6 Alternate Guitar Tunings to Inspire Your Sound

You have to know your instrument well to play and perform music.

But sometimes strong technical understanding locks you into patterns that are hard to break.

Curiosity and risk are crucial for finding musical inspiration. But unpredictable conditions can be difficult to create for musicians with years of playing experience.

One way to force yourself into a lack of musical familiarity on the guitar is by exploring alternative tunings.

Today, we’re sharing six excellent alternate guitar tunings, but let’s first talk about what tunings are and why changing things up is important.

What are alternate guitar tunings?

Alternate guitar tunings are any combination of notes chosen for the open strings of the guitar other than the standard EADGBE tuning. Alternate guitar tunings allow guitarists to access different tonalities or patterns on the instrument.

Guitars can be tuned in any way you like, but most guitarists adhere to standard tuning:

6E-5A-4D-3G-2B-1E

In standard tuning, guitars are tuned with six strings that start low and gradually get higher. Alternative tunings occur when the guitar’s strings are tuned to different notes.

Best alternate tunings

1. Drop D tuning

The most common alternate tuning for guitar is Drop D. It’s also one of the simplest. Simply tune your low E string down one step to get drop D tuning.

Drop D tuning might come to mind for many guitarists, but there are a virtual endless amount of other tunings to explore.

Most common alternate tunings follow standard tuning’s low to high convention, but each features a unique combination of notes.

How can alternate tunings lead to musical inspiration? Something as basic as a G major chord or scale won’t translate to most alternative tunings.

Working with new and unfamiliar tunings forces you to think about chords and riffs in an entirely new way.

Working with new and unfamiliar tunings forces you to think about chords and riffs in an entirely new way.

Curiosity and problem-solving are skills that might have been dormant  in your guitar playing for years become essential to writing music in alternative tunings.

Approaching playing in these tunings with patience and an open mind will translate into powerful creative inspiration.

Here are five more excellent alternate tuning options to explore:

2. DADGAD

DADGAD tuning is kind of like an extended version Drop D tuning. In this tuning, the 6th E string is tuned down to D, the B string is tuned down to A, and the 1st E string is tuned down to D.

This tuning is commonly found in Celtic music, but it’s also used in genres like rock, folk, and metal.

DADGAD was made famous by British folk guitarist Davey Graham, who was inspired to explore the tuning after hearing an oud player in Morocco.

Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page used DADGAD tuning for the song “Kashmir.”

3. DADF#AD

Similar to DADGAD, DADF#AD is an extension of Drop D tuning, but the notes in this one makeup one large D Major chord.

Also known as Open D Tuning, this alternate tuning is popular with slide guitarists and those who specialize in the fingerpicking style.

In this tuning, the 6th E string is tuned down to D, the G string is tuned down to F#, the B string is tuned down to A, and the 1st E string is tuned down to D.

The alternative rock band Wilco uses DADF#AD tuning in their song “Kamera” from the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.



4. GABDEG

This droney tuning was popularized by the American rock band Sonic Youth. GABDEG is ideal for exploring rock, dream pop, and metal sounds.

In this tuning, the 6th E string is tuned up to G, the D string is tuned up to B, the D string is tuned up to D, the B string is tuned to E, and the 1st E string is tuned up to G. The 5th A string stays the same as standard tuning.

Sonic Youth uses this captivating tuning in their song “Teen Age Riot.”


5. DGDGBD

Often referred to as Open G Tuning, DGDGBD features a G Major chord and is ideal for guitarists who like to play with a slide.

Blues, rock, and folk players typically use this alternate tuning.

In Open G Tuning, the 6th E string is tuned down to D, the A string is tuned down to G, and the 1st E string is tuned down to D. The 4th D and 2nd B strings stay the same as standard tuning.

Seminal blues guitarist Robert Johnson used this tuning in his song “Walkin Blues.”



6. CGCFCE

Affectionately nicknamed the “Nick Drake Tuning” after British folk artist Nick Drake, this tuning is low, droney, and filled with endless creative possibilities.

Folk obviously goes well with this tuning, but it can also easily fit within rock and dream pop.

In this tuning, the 6th E string is tuned down to C, the A string is tuned down to G, the D string is tuned down to C, the G string is tuned down to F, and the B string is tuned up to C. The 1st E string stays the same.

Nick Drake used this tuning in many of his songs, including “Hazey Jane I.”

Tuning in

Alternate tunings are an excellent way to inject newness and risk into your playing, but that sense of unpredictability will diminish as you get to know each option better.

As musicians, the process of keeping things interesting and new is something we’ll have to come back to over and over again as long as we make music.

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