Paint It Black Tuning: The Complete Guide (2023 Edition)

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If you’re interested in learning more about Paint It Black Tuning and how the Rolling Stones tune their guitars for this song, you’ve come to the right post!

So what is Paint It Black tuning?

In the studio recording of Paint It Black, the Rolling Stones used standard guitar tuning intervals EADGBE but with all strings tuned in relation to the A string which is tuned somewhere around 453 and 454 Hz instead of the standard 440 Hz.

I’ll unpack this more in the sections below.

The Song

Surprisingly enough, The Rolling Stones keep conquering the world with the music they wrote back in the 1960s. One of their biggest tunes is still “Paint It Black” which came out in 1966.

This is one of the classics of the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger writing duo. However, this is also one of the pieces where Brian Jones stepped in as a co-writer. For some reason, he’s not credited for the piece.

Needless to say, “Paint It Black” is a very popular song among guitar players. It was ahead of its time and brought a different twist. The music feels darker with a strong Eastern vibe. The lyrics are also a bit darker, at least compared to the popular music at the time.

With such a darker riff, the song also inspired coming hard rock and even metal musicians. But, at the same time, it’s also a very popular song among fans of all genres. “Paint It Black” is one of those songs that fits everyone’s taste. And thus, it’s a testament to The Rolling Stones’ greatness. Needless to say, it still remains a crucial part of their live setlist.

Paint It Black Tuning

One of the most common questions about this song is its tuning. It seems that plenty of guitar players had issues figuring it out. If you start playing it in the E standard tuning, it sounds off.

No matter how precise your tuner is, you always sound out of tune playing the song. It does feel frustrating, right?

Well, there’s no need to worry about this anymore. It’s not about you or your guitar. It’s actually the song that’s slightly off. And we’ll get into more details about it. 

It’s a Bit of a Mystery

Before I proceed, I should point something out first. There have been no official statements on this tuning from the band. This is one of the reasons why everyone keeps asking about the tuning.

What I’ll explain here are mostly speculations. There’s a high chance that I’m right about this. However, I can’t be 100% certain of everything.

Another thing to know is that they changed things around for live shows. What they’ve been doing at their concerts isn’t the same as what they did in the studio back in 1966.

This only adds more mystery to the whole thing. Nonetheless, we have plenty of video recordings of their shows. So we can say with more certainty how they tuned for “Paint It Black” when playing it live.

What I should also point out is that you should use a capo for this song. You should place it on the second fret. There are also ways to play it without a capo in the same tuning, but it would be a bit challenging.

How Did They Tune for “Paint It Black” on the Studio Recording?

As I already mentioned, things aren’t that clear when it comes to the tuning of “Paint It Black.” Some theories suggest that it was an open tuning but this has never been confirmed. 

If you want the simplest explanation, then it’s the E standard tuning. Here we have the good old distribution of intervals between the strings that we’re used to. It goes like this:

  • E2-A2-D3-G3-B3-E4

But this doesn’t really explain why you sound out of tune when you try to play it. The song seems slightly off, doesn’t it?

In order to understand this, we need to explain the A440 tuning standard. It’s something that’s been around for quite a long time. And it was most certainly a standard back in 1966.

When you tune using an electronic or any other reference, it’s almost exclusively within the A440 standard. In simple terms, it means that the A4 note is at exactly 440 Hz. All of the other notes are standardized according to A4=440 Hz.

But the original release of the song isn’t within that standard. It’s just slightly sharper. It’s hard to say how much. But certain sources suggest that the A4 note is at 454 or 453 Hz. So the song’s key is somewhere between E minor and F minor.

Why Is It Slightly Off?

So you might wonder why the song is slightly off. There are a few potential explanations for this.

Firstly, it was hard to find something to tune to back in the day. Electronic tuners were much more complicated back then. And not every band or even a studio had them. A session for a certain song may have been rushed as well. So they tuned the way they could at the moment.

Another explanation is that engineers slightly sped up the tapes in the mixing or mastering process. It may have been an error. Or it could have been a way to make the song more noticeable for radio play.

Finally, maybe the band deliberately wanted to tune just slightly sharper. The Rolling Stones could have just felt that the song sounded better this way.

The Rockmisth version of the song, however, was within the A440 standard. It seems that they reworked it for the game. You can compare original and Rocksmith versions in embedded players below.

The Rolling Stones - Paint It, Black (Official Lyric Video)
Rocksmith 2014 - Guitar - The Rolling Stones "Paint it, Black"

You should also note that the song’s tabs for Rocksmith are without a capo. It’s a simplified version and it doesn’t technically sound like the original when you play it this way.

How They Tuned Later for “Paint It Black”

If you were to listen to any of their live versions, The Rolling Stones are within the A440 standard for “Paint It Black.” And if you watch closely, Keith Richards has a capo on the 2nd fret in some versions. Here’s one of the versions:

The Rolling Stones - Paint It Black - Live OFFICIAL (Chapter 4/5)

However, there are some other versions where he’s in the same key but doesn’t use a capo. For instance, check out this version from 1990:

The Rolling Stones - Paint It Black - Live 1990

All the notes are there. However, he uses the open D minor shape while it sounds like E minor. My theory is that he’s using an alternate tuning here. I assume that this is how the top four strings are tuned:

  • 4th is E3
  • 3rd is A3
  • 2nd is C#4
  • 1st is F#$

It could all easily be F# standard. However, I’m not certain whether this is actually the case. If it is, then this is what the tuning looks like:

  • F#2-B2-E3-A3-C#4-F#4

Essentially, it’s the E standard with all strings tuned up to F#. But this was the only live video without a capo that I could find. So I cannot confirm it.


I hope this article has helped clear up the tunings the Rolling Stones used for this epic song.

And if you’re interested in reading about the unique tunings of other famous songs, check out the following posts:

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

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