would correspond to the IV chord. All strings tuned down, very likely.

  Other tunings, not meant for any particular key, or for which the intended key is not obvious...
  •   A  D  G  C  E  A -- Gambale tuning   Invented by Frank Gambale to facilitate piano-like 'cluster' chord voicings, for chord-melody playing. "That tuning is particularly suited for chord-melody playing, not single-note improvisations. Live, I play a double-neck, so I can have both tunings available [Standard and Gambale]. The tuning has been a revelation. I gave up on harmonically-dense cluster voicings for the guitar because they were a physical impossibilily. But I was messing with a Nashville tuning patch on a Roland VG-88 a few years ago and got the idea to develop this tuning, wherein the whole guitar is tuned up a fourth, but the top two strings are down an octave. I use a .010 gauge set for the bottom four strings, starting with the A [6th] string, and for the top two strings I use the D and G strings from a set of .009s. So, low to high, it is .036, .026, .017, .013, .024, .016. It takes a moment to get used to it, but within a few minutes, everyone I show it to loves it. The beauty of the tuning is you can play the same shapes that you're used to, whereas if you use an alternate tuning like DADGAD, all of your shapes go away and you have to relearn everything. In my tuning, if you play, say, a D chord shape, it's still a major triad [a G major triad, as it would be on a ukulele, sort of]." - article in Guitar Player magazine, April 2010.

  •   G  G  D  D  D#  D# -- Brother James tuning   A Sonic Youth / Thurston Moore invention. - article in Guitar Player magazine, Sept 2004.

  •   F#  F#  F#  F#  G  B -- Death Valley tuning   A Sonic Youth / Thurston Moore invention. - article in Guitar Player magazine, Sept 2004.

  • 'Nashville tuning' (aka 'Poor Man's 12-string') Developed by Nashville session cats, apparently. The 6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd strings are replaced with lighter strings so they may be tuned an octave higher -- producing an extraordinarily bright textural variation for recording sessions, with other guitars typically in the foreground. As Rob McMinn (Music Tech magazine, Dec 2003) puts it, "Your guitar will now sound ethereal, light, bright, and jangly. Recorded this way, your acoustic guitar will slice through the mix. Stick on a capo and play higher up the neck and it can even sound like a mandolin!".
        The 6th string is wound, the 5th string is wound or plain, and the other strings are plain. The following string gauges are recommended for acoustic guitar by Rob McMinn. They're the octave strings from an acoustic 12-string set. The same or similar gauges would work well for electric guitar:


      6th string: E - one octave higher .025w
      5th string: A - one octave higher .017
      4th string: D - one octave higher .012
      3rd string: G - one octave higher .009
      2nd string: B - normal pitch      .014
      1st string: E - normal pitch
          .010

        Billy Gibbons' "Cheater's 12" variation: "You use a first string in place of the big E and tune it in unison to your little E. Then you use a second string for the fifth, and tune it to an A. Use another second string for your usual fourth string, tuned to a high D. So you've got standard tuning, but strange octaves - kind of a fake 12-string." - Guitar Player magazine, March 1998.
        David Gilmour uses Gibbons' variant, or something very close to it for Hey You (on The Wall). He uses unwound strings across the fretboard, replacing the 6th string with a high E string -- tuned to the normal pitch for the 1st string (two octaves above the normal pitch for the 6th string).
    - Guitar Legends magazine, late 1997.

  •   E  A  D  G  C  F -- fourths tuning   Used by 'touch-technique' (two-handed tapping) jazz virtuoso Stanley Jordan. The 1st and 2nd strings are each tuned up a half step, so that the interval between every pair of strings is a perfect fourth -- unlike in standard tuning, where the fourths are interrupted by a major third between the 2nd and 3rd strings. Jordan's tuning makes for consistent chord grips across the fretboard -- any chord shape may be moved to any other position on the fretboard without altering its harmonic structure. - Wikipedia entry for Stanley Jordan, 30 Apr 2006.
    "...Stanley Jordan recorded an instrumental cover of Stairway to Heaven which is played on two guitars simultaneously, with no overdubs." - Wikipedia


  •   E  A  D  G  B  E -- standard tuning   This is the traditional standard tuning familiar to most guitarists, though it's probably possible to grow up within the Hawaiian slack-key guitar community without learning much about it.
        Slightly mad Richard Lloyd (of Television fame) suggests that a completely fourths-based tuning for the guitar -- E A D G C F -- was historically rejected [though revived by Stanley Jordan; see above] because of the "god awful" minor 9th interval between the low open E string and the high open F string.
        Even if this is dubious, it seems conceivable that the natural invitation extended by the low E string to play 1st position E major and E minor chords would be flatly contradicted by 2nd and 1st strings tuned to C and F respectively. 1st position six-string Em would require this improbable fingering: Em:022042 (e b e g e g), though a reasonable alternative would be Em:02204x (e b e g e). The 1st position six-string E major triad would require E:022143 (e b e g# e g#), which would distinctly favor six-fingered players (try it). The rest of us would probably be left struggling with the hardly more-playable E:02214x (e b e g# e), losing the high sparkle of string 1 entirely. After some awkward exploration of these chord shapes, some players, surely, would not fail to notice that the 2nd (C) and 1st (F) strings were perched just one notch (one half-step) above ideal scale tones for E-based chords: B (5) and E (1), respectively. Dropping these strings correspondingly, they would experience the ease and the massive sound of our now-familiar tonic-bracketed Em:022000 and E:022100 grips -- and forever secure the unique guitar-friendliness of the key of E [- WA].
        Even Joni Mitchell used standard tuning, at least early on... here she is playing John Phillips's 'Me and My Uncle' on Oscar Brand's TV show, Let's Sing Out, way back in 1965.


  •   E'E A'A D'D G'G BB EE -- 12-string tuning   The special edition of standard tuning for 12-string guitars, which have six courses (pairs) of strings. 'Plain' (unwound) strings 1 and 2 are simply doubled with a second identical string, tuned in unison -- as on a mandolin. The wound strings, however, are paired with much lighter strings tuned an octave higher. All of these ringing strings make for a uniquely full sound, especially for strummed first position chords, and the almost-but-not-exactly in tune string pairs create a uniquely 'chorused' effect. A curious side effect: the octave string for string 3 (G) sounds a minor third higher than the open string 1 (E).
        The octave-string-pairs 3, 4, 5 and 6 have traditionally been arranged with the thin octave string on the bass side of the 'normal' string, so that a downstroke will contact the octave string first, and then the normal string. Rickenbacker notoriously reversed this order for its legendary 360-12 electric 12-string guitar, famously played by George Harrison and then Roger McGuinn (inspired by hearing George play his on the A Hard Day's Night album (McGuinn then identified the guitar from the movie). Other well-known players include Tom Petty, and Peter Buck of REM.
        Andy Ellis writes: "The arrangement of the Rickenbacker 360/12's octave strings has a profound effect on McGuinn's chimey timbres. "The pairs are reversed," he [McGuinn] explains, "compared to typical 12-string guitars. After experimenting with the traditional setup, [former Rickenbacker head] F.C. Hall decided that having the high octave strings come after the low strings made for a bigger sound. Tom Petty has the high strings first on his 360/12, and it doesn't sound the same as my guitar. I prefer the stock low-high configuration." - article about Roger McGuinn, Guitar Player magazine, Oct 2004.


  •   E  A  D  G# B  E -- Used by Joe Louis Walker for slide playing. Tune string 3 up a half step, to G#. - article in Guitar Player magazine, April 2010. Advantage: establishes a movable trebly major triad on the top three strings. Disadvantage: replaces standard tuning's major triad on strings 2, 3, and 4 with a diminished triad. Standard tuning also offers a minor triad on the top three strings.

  •   E  A  D  G  B  D -- treble drop-D / Double First   Used for Zulu Maskanda music and guitar style. "One variation on this replaces the D fourth string with a nylon first string and tunes it in unison to the D first string. This is known as "double first" tuning, pronounced dabul fersi." - article in Acoustic Guitar magazine, July 2004.

  •   E  A  D  F# B  E -- lute tuning / Drop-F# tuning   Used by John Renbourn - Bicycle Tune, John Dowland, Alonso de Mudarra, other classical guitarists. The lutes, tenor viola da gambas and vihuelas of the Renaissance were turned to the same intervallic pattern, but a minor third higher: G C F A D G - easily achieved by capo-ing the guitar at the third fret. Note that this is similar to standard guitar tuning in that the strings are mostly tuned a fourth apart (low to high), with one pair set a major third apart. In standard guitar tuning, the third is between the 3rd and 2nd strings (G to B), while in lute tuning, the third is between the 4th and 3rd strings (D to F#). This tuning must be very inconvenient for some keys (C major, for example), but it might work nicely for D major, at least. Songwriter-singer-guitarist Bruce Cockburn (who calls it 'Drop-F# tuning) uses it extensively -- for the keys of D and E, at least.
  •   Eb Ab C# F# Bb Eb -- half step down   Used by many players, including Eddie Van Halen, on Jamie's Crying, Nick Drake on At the Chime of a City Clock, and Syd Barrett on Octopus.

  •   D  G  C  F  A  D -- 'Dropped Standard' / whole-step down   Used by Paul McCartney, for Yesterday, Neil Young, for Tell Me Why and Sugar Mountain [correct?!], R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, Elliott Smith, many others.
        Teenager John Fogerty tuned his Harmony 12-string acoustic guitar down a whole step, after hearing Pete Seeger advise it at a concert, and later bought a Gibson ES-175 electric six-string specifically to keep in down-a-whole-step tuning, which he used for Creedence Clearwater Revival's Proud Mary. After his ES-175 was stolen, Fogerty used a Gibson Les Paul, also tuned down a whole step, for hits including Bad Moon Rising, Heard it Through the Grapevine, and Fortunate Son. This lowered tuning allowed Forgety to sing in the comfortable keys of D and G, while using the more rock-worthy chords for the keys of E and A, respectively. In the case of Fortunate Son, he says, "Even though it's in the key of G, I'm playing open [sic] A chords. That's what gives it that sound, especially when I go to the V: I'm hitting a big D chord [E chord grip, with deep root at open string 6], rather than a cowboy-chord D [with root on string 4] in regular tuning." - Acoustic Guitar magazine, January 2010
        Old 97's bass player Murry Hammond reports, "Just for the record, we tune everything down a full step. E's becomes D's, A becomes G, D becomes C, etc. Heck, If we had a 'K' we'd probably drop it down to a 'J.' This tuning down mess is mine and Rhett's [vocalist Rhett Miller] fault. Before 97's started rehearsing, Rhett and I were kicking around a lot of old Sleepy Hero songs and found that some of the notes were too high to hit comfortably, so we tuned everything down a whole note. It's been like that ever since."
        The esteemed but sinister Dimebag Darrell (R.I.P.) reportedly tuned his Washburn Stealth "Dimebag" model down 1-1/4 steps. - Guitar World magazine, April 2001.


  •   C  G  D  A  E  G -- Robert Fripp's Crafty Tuning / New Standard Tuning   Extends the range of the guitar by two full steps in the bottom, and one-and-a-half steps at the top. The strings are tuned in fifths -- like the violin family -- rather than in fourths, with the exception of the 1st string, which is a minor 3rd above the 2nd string. The 2nd and 1st strings must have to be light gauge, and the 6th string must have to be quite heavy.







  •   C  G  C  F  A  D -- dropped 'Dropped Standard' / dropped whole-step down   Used by Killswitch Engage, for all but a few of their songs.

  •   C  G  C  D  G  A -- Martin Carthy's tuning   It could be described as a C6add9 chord, but this is probably no more significant than naming the open chord that standard tuning produces (Em7add4).
        "At some point I decided to mostly focus on one tuning so that I wasn't having to relearn the instrument with every new tuning. So I have my own standard tuning: CGCDGA. - Article TRADDAD by Duck Baker, in Acoustic Guitar magazine, July 2005
        Carthy told me that he uses it for playing in D, especially (!), and also C, G, Em and Am and at least one other key. He told me that heavy gauge strings are a necessity - for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd strings, at least, and the 6th string too, I'll bet. I believe that all of the strings are lowered, none of them raised -- which appears to be supported by Teja Gerken's explainer in the July 2005 edition of Acoustic Guitar magazine that Carthy uses custom string sets to accommodate this tuning, with "typical gauges" of (high to low): .015, .018. .027, .039, .049, .059. Note the especially heavy 1st string, which is dropped a fifth to A. The .015 gauge string Carthy uses would more typically be used as a 2nd string.
        When I asked Carthy if he had any reservations about other people learning the details of his tuning he said, "Oh no... feel free to use it!"

    - Conversation with Martin Carthy, during break at 20 Apr 1996 concert, La Jolla, CA.






  •   C  E  A  D  G  B  E -- Brazilian 7-string tuning   This is the traditional tuning for Brazilain 7-string acoustic guitars. Some players tune the 7th string down an additional half-step to B.

  •   B  E  A  D  F# B -- baritone tuning (down a fifth)   This is the typical tuning for long-scale (27" to 29-3/4") baritone guitars. Ralph Towner uses this tuning on his acoustic baritone guitar on his 2010 album Chiaroscuro.
        Also used on a standard-scale B.C. Rich 6-string electric by Coal Chamber's Meegs Rascom , who says, "...it's tuned like a seven-string... but I have something called a Hip Shot on the B string [6th string] that lets me detune it to an A. I also use really heavy strings. I have a .70 for the low B string. The whole guitar just sounds fatter, ballsier."


  •   B  E  A  D  G  B  E -- 7-string tuning   This is the typical tuning for the standard-scale-length 7-string electric solid body guitar design patented by Alex Gregory in 1985. Standard guitar tuning is extended by an additional low string, tuned to B, a fourth below the 6th string E. The 7-string guitar, with this tuning, was adopted in the late 1980 and early 1990s by some 'shred' players, notably Steve Via, and John Petrucci of Dream Theater.

  •   A  D  G  C  F  A  D -- lowered 7-string tuning   Alternate tuning for standard-scale-length 7-string electric solid body guitars -- favored by Korn nü metal guitarists Brian 'Head' Welch and James 'Munky' Shaffer... on Ibanez K-7 guitars, which were originally issued in 2001.


  Tunings used by Nick Drake

    According to Trevor Dann's 2005 bio of Nick Drake, Darker than the Deepest Sea, he used at least the following tunings, including Standard tuning. Drake often used a capo to raise the pitches of his tunings to fit a song to his voice, as in Cello Song. I've organized the tunings per the likely intended keys -- especially considering the pitches of strings 6 and 5.

  •   E  A  D  G  B  E - (Standard tuning) - Poor Boy, Things Behind the Sun (capo-ed 4th fret... played as if in Am, sounds in C#m... B part is played as if in A major, sounds in C#).

  •   Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb - (Standard tuning, down a half-step) - At the Chime of a City Clock.

  For the key of G
      5  1  5  1  5  1
  •   D  G  D  G  D  G -- G5   Man in a Shed.

      5  1  5  1  5  7
  •   D  G  D  G  D  F# - Gmaj7   Parasite.

      5  1  5  1  3  5
  •   D  G  D  G  B  D -- G   Rider on the Wheel.

      5  1  5  5  9  5
  •   D  G  D  D  A  D -- Gadd9   Road.

  For the key of E
      1  4 b7  9  1  1
  •   E  A  D  F# B  E -- E9-6sus4   Cello Song (capo-ed 6th fret... played as if in E, sounds in Bb. Nick holds 0xx000 as a Iadd9 chord.), and on The Thoughts of Mary Jane.

  For the key of D
      1  5  1  4  1  4
  •   D  A  D  G  D  G -- Dsus4   Northern Sky. 2nd and 1st strings probably both tuned up a minor third to D and G, respectively. I don't think I'd want to leave them at those pitches for long, especially with heavier strings.

      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   D  A  D  G  D  F# - Dsus4   Introduction (Bryter Layter), Pink Moon, Hazey Jane I, Hazey Jane II (capo-ed up one half-step). 2nd string probably tuned up a minor third to D, and 1st string up a whole step to F#.

      1  5  1  4  5  3
  •   D  A  D  G  A  F# - Dsus4   1st string tuned up to F#. May have been used for the song Introduction, on the Bryter Layter album, according to Karl Frisby.

      1  5  1  4  5  1
  •   D  A  D  G  A  D -- Dsus4 (DADGAD)   Three Hours.

  For the key of C
      1  5  1  4  1  4
  •   C  G  C  F  C  F -- Csus4   From the Morning. Same 'layout' as DADGDG, but down a whole step.

      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   C  G  C  F  C  E -- Csus4   River Man, Time Has Told Me, Ride. Same 'layout' as DADGDF#, but down a whole step.

  For the key of B
      1  5  1  4  1  3
  •   B  F# B  E  B  D# -- Bsus4   Which Will.

  For the key of A
      5  1  5 b7  9  5
  •   E  A  E  G  B  E -- A9   One of These Things First (capo-ed 4th fret... played as if in A, sounds in C#).

      1  1  4  1  1  3
  •   A  A  D  A  A  C# - Aadd4   Hanging on a Star.

  Tunings used by Michael Hedges

    From the Michael Hedges tunings list compiled by John Stropes, who worked directly with Hedges in transcribing much of his music. He spells out 63 tuning used by Hedges, and notes for which songs he used them. I've re-listed several of them here, organized by the likely intended keys -- considering the pitches of all strings almost equally, since strings 6 and 5, are not, for Hedges, an especially reliable indicator of the intended key. The tunings I'm not listing here are the ones wherein I can't confidently derive the intended key from the tuning. In any case, I don't have the recordings, so I'm taking a best guess in several cases. Corrections appreciated!

  •   E  A  D  G  B  E - (Standard tuning) - Point A, Point B.

  For the key of G#
      4  1  5 b6  5  1
  •   C# G# D# E  G# D# -- G#/c#(b6)   Michael Hedges, for Theme from Hatari!. The C# for string 6 would correspond to the IV chord. All strings tuned down, very likely.

  For the keys of G and Gm
      5  1  5  1 b3  4
  •   D  G  D  G  Bb  C -- Gmsus4   Michael Hedges, for Two Days Old. Strings 6 and 5 down a whole-step, string 2 down a minor second (half-step), string 1 down a major third.

      5  1  5  1  1  5
  •   D  G  D  G  G  D -- G5   Michael Hedges, for Come Together. Strings 6 and 5 down a whole-step, string 2 down a major third, string 1 down a full- step.

      4  1  5  1  3  5
  •   C  G  D  G  B  D -- G/c   Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Eleven Small Roaches. It seems likely that this tuning would be for the key of G, with a big low C for the IV chord. Strings 6, 3, and 1 each lowered to their target pitches, almost surely.

  For the key of E
      1  3  1  9  5  5
  •   E  G# E  F# B  B -- Eadd9   Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Out on the Parkway. String 5 down a half-step to G# surely, string 4 up a whole-step to E, string 3 down a half-step to F#, and string 1 almost surely down a fourth to B.

  For the key of Ebm
      5  1  5  5  1 b3
  •   Bb Eb Bb Bb Eb Gb -- open Ebm   Michael Hedges, for Like a Rolling Stone. String 3 might be tuned up a minor third to Bb, and string 1 is very likely tuned up a major second to Gb. Other strings are tuned down, most likely.

  For the keys of D and Dm
      1  5  2 b3  5  9
  •   D  A  E  F  A  E -- Dmadd9   Michael Hedges, for Oracle. Strings 6, 3, and 2 down a whole-step, string 4 up a whole-step.

      1  5  1  4  5  1
  •   D  A  D  G  A  D -- 'DADGAD' (Dsus4, no 3)   Michael Hedges, for Peg Leg Speed King, Ragamuffin, and The First Cutting.

      1 b3 b7  4  5  1
  •   D  F  C  G  A  D -- Dm7sus4   Michael Hedges, for Ignition. Only string 3 is left as is; strings 6, 4, 2, and 1 down a whole-step, string 5 down a major third.

      5  5  1  3  5  5
  •   A  A  D  F# A  A -- open D   Michael Hedges, for Gospel and Tomorrow Never Knows. Strings 6, 3, 2, and 1 all lowered to their target pitches, almost surely.

  For the key of C
      1  1  2  5  6  9
  •   C  C  D  G  A  D -- C6add9   Michael Hedges, for Aerial Boundaries. Strings 6 down to C, and string 5 up to C, I suppose, though this doesn't appear to harmonize with the "C2 C3 D3 G3 A3 D4" notation in the Michael Hedges tunings list compiled by John Stropes.

      1  5  2  5  1  3
  •   C  G  D  G  C  E -- Cadd2   Michael Hedges, for Spring Buds. Good bass support for the V chord. Strings 6 and 5 down to target pitches, but string 2 surely up a half-step to C.

      1  5  1  4  5  7
  •   C  G  C  F  G  B -- Cmaj7sus4   Michael Hedges, for Aura Muunta. All strings down to target pitches, very likely. Support for the V7 chord at no extra charge (G7: G B D F).

      1  4  1  1  5  1
  •   C  F  C  C  G  C -- Csus4   Michael Hedges, for Shell Shock Venus. All strings tuned down to target pitches, probably. The lowest three strings might appear to suggest the key of F, but the F string is probably for the benefit of the IV chord. Calling the tuning 'Csus4' is somewhat arbitrary, since there's no way to "un-suspend" to the 3, and because the 4 is surely best understood as the 1 of the IV chord, rather than the 4 of the I chord... all of which indicates how insignificant is the chord described by the open strings of most altered tunings (unlike the truly 'open' tunings, where the chord name really does mean something).

  For the keys of B and Bm
      1  5  9  5  5  5
  •   B  F# C# F# F# F# - Badd9 (no 3)   Michael Hedges, for Follow Through. All strings tuned down, very likely, except for string 1 -- up a full step.

      1  5  9  5  5  1
  •   B  F# C# F# F# B -- Badd9 (no 3)   Michael Hedges, for Dream Beach. All strings tuned down, very likely.

      1  5  9  4 b7 b7
  •   B  F# C# E  A  A -- Bm9sus4 nbsp; Michael Hedges, for Pinball Wizard. All strings tuned down, very likely.

      1  4  1  5  6  3
  •   C  F  C  G  A  E -- C6add4 / Am7b6   Michael Hedges, for The Magic Farmer. All strings tuned down to target pitches, surely. This tuning appears to be arranged with the IV chord in mind: F (F A C), as well as the relative minor key's I chord: Am (A C E)

      1  5  9  3 b7  3
  •   B  F# C# D  A  D -- Bm9   Michael Hedges, for After the Gold Rush, Dirge, Face Yourself, Menage a Trois. All strings tuned down, very likely.

  For the key of Bb
      1  5  2  2  4  1
  •   Bb F  C Eb  F  Bb -- Bbadd2sus4   Michael Hedges, for I Carry Your Heart. All strings lowered to their pitches, most likely.

      1  5  1  2  5  1
  •   Bb F  Bb C  F  Bb -- Bbadd2   Michael Hedges, for Baal T'Shuvah. All strings lowered to their pitches, probably.

  For the key of Am
      5  1  4 b7  1 b3
  •   E  A  D  G  A  C -- Am7add4   Michael Hedges, for Road Music. Only strings 2 and 1 are retuned -- both lowered to their pitches.

  A few General tuning topics and quotations

"Open tunings were independently invented by colonized guitarists all over the world because they are the quickest way to get to a good sound." - Bob Brozman, quoted in article 'The Slide King', in Acoustic Guitar magazine, July 2008.


"Any modal tuning offers a slightly elusive quality that blurs the edges of the key you're playing in. They really add a haunting quality to British traditional music, which is often performed unaccompanied. When you investigate a traditional song, it's not always clear what tuning you should use. Your mind might conjure up a harmony that fits around a naked tune, but its unclear what the key should be. A modal tuning makes it possible to keep that elusive nature, and retain a pleasing ambiguity. There's nothing worse than a folk song that is locked down into a very European musical tradition focusing on A, D and E [for example] with all of the harmony filled out. That stifles the song. I like to use open tunings to keep the modal quality and mystery alive." [Earlier in the same paragraph, Thompson cites CGDGBE as an example of such a 'modal' tuning. He also employs DADGAD.] - Richard Thompson, quoted in article 'Folk Rock', in Guitar Player magazine, Oct 2009.


According to Chris Cornell, who used many alternate tunings of his own invention during his tenure with 90's supergroup Soundgarden: "A lot of the weirder ones I came up with were based on trying to get to one note I couldn't reach. So I'd just tweak one string and get it where I wanted it." ...and... "For some of the open tunings you have to set the intonation for that tuning, otherwise it's not going to work. At that point you can only use the guitar for that tuning. So in a live situation you can't just take one guitar if you've got eight different tunings throughout the set." - Guitar Center catalog, Oct 1999.

Using the 'pure' 3 / third in open tunings - from the holy overtone series

    "When you switch to open-G, the VG [auto-retuning Fender Stratocaster] naturally tunes all strings to their even-tempered pitches. But Sonny Landreth, Keith Richards and other open-G masters often lower the second string slightly so the major third is in tune with the overtone series. This adjustment dials out the dissonance, and makes those big one finger major chords come alive."
- Jude Gold, review of Fender VG Stratocaster in Guitar Player, June 2007.

    Mr. Gold here refers to a fundamental topic that is rarely considered in the realms of guitar playing. His advice above can be applied to any of the 'open' tunings described in this document. A major or minor chord sounds much 'sweeter' and perhaps 'righter' when tuned as he suggests, because the equal-tempered scale that we use for all fretted instruments (and most other instruments) wreaks havoc with the major and minor thirds that naturally occur in the overtone series.
    Relative to the 'pure' thirds in the overtone series, equal-temperament widens the major third by an all-too audible 14 cents, and it narrows the minor third by an even more horrifying 16 cents (1 cent is one hundredth (1 percent) of a semitone). So, the 3 note (F#) of a D major chord, and the b3 note (F) of a D minor chord, may well sound a lot better / more pleasing to the ear if they are adjusted downward or upward, respectively. Unfortunately, making such an adjustment in standard tuning -- and in most other tunings -- is inadmissible, because it's not possible to tune the notes sounded on a particular string individually; adjusting the intonation of a string affects the intonation of all of the notes which lie 'under' it... some of which will be the 1, 4, and 5 notes of other chords. Since these notes are not displaced (or are only slightly displaced) by even-temperament, any adjustment to 'improve' the intonation of a 3 note in one chord will just throw other chords badly out-of-tune.
    Our 'open' tunings (ones whose open strings form a simple chord) are the one exception to this rule. To the extent that we play with a slide (like the Delta blues players) or with one barred finger or some other grip (Keith Richards) that is essentially just moved up and down the neck... then the 3 of the chord can be tuned more or less 'pure', as in the holy overtone series. In open-G tuning (D G D G B D), the 3 (B) of the open G major triad is on string 2. If we barre or use a slide to play the IV chord (C) at fret 5, the 3 of that chord (E) is still on string 2... as it will be when we slide up to the V chord, or the bVII chord, or the octave. As long as we don't wantonly introduce other chord shapes, our adjustment to string 2 won't break anything. If we're playing with a slide, this is more or less guaranteed.
    You may be able to find an electronic tuner capable of indicating when an open string is in tune to the 'pure' note / interval of the overtone series (it may be labeled 'just intonation'), but for now, let your ear be your guide. For a quick and easy demonstration, with the guitar accurately tuned to standard tuning (preferably to an electronic tuner), pluck or strum strings 4, 3 and 2 only -- sounding the notes D, G and B respectively -- a complete G major triad. The 3 note of this chord resides on string 2 (as it does in open G tuning). While playing this three-string chord, twist string 2's tuner very slowly and gradually to lower the pitch of this string, and the note B. Listen carefully to the sound of the whole chord as you back off the tension and pitch of string 2, continuing until it is obviously out-of-tune. Now reverse this action, tuning the string upward, while strumming all three stings, until it sounds most in tune (with the other two open strings). Repeat this routine, downwards and upwards a few times, 'homing in' on the best-sounding G major triad you can dial in by adjusting the intonation of the note B on string 2. Strum a big six-string cowboy G chord to confirm that it's all that it can be (this one: 320003, not this one: 320033).
    Now strum a few other chords, including the familiar first-position Em (022000) and D major triads (x00232). How do they sound? If you have successfully managed to retune (detune) the B note of string 2 to correspond to the pitch that would occur in the overtone series (based on the root of the G major triad, G), then these Em and D chords, as well as most other chords, will sound somewhere between noticeably and terribly out-of-tune... as well they should, since we've been capriciously coloring outside the lines of equal temperament.
    In the Em triad, the note B that sounded so right in our G major chord sounds very flat now. This is because it is now employed as the 5 of the (Em) chord, rather than as the 3 (of the G major chord). As it turns out, the 5 note (at the interval of a fifth, up from the root of the chord) is nearly the same (just 2 cents flatter) in equal temperament as it is in the overtone series. We have lowered it much further than that, though -- perhaps 14 cents or so -- in our effort to build our perfect G major chord. That's a big difference, enough to make the Em chord sound noticeably wrong, until we retune string 2 to bring that B note back up to where it belongs (per our equal temperament marriage contract).
    In the D major triad, we fret string 2 at fret 3, so we hear (some rough approximation of) the note D, the 1 (root) of the D major triad. Since we dropped string 2 roughly 14 cents during our G major chord improvement project, it is now about 14 cents flat of where it should be for this D note -- considering that equal temperament makes no adjustment whatsoever to the pitch of the 1, which is the root from which the overtone series is derived. Octaves (8s) are similarly unimpaired by equal temperament.
    Check the tuning of string 2 with your electronic tuner. You'll find that it is now flat to some extent, depending on how well your ear guided you toward the 'just' intonation of the 14-cents-less-sharp major third of the overtone series. If possible, resist the temptation to retune string 2 with your tuner. Instead, exercise your own tuning skills by retuning the open string 2 to the adjacent open string 1, which is a fourth higher, and then verifying its intonation by comparing the E at fret 5 of string 2 to the E of the open string 1. Another helpful comparison: the D at fret 3 of string 2 to the octave-lower D of the open string 4. Finally, consult your electrophysical tuner for some constructive criticism, and tune a little more, as necessary.

- WA, 20 May 2007



    Jude Gold: "When you're in an open-E tuning, do you tune the 3 (the open, third-string g#) to the even-tempered pitch [that] electronic tuners and pianos provide, or do you tune it slightly flat to the 'pure' 3 that soul singers, Delta blues players, and other musicians intuitively hit -- the just 3 that's in tune with the overtone series?"

    Sonny Landreth: "Interesting question! The quick answer is that yes, beginners should be aware that whatever tuning you're in, if it has an open-string major 3, electronic tuners won't provide that pure, bluesy third that our ears love. You have to rely on your ears a bit [to drop that 3 slightly] so it sits in the sweet spot."

    Sonny Landreth: "I learned about pure intervals of thirds and sevenths the hard way. See, my first instrument was the trumpet, which I learned to play by myself. Using just my ears, I had all these sweet, perfect intervals happening until the day I finally played with a piano -- which is an even-tempered instrument -- and then all hell broke loose. Every notion of pitch I had went out the window. I had to learn to adjust things to match the piano."

    Jude Gold: "The frets on the guitar are even-tempered too."

    Sonny Landreth: "That's why so may of us gravitate to slide -- we want to get that vocal sound, and that vocal sound often lies between the frets. It takes time to learn how all this stuff works -- for example, I do have to make small adjustments when I'm playing with a keyboard player so we don't clash. But the more you play slide, the more you learn how to manipulate things to get that singing sound. The fact that the slide is floating gives us access to every possible sweet spot imaginable."

- Jude Gold, 'Slide Seminar' with Sonny Landreth, in Guitar Player, May 2007.



    For more advice on the treacherous but rewarding art (science?) of tuning a guitar, see WA's (unfinished) Tuning the guitar -- practice and theory.

    For (much) more information about equal-temperament vs just intonation and the wonders of the overtone series, see History of Tuning and Temperament and check into the Just Intonation Network.

    Further illuminating notes on the overtone series.



 Links and other resources for alternate tunings
  • Mark Hanson's booklet The Alternate Tunings Guide for Guitar, Amsco Publications, 1991, in which he states that Joni Mitchell has always played only in alternate tunings. "She has never learned to play in standard tuning." [How about For Free, though?] Hanson briefly notes a couple score of other altered tunings, including ten used by Michael Hedges, and four of Nick Drake's tunings.

  • George Winston's Dancing Cat Slack Key Guitar Artists — an extraordinary and authoritative listing of more than 60 Hawaiian 'slack key' guitar tunings.

  • My Secret Place - The guitar odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers -- a highly detailed recounting, mostly by Joni herself, of her first attempts to play Elizabeth-Cotton-style in standard tuning, and then of her lifelong inventive explorations into uncharted realms of alternative tunings.

  • Mary McCaslin's Selected Guitar Tunings page for her notes on the G, Gm, A and D tunings she employs, including her favorite chords for each tuning, and a list of songs that she applies them to.

  • HyperRust Database's Neil's Alternate Tunings page, which lists the six variants of standard tuning that Neil Young uses, and list the (dozens) of songs that he uses them for. The tunings are: DADGBE (Drop-D), DADGBD (Double Drop-D) (for Mr. Soul, Cinnamon Girl, The Loner(?), When You Dance, Ohio, Goin' Back, others), DGCFAD (whole step down), DGCFAA (whole step down, with drastically lowered 1st string), CGCFAD (whole step down with dropped 6th), and CGCFAC (whole step down with dropped 6th and dropped 1st).

  • Mark Greyland's book Guitar Tuning Reference, wherein he explains much about the internal logic of alternate tunings. It includes more than 300 tunings, many in use by well-known players. Tables list the string-to-string 'interval code' for each tuning, and show the numerical 'displacement' of each string from standard tuning.

  • Wikipedia's Guitar Tunings entry, which categorizes tunings by genre, and includes much information about lowered tunings favored by metal bands to convey pretty and hum-able melodies.

  • Wikipedia's Sonic Youth article which discusses Thurston Moore's and Lee Renaldo's approach to creating and using alternative tunings (but without actually 'spelling' any of them). Here's one, at least.

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