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Death Metal Tuning: A Thorough Guide [2021 Edition]

If you’re curious about death metal tuning and which tunings to use for this genre, you’ve come to the right post!

I don’t know everything there is to know about the guitar, but I have played since 2003 and really enjoy the instrument.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned about death metal tuning here on the blog!

What Is Death Metal?

Some genres can be tricky to define. But death metal is not that hard to recognize. This metal subgenre is characterized by sinister-sounding riffs and solos, growling vocals, sudden tempo changes, and heavily distorted guitars.

Other important elements include lower tunings. This won’t always add to the heaviness factor. But it certainly is important. 

Of course, these are rough guidelines. The genre is actually quite versatile.

Death Metal Tunings Explained

Although not typical of all death metal bands, lower tunings are prominent in this genre. And things can sometimes get pretty low.

Is There Such a Thing as Death Metal Tuning?

Contrary to what some may think, a genre or a subgenre isn’t limited by one tuning. The same goes for death metal. If you’re asking a question about what death metal tuning is, then there isn’t a straight answer. 

There’s no such thing as death metal tuning. However, there are tunings that are popular among death metal bands. With that said, we’ll explore some of the most common tunings in the subgenre.

Most Common Tunings in Death Metal

D Standard

The D standard tuning is pretty common among death metal bands. This is essentially the same as the E standard, just detuned by two semitones. The distribution of intervals between the strings remains the same.

So it goes like this:

  • D2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4

C Standard

Then we have the C standard as another example. This one also retains the same distribution of intervals. However, it goes even deeper.

The C standard is one major third interval below the E standard. That’s four semitones. The tuning looks like this:

  • C2-F2-A#2-D#3-G3-C3

Or, if you prefer to have it written with flats, then it goes like this:

  • C2-F2-Bb2-Eb3-G3-C3

Aside from death metal, the tuning is also popular in doom, stoner, and sludge subgenres. Although you can go lower than this, I’d advise that you use baritone guitars for the C standard. Or at least use thicker string gauges, at least .012-gauge.

E-Flat Standard

Some of the older death metal stuff is in Eb standard. Or, if you prefer to use sharps, it’s D# standard.

This one is pretty simple. It’s just like E standard but one semitone lower. Plenty of classic metal and thrash metal bands have used it as well. Here’s what it looks like:

  • Eb2-Ab2-Db3-Gb3-Bb3-Eb3

And here’s what it looks like written as D#:

  • D#2-G#2-C#3-F#3-A#3-DE#3

E Standard

Yes, E standard is also present on some great death metal songs. In particular, we’re looking at old-school death metal. What’s more, even one album by Pestilence features this tuning. The record I’m referring to is Malleus Maleficarum from 1988.

You probably already know this tuning. It goes like this:

  • E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E3

Of course, the E standard tuning isn’t that common among death metal bands these days. But with the right tone and songwriting approach, it can sound pretty sinister.

B Standard

7-string guitars are also pretty common in death metal. And the B standard tuning is particularly common on this instrument. It goes like this:

  • B1-E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E3

You can also achieve the B standard tuning on 6-string guitars. However, the 6-string variant looks a bit different. The idea is to keep the same intervals between the strings as with the E standard. You just lower it all down by one perfect fourth. Or, in other words, by five semitones.

This is what it looks like:

  • B1-E2-A2-D3-F#3-B3

Or:

  • B1-E2-A2-D3-Gb3-B3

The other option is to use the same tuning as with 7-string guitars but just remove the top string. But it’s a far less common practice. It would look like this:

  • B1-E2-A2-D3-G3-B3

Drop B

Drop tunings aren’t usually that common in death metal. However, they can come in handy for some lower-tuned stuff. In particular, I’m talking about drop B on 6-string guitars.

This one is the C# standard with the 6th string dropped by an additional whole step. You first lower all six strings by three semitones. And then you go two additional semitones lower on the bottom string. It looks like this:

  • B1-F#2-B2-E3-G#3-C#4

It looks like this with flats instead of sharps:

  • B1-Gb2-B2-E3-Ab3-Db4

Going Lower

Of course, you can also go much lower. This goes for both 6-string and 7-string guitars. These tunings aren’t that common in classic death metal. They became popular along the way and are most prominent in modern death metal, deathcore, and djent genres.

And this is where we get to the juicy stuff. There are so many options here. For the sake of practicality, I separated them into two groups. One is for 7-string guitars and the other for 6-string guitars.

Low 7-String Tunings

  • Drop A: A1-E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E3
  • Drop G: G1-D2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4
  • A# or Bb standard: A#1-D#2-G#2-C#3-F#3-A#3-D#3
  • G standard: C2-F2-A#2-D#3-G3-C3
  • A standard: A1-D2-G2-C3-F3-A3-D4

Low 6-String Tunings

  • Drop A: A1-E2-A2-D3-F#3-B3
  • A# standard: A#1-D#2-G#2-C#3-F3-A3
  • A standard: A1-D2-G2-C3-E3-A3
  • Drop G: G1-D2-G2-C3-E3-A3

Planning to Use Lower Tunings? This Is What You Should Know

If you’re really into lower tunings, you might stumble upon some issues. In particular, your strings may feel like rubber.

The loss of tension, however, can be dealt with in two ways. The best way, in my opinion, is to use longer-scale guitars. Also known as baritone guitars, they have scale lengths over 25.5 inches. It’s usually at 27 inches for both 6- and 7-string variants.

The other option is to use thicker string gauges. However, this won’t always be the perfect solution. Especially if you’re planning to use those super-low tunings like A standard or drop G# on 6-string guitars.  

Conclusion

I hope this article has helped you understand what sort of tunings are common for death metal.

And if you want to learn more about this genre, check out my post about death metal scales!

Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!

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