A Simple Guide to Pantera Tuning [2023 Edition]

Table of Contents

If you’re curious about Pantera tuning, this post is for you!

I’ll be honest, I’m not the biggest Pantera fan.

But I know many are interested in how this band tunes their instruments, so I decided to look into what they were doing.

And frankly, the way they tune their instruments surprised me.

I’ll explain more in the following sections.

And if you want to check out some of the content I typically write about, here are couple posts to get you started:

The A=440 Hz Standard Pitch

These days, almost all instruments are tuned according to the A440 standard. But what is the A440 standard? This refers to the musical pitch that corresponds to the A4 note equating to exactly 440 Hz.

It also goes by another name, the “Stuttgart Pitch.” Setting an A4 note to 440 Hz is the standard these days established by the International Organization for Standardization (IOS). Likewise, all other notes adhering to IOS are tuned in relation to the A4 note of 440 Hz.

For further context, in western music, there is what’s called a 12-tone equal temperament. In simple terms, we have 12 notes in an octave. You essentially divide one octave into 12 equal parts.

Guitar Tunings Within the Context of the A=440 Standard

The whole thing is a bit more complex. But there are only a few basic things that you need to understand as a guitar player. So I won’t get too geeky here.

All of the notes of the chromatic scale should correspond to the A440 standard. This means that each one should have its exact frequency.

As a guitar player, you’re probably vaguely familiar with frequencies when using an electronic tuner. You may have even noticed that some tuners indicate a default setting showing the A4 note equating to 440 Hz. You can also change it and tune it differently. Just bear in mind that all of the other instruments playing with you should also be tuned the same way.

But what if you’re not tuning to the E standard tuning? What if you want to go down to drop C or Eb standard? Well, it’s the same thing. The real A4 is always 440 Hz. A#4 will be 466.1 Hz and Ab4 will be 415.3 Hz.

You just move by one or more semitones up and down on the guitar. You’re still within the same 12-tone equal temperament.

Pantera Tuning

So what does all this have to do with Pantera and the tunings this band uses?

Well, Pantera often deviates from the Stuttgart Pitch standard and tunes their A4 (and thus all other notes) to a different baseline frequency.

This is significant because Pantera is a very influential metal band. And Dimebag Darrell is one of its band members who has had a profound influence on how many approach the electric guitar.

For the most part, the band’s guitarist Dimebag Darrell and bassist Rex Brown tune to E standard. This, however, changed over time as they started using drop D and other tunings.

And, with some of their later albums, they even started using “in-between” tunings. In short, they didn’t care for the A440 standard. And I assume they never really cared about IOS standards in general.

Pantera Tuning Examples

For instance, let’s take “Becoming,” a song from the 1994 album “Far Beyond Driven.” The guitar tuning on it features the same distribution of intervals as with the E standard. However, we have something that’s between C# and D standard tunings.

You can check out this absolute metal banger in the embedded player below:

Technically, it’s the D tuning that’s lower than the A440 standard. And this is something that they implemented in plenty of their other songs and also why I started this article discussing A440.

Another example of their unusual alternate tunings is their legendary song “Cowboys from Hell.” Here we have the E standard tuning that’s just slightly below the A440 standard. Most commonly, the bottom string of a 6-string guitar is tuned to E2, equating to 82.41 Hz.

However, in “Cowboys from Hell,” it goes just below that particular frequency. But at the same time, all other strings are down proportionately. Some say that it’s ¼ of a step. However, it’s less than that.

You can check out the song below. Tune your guitar to E within the A440 standard and play along with the song. You’ll notice that it’s slightly off.

Pantera - Cowboys from Hell HQ (HD)

Why Did Pantera Do this?

Now, this isn’t an exclusively Pantera thing. In fact, plenty of older bands had these tunings that are slightly off. One of the biggest examples is AC/DC with their earliest material.

So why did these bands do that? Many bandmates just made sure they were in tune enough with each other and went from there (particularly in the days before the internet and widespread computer use).

And even if there was a piano somewhere in the studio, it may not have been in tune. What’s more, the only available electronic tuners were Peterson strobe tuners. These are very precise but were (and still are) very expensive.

As for Pantera, they worked during a time when electronic tuners were available.

It’s hard to say what’s the real reason behind this. But we can safely assume that they just wanted to sound different. Playing music that’s all within the A440 standard gets your ears accustomed to it.

But if you were to put a Pantera record on right after listening to something else? Well, you’d immediately notice that it’s Pantera!  

Most Common Tunings That They Used

These are the tunings Pantera commonly used on a lot of their songs. Bear in mind that all of these tunings are not within the A440. Instead, they’re slightly lower. Some suggest that it’s all 430 Hz for the A4 note.

  • E standard
  • Drop D
  • D standard
  • C# standard (or D-flat standard)
  • D-flat standard with 6th string dropped to G-flat (Gb1-Gb2-B2-E3-Ab3-Db4). It was used on “The Underground in America” and “(Reprise) Sandblasted Skin” from “The Great Southern Trendkill” album.

Pantera Tuning: Conclusion

I hope this article has shed some light on the unusual tunings Pantera used and why some of them were truly unique!

Let me know in the comments if you have further questions!

5 Responses

  1. Michael 'Doc' Rogers says:

    Just stumbled upon your site while researching a Jay Turner 12 string and then saw this nice Pantera write-up! I had a band in the late 80’s to early 90’s that had a pretty good following and even garnered attention from a couple labels. One thing we always did was to tune everything to 438 instead of 440 for both live and studio recording. Due to the invention of home computers in the late 1970’s, cheaper silicon chips of all types exploded into the marketplace and found their way into a growing list of products. That list also included the chips used in portable tuners making them very affordable by the early 1980’s and allowing us to easily tune down accurately. Our singer was a very talented screamer type (think Nazareth, Dio, etc.) and we found that by tuning to 438 he wasn’t totally blown out by the end of the show. That little trick saved our asses plenty while on the road playing 5 to 8 days a week! I don’t know if that had anything to do with the tuning choices Pantera and other acts made, but it definitely is something to consider.
    R.I.P. Dimebag Darrell

    1. Hey Michael!

      Thanks for the kind words! That’s super interesting about the down-tuning. I never thought about how that could make singing for long periods easier!

  2. Brownie_the_3rd says:

    Pantera’s old guitar tech has gone on record saying he’d tune the guitars 40cents sharp from a half step down. So an E would actually be D# + 40cents, A would be G#+ 40cents etc… with the same approach taken when tuned down lower then ‘standard’ tuning.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for sharing! Do you have a source for this?

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