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The Definitive List of Alternate Guitar Tunings

Every guitar player is familiar with the importance of tuning. If your guitar isn’t in tune it won’t sound right and there’s almost nothing worse than listening to someone play a song the whole while their guitar is out of tune. When we first start out playing guitar, we begin with standard tuning, that is – E A D G B E. However, there are many other guitar tunings you can use to create new sounds or play certain songs.

In this post, I’ll go what defines a particular tuning, provide a list of popular guitar tunings, and more.

What Defines a Guitar Tuning?

A guitar tuning is the combination of notes defined for each open string of a guitar. As far as what is considered an “acceptable” guitar tuning and what isn’t there aren’t many concrete rules. If a particular combination of notes sound good together than that can be considered a guitar tuning. Some guitarists even slightly sharpen or flatten their notes on purpose because they like the way it sounds. For example, the song Hey Hey What Can I Do by Led Zeppelin is tuned 3/4 of a step down.

You may also be asking yourself “but why did E – A – D – G – B – E become the notes used in standard tuning? What made that the standard?”. Well, the simple answer is that with this tuning, it’s relatively easy to play standard scales and popular beginner guitar chords.

There are tons of guitar tuning variations (which you’ll see in the list below) however, you don’t necessarily have to stick to the ones already created. Albeit, it’ll probably be somewhat difficult for you to come up with a “new” nice sounding tuning combination that no one has every thought of before. Although, if you want to do something like what Led Zeppelin did in the song above, you can certainly do so and rightfully call it an alternate guitar tuning.

An awesome product that’ll automatically tune your guitar and is useful to keep track of custom tunings is the Roadie automatic guitar tuner.

Standard vs Alternate Tunings

Alternate guitar tunings are essentially any open string combination other than E – A – D – G – B – E (standard tuning). Although standard tuning has been used time and time again and is tried and true, alternate tunings can help you change things up. A few advantages of alternate tunings include:

  • They provide guitar players with a “new” sound and different sonorities
  • Certain alternate tunings can make it very easy for beginner guitar players to play certain chords (requiring only 1 or 2 fingers)
  • They allow you to “break outside the box” so to speak as the fingering placements you’re used to won’t reproduce the same sound. Thus allowing you to be more creative.

To help demonstrate the difference between standard vs alternative tunings on a bit of a more granular level, check out the frequency tables below. The first table shows what each note within standard tuning looks like in terms of frequency and pitch. The notes are ordered from thickest to thinest.

Scientific Pitch Notation (Standard Tuning) Frequencies
E2 82.41 Hz
A2 110.00 Hz
D3 146.83 Hz
G3 196.00 Hz
B3 246.94 Hz
E4 329.63 Hz

Next, the table below shows what an alternate tuning (in this case open C) looks like in terms of note frequencies.

Scientific Pitch Notation (Open C Tuning) Frequencies
C2 65.4 Hz
G2 98.0 Hz
C3 130.8 Hz
G3 196.0 Hz
C4 261.6 Hz
E4 329.6 Hz

As you can see, there are notes in the above alternate tuning that aren’t present in the collection of notes in standard tuning. Furthermore, like standard tuning, alternate tunings may also have one, two, or more identical notes but all in different octaves – like you see with open C (e.g. C2, C3, and C4).

List of Guitar Tunings

There are a ton of possibilities for alternate tuning combinations. Now that you have a little more background about standard vs alternate tuning, I highly recommend you experiment with a few or all of the guitar tunings below. Maybe you’ll find one that inspires you to write a piece of music that you otherwise wouldn’t have created in standard tuning. Trust me, playing an alternate tuning can really get your creative juices flowing!

In the table below, I’ve included a good collection of alternate guitar tunings along with their name, notes, and a sound file so you can hear the end product. The first tuning is standard so that you can use it as a reference point.

1. Standard Tuning

Name Notes  (Thickest to Thinest) Sound File (Each String Plucked)
Standard Tuning E – A – D – G – B – E

2. Major Open Guitar Tunings

Name Notes (Thickest to Thinest) Sound File (Each String Plucked)
Open A E – A – C♯ – E – A – E
Open B B – F♯ – B – F♯ – B – D♯
Open C C – G – C – G – C – E
Open D D – A – D – F♯ – A – D
Open E E – B – E – G♯ – B – E
Open F C – F – C – F – A – F
Open G D – G – D – G –  B – D

3. Regular Guitar Tunings

Name Notes (Thickest to Thinest) Sound File (Each String Plucked)
Minor Third C – D# – F# – A – C – D#
Major Third G# – C – E – G# – C – E
All Fourths E – A – D – G – C – F
Augmented Fourths C – F# – C – F# – C – F#
All Fifths C – G – D – A – E – B

4. Dropped Guitar Tunings

Name Notes (Thickest to Thinest) Sound File (Each String Plucked)
Half Step Down D# – G# – C# – F# – A# – D#
Full Step Down D – G – C – F – A – D
1 and 1/2 Steps Down C# – F# – B – E – G# – C#
Double Drop D D – A – D – G – B – D
Drop A A – E – A – D – F# – B
Drop B B – F# – B – E – G# – C#
Drop C C – G – C – F – A – D
Drop D D – A – D – G – B – E
Drop E E – B – E – A – Db – Gb
Drop F F – C – F – Bb – D – G
Drop G G – D – G – C – E – A

5. Other Guitar Tunings

Name Notes (Thickest to Thinest) Sound File (Each String Plucked)
The Iommi Tuning C# – F# – B – E – G# – C#
The Nick Drake Tuning C – G – C – F – C – E
DAD GAD D – A – D – G – A – D
C6 Modal Tuning C – A – C – G – C – E
Nashville Tuning
(Raise notes E, A , D, G up 1 octave)
E – A – D – G – B – E

Songs That Use Alternate Tunings

That are a ton of songs that use alternate guitar tunings. I’ve listed a few songs below that each use one of the alternate tunings from the section above in case you would like to start learning some alternate tuning songs but aren’t sure where to start.

Popular Guitar Tunings – In Summary

Now that you’re more familiar with what other alternate guitar tunings are out there, start experimenting with them either by jamming or by learning songs that use a particular alternate tuning. They really do open up a new world of creative possibilities and allow you to break outside the box. If you have any particular custom guitar tunings that you really enjoy or have any questions about alternate guitar tuning, let me know in the comments section below!

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