Machine Head Tuning: The Ultimate Guide (2023 Edition)

Table of Contents

If you’re curious about Machine Head tuning and the alternate tunings this band uses, you’ve come to the right post!

Which Guitar Tuning Does Machine Head Use?

The first thing that we should address here is turning singular into plural.

What I’m aiming for here is “tunings” instead of “tuning.”

All jokes aside, Machine Head are known for their lower-than-standard tunings.

There are three main tunings, plus some details you should know.

What You Should Bear in Mind First

Since you’re here, I’ll assume that you tried playing along to Machine Head songs after learning them through tabs.

And it probably somehow sounded out of tune.

But when you play it without the song in the background, it sounds about right.

Well, as Machine Head’s former guitarist Phil Demmel revealed, they’re not following the usual standards.

Instead of sticking to the A440 standard, they go 40 cents sharper.

This is slightly less than a quarter note above the usual tunings, which are based on A4 being 440Hz.

Not to bore you with all the details, but they’re slightly sharper than usual.

You can try lowering a song’s pitch by 40 cents (not the same as Hz) and then playing to it.

So whatever tunings I mention here are slightly sharper than usual.

Now, I’m not 100% sure if they’re doing this to this day on live shows.

But it seems that most, if not all, of their songs have this.

It’s similar to what Pantera and AC/DC had on some of their songs.

Anyhow, sticking to this alternative standard, they just use some of the common tunings in metal.

D Standard

Machine Head Old Lyrics

The D standard tuning is fairly common in metal, and it’s pretty easy to figure out.

All you need to do is take your regular E standard and lower all the strings by a whole note or two semitones.

So instead of your usual E-A-D-G-B-E, you’ll get (from bottom to top string) D-G-C-F-A-D.

C# Standard

Their song Wolves (and others like Aesthetics of Hate) are in C# standard!

The C# standard tuning is pretty common in Machine Head songs.

Here, we follow the same rule +40 cent rule as mentioned.

And, of course, we detune all strings.

The only difference is that it goes three semitones lower than the E standard, not just two.

Or, in other words, you can just go one semitone lower than the D standard.

So it goes like this: C#-F#-B-E-G#-C#.

If you prefer flats instead of sharps, then we can write it like this: Db-Gb-B-E-Ab-Db.

I would argue that E should be written as Fb.

Yes, it sounds wrong when you put it like this, but we’re lowering the D standard tuning, right?

Drop B

Slanderous is in Drop B tuning!

And drop B tuning is almost the same thing as C# with the bottom string detuned for an additional whole step.

This is like your usual drop D tuning, only three semitones lower.

This means that you can do power chords with a bar chord on the bottom three strings.

If you prefer sharps, then it goes B-F#-B-E-G#-C#.

And if you’re more into flats, then it’s B-Gb-B-E-Ab-Db.

Again, we have the +40 cents principle applied here as well.

Some Variations

Phil Demmel also mentioned that there are two songs where they did something different.

According to the interview mentioned above, they went sharp on the 3rd string.

This apparently goes for “Ten Ton Hammer” and “Left Unfinished.”

The reason why they did this is so they could do a 5th fret harmonic on the 3rd string.

It gives them that diminished fifth, but with the harmonic ringing out.

So it’s kind of a specific thing and maybe there’s a workaround for it.

Either way, it just shows how innovative they wanted to be.

Alternate Tunings in Metal: What You Should Know

Although metal music started with the regular standard E tuning, it quickly went lower.

In fact, these days, it’s a rarity to find a metal band playing in E standard.

However, these aren’t particularly complicated tunings, at least not in most cases.

The problem, however, is that these lower tunings can be a bit tricky for regular 6-string guitars.

Regular scale length, or the rough length of the usable part of the string, is usually from 24 to 25.5 inches.

There are so-called baritone guitars that come with longer scale lengths, 26.5 or more like the following that can really help you get a great sound from these alternate tunings:

Gretsch G5260 Electromatic Jet Baritone Jade Grey Metallic w/V-Stoptail
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These allow regular string tension and tuning stability with lower tunings.

If you have a Gibson-style guitar, then its scale length is 24.75 inches, and this could be a bit short for lower tunings.

Guitars with 25.5 inches are probably a better option within the standard category.

Either way, I advise using thicker string gauges like these:

Elixir Strings Electric Guitar Strings w NANOWEB Coating, Baritone (.012-.068)

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In my experience, something like .011-.056 or heavier works best for drop B and C# standard tunings.

Machine Head Tuning: Conclusion  

I hope this article has helped you better understand Machine Head’s alternate tunings!

Did I miss a tuning or is something not accurate in this article?

Let me know in the comments!

And if you want to read more about different band’s alternate tunings on this blog, check out:

2 Responses

  1. SpencerTheBoss says:

    Aesthetics of Hate is in C# Standard I have no clue where you got the D Standard from. Machine Head’s song “Old” is in D standard, though.

    1. Hey Spencer,

      Thanks for the catch! We’ve updated the article accordingly.

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