Consider how many hours you’ve spent crafting a sound through amplifiers, guitars and effects pedals with the intention of making it your own identity, only to feel that your lacking that certain something. An alternative tuning is what you’re looking for.
In this tutorial, I’ll explain how tuning your guitar to a nonstandard tuning gives your music a unique sound and approach and gives you an unique identity.
In this tutorial, I’ll cover the following topics:
Types of guitar tunings
Use a chromatic tuner. For tuning at home, a mobile phone application will be sufficient.
For live performing, invest in a chromatic tuner like the popular Boss – TU-3. Speed up the tuning process using a string winder.
2. String Gauges
You should restring a guitar with a different string gauge then the one you’re using for standard tuning. This helps in keeping the appropriate tension across the strings for consistency of tone and ease of playing.
When selecting a string gauge, you should be aiming for a gauge that gives you the same tension that the guitar was setup for, but with an alternative tuning.
The table below shows the average tension of a set of gauge 0.010 – 0.046 guitar strings.
String Gauge Diameter (inches)
Lets say you want to up-tune your 6th string from the standard E to a F—a rise of a semi-tone.
Locate the tension for the 6th string (lower E) with a gauge of 0.046″ – This will be 17.5 Ibs.
Now locate the closet string tension to 17.5 Ibs in the F column. The closet is 18.0 Ibs, which gives you a string gauge of 0.042″.
Gauge (Lower E)
You may wish to use the site String Tension Pro in selecting the most appropriate gauge for your alternative tuning.
Be aware that the guitar may bow slightly, which is normal, due to a change in string gauge and tuning. If so, a setup will most likely be required, which will involve altering the truss rod to correct the bow of the neck, and bridge to correct string height and intonation.
Open tuning is where you tune a guitar to a chord.
So, for example, if you strummed the open strings with out fretting them it would play a chord. It can also be good for complete beginners, as you only have to use one finger to barre the strings to perform a different chord.
This tuning is also useful for rhythm or slide guitar.
As the root is played from the 5th string, it’s not uncommon to remove the 6th string from the guitar.
Nashville tuning was born in the home of country music. This doesn’t mean that it is used by country musicians only. It’s the same notes as standard tuning, but with the lower four strings (6th, 5th, 4th and 3rd) pitched an octave higher.
The EADG strings should be replaced with lighter unwound string gauges. You might one to read Toby Pitman’s tutorial for an more in depth look at Nashville tuning.
Throughout guitar history artists have made a huge number of inspiring tones. Theses sound aren’t always created from amps and effect pedals alone. Below are a few guitarists who have sculptured their own sounds by exploring an alternative tunings that they have made their own.
Alternative tuning can open up a whole new world of possibilities. I hope this tutorial inspires you to write a first piece of music in nonstandard tuning and maybe even to create your own tuning, giving you and your music an individual identity.