I remember when I first heard Bron Yr Aur by Led Zeppelin around 2004, and I learned about cool guitar tunings that weren’t standard.
The possibility of getting new sounds out of my guitar with weird tunings opened up a whole new world to me!
I hope this article opens up that same world to you.
Check out the sections below to learn more about each of the best alternate guitar tunings and to hear songs in them.
Drop D: DADGBE
One of the most popular and simple drop tunings is called Drop D where you tune your low E string down one step to D.
Instead of your guitar being tuned to EADGBE, it is tuned to DADGBE.
This tuning is so simple because you only need to change the tuning of one string which you are tuning it down instead of up.
(It’s usually easier to tune strings to a lower note than a higher note because tuning to a higher note can strain the string putting more tension on it than it was designed for.)
This tuning makes playing in the key of D sound really cool.
Plus, several great musicians use this tuning like:
- The Beatles in I Want You (She’s So Heavy),
- Led Zeppelin in Moby Dick,
- Radiohead in Bodysnatchers,
Check out one of those songs if you want to learn a classic in this tuning.
Open A: EAEAC♯E
Open tunings are guitar tunings that, when strummed without any fingers on the frets, make a chord.
So an open A tuning simply requires you to tune the strings so that, when the open strings are played, it makes an A chord sound.
There are many different ways to tune your guitar to play in open A including:
- and AEAEAC♯
But I think the best open A tuning is EAEAC♯E because it’s used by both Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and Jack White of The White Stripes.
Keep in mind there are multiple ways to tune to an open tuning.
However, for the rest of this article, I will only mention the most popular way to tune to that tuning.
If you want to learn songs in open A, check out:
- Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes (played in the video above)
- or In My Time of Dying by Led Zeppelin
Open B: BF♯BF♯BD♯
Open B is a nice tuning in that you don’t have to tune any strings to a higher pitch.
You’re tuning everything down or keep it standard which is easier on your strings.
However, some strings are tuned more than a full step down which may result in your strings feeling loose and floppy.
You can find open B tunings in the songs:
- Should’ve Listened by Nickelback (in the video above)
- and Albatross by Big Wreck
Open C: CGCGCE
Open C requires tuning all strings down or keeping them standard except the B string which is tuned one half step up.
This tuning has a very low sound because some strings are tuned lower than one whole step down.
This will probably result in your strings feeling loose or floppy.
You can find open C tunings in the songs:
- Townsend Shuffle by William Ackerman (in the video above)
- and Mississippi John Hurt played by John Fahey
Open D: DADF♯AD
Open D is another tuning in which you tune all strings down.
This means it’s easy to tune to but your strings may feel loose.
You can find open D tunings in the songs:
- Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell (in the video above)
- and Interlude 2 by Alt J
Open E: EBEG#BE
Open E requires tuning 3 strings up which means you restring your guitar with lighter gauge strings to prevent them from breaking for this tuning.
Of course you can string your acoustic guitar with light-gauge acoustic strings like these.
But you can also string your acoustic guitar with even lighter gauge electric guitar strings like this set.
Electric strings on an acoustic guitar further minimize the likelihood that the strings will break.
Plus, stringing your acoustic guitar with electric strings will give your guitar a brighter sound than acoustic strings.
You can also tune to open D and capo on the 2nd fret if you don’t want to deal with the possibility of breaking strings or restringing your instrument.
You can find open E tunings in the songs:
- No Expectations by The Rolling Stones (in the video above)
- and Highway 51 Blues by Bob Dylan
Open F: CFCFAC
Open F is another tuning in which you tune all strings down.
Once again, this means it’s easy to tune but your strings may feel loose.
You can find open F tunings in the songs:
- When the Levee Breaks by Led Zeppelin (in the video above)
- and When I get Home by Elizabeth Cotten
Open G: DGDGBD
This is another tuning that only requires tuning strings down or keeping strings at standard tuning.
Plus, you aren’t tuning any strings down more than a full step so your strings shouldn’t feel too loose.
You can find open G tunings in the songs:
- Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin (in the video above)
- and Fearless by Pink Floyd
DADGAD: A Miscellaneous Alternate Guitar Tuning
I tend to think that it’s harder to get a diversity of sound out of an open tuning.
In other words, much of what you play will sound very similar because it will likely all be in the key of your open tuning.
This is not the case with DADGAD which is one of the reasons why it’s one of my favorite guitar tunings.
DADGAD only requires re-tuning 3 of the six strings and each of these strings are tuned down, not up so you don’t need to worry about breaking strings.
However, there’s a great hack for playing in a DADGAD or technically DADGAD capo 2 (EBEABE) without re-tuning your guitar.
The idea is to capo strings 3, 4, and 5 on the second fret without capoing the other strings.
You can accomplish this with a short-cut partial capo like this one as explained in the video below.
And you can even pull this off with a standard Keiser Capo.
If you flip over the capo and use the clear rubber side to capo the strings instead of the black rubber side, it should work.
It’s not as ideal as using a short-cut partial capo.
But this is what I do if I don’t have access to the short-cut capo.
You can find open DADGAD tunings in the songs:
- Dancing Days by Led Zeppelin (in the video above)
- and Fearless by Pink Floyd
C6: CACGCE – A Miscellaneous Tuning Popular with Led Zeppelin
Bron-Yr-Aur by Led Zeppelin was the song that turned me on to alternate tunings on the guitar.
When I first started looking up how to play this song, tuning the guitar differently hadn’t crossed my mind.
But once I heard this beautiful song, I knew I had to learn how to play it.
For months I had my sister’s barely used guitar tuned to this tuning so that I could practice and play Bron-Yr-Aur without needing to re-tune my own guitar every time I wanted to play it.
You can also find this tuning in Friends and Poor Tom both by Led Zeppelin.
Nashville Alternate Guitar Tuning: eadgBE
Nashville tuning or high-stringing a six string guitar, is when you use lighter gauge strings to tune the low E, A, D, and G strings up an octave.
This produces a sound and tuning similar to a twelve string guitar.
In fact, guitarists used to take the octave strings from a 12 string guitar pack and string them on their six string guitar to use Nashville tuning.
Now several guitar string manufacturers create Nashville tuning string sets so you don’t have to cannibalize a 12 string set.
If you want to try out a Nashville tuning setup, this string set by D’addario is very popular.
Why Use Nashville Tuning
There are several reasons to try out Nashville Tuning.
I’ll list a few below:
High Stringing Your Guitar Can Get You Out of a Rut
If you’ve played guitar for any significant amount of time, you know that sometimes you get into a guitar rut.
When you’re in a guitar rut, you lack motivation to learn new things, your general interest in the instrument wanes, and you need something to break you out of the rut.
One way to get out of that rut is to bring a new sound to your instrument.
Nashville tuning can be just the thing you need to reinvigorate your interest in guitar.
Nashville Tuning Is Easier to Play
As mentioned above, Nashville tuning requires lighter gauge strings for those strings tuned up an octave from standard tuning.
Lighter gauge strings are easier to press down and play than heavier gauge strings.
This makes playing in Nashville tuning easy on your fingers and hands.
High Strung Guitars Enable You to Play in a Different Tonal Range
If you’ve been jealous of the bright, high-pitched notes of a mandolin, Nashville tuning could be a great tuning for you.
High stringing your guitar enables you to play in a similar tonal range to a mandolin with all the familiarity of a guitar.
Thus, Nashville tuning is a great way to expand the tonal range you can play in without investing in a new instrument like a mandolin or mando guitar.
Nashville Tuning Is a Great Way to Mix Up Your Jam Sessions
Jamming as a guitarist can be hard.
A lot of people who play an instrument play guitar.
So another guitarist is usually the last thing a jam session needs.
However, if you bring a different sound to the jam session with Nashville tuning, that can set you apart from every other guitarist.
Plus, Nashville tuning pairs beautifully with a guitar in standard tuning.
Cool Guitar Tunings: Related Questions
How many tunings are there for guitar? The short answer is: countless! Between alternate tunings and alternate tunings of alternate tunings, there are too many to count. However, you can check out this Wikipedia page listing several of them. I stopped counting after 100 alternate tunings.