13 of The Best Alternate Guitar Tunings

We all know the standard guitar tuning of E-A-D-G-B-E. It’s the tuning we all start with, and for many guitarists (including me for years), it’s all we ever know. But here’s the thing: If you’ve never tried alternate tunings, you’re missing out. These tunings can reinvigorate your guitar playing and open up entirely untapped areas, especially if you play an acoustic guitar.

Using alternate tunings requires you to revise your approach to the fretboard and learn new chord shapes and scales. Crucially, they also make your guitar sound different- almost like a new instrument. That’s a good thing.

In this article, we will cover the best alternate tunings, with diagrams and examples of songs that use them, starting with the most popular tunings. Trust me, once we’re done, you’ll be a convert. For fans of Nick Drake and Jimmy Page, you’ll be especially happy as I include a few of theirs.

Note: Some songs require you to use a capo – If you don’t have one, see our guide to the best capos.

DADGBE (Drop D Tuning)

Drop D tuning modifies the standard tuning by only a single string, the lowest E, which gets tuned down by a whole step to D. This tuning is praised for its deep, robust sound and the ease with which one can form power chords using just one finger. It’s a versatile tuning used across multiple music genres, from hard-hitting rock to indie and even pop.

The standard string setup for this tuning, from low to high, reads D A D G B E, setting the scene for a heavier and more resonant guitar tone.


Songs that use Drop D:

  • “May You Never” – John Martyn (capo 2nd)
  • “Mr. Tamborine Man” – Bob Dylan
  • “Everlong” – Foo Fighters
  • “All Apologies” – Nirvana
  • “Harvest Moon” – Neil Young

Related: songs using Drop D tuning (full list)


DADGBD (Double Drop D Tuning)

Double Drop D Tuning extends the concept of Drop D (see above) by lowering the pitches of both the sixth and first strings to D, thus creating a symmetry that caters to intricate fingerpicked passages.

It’s particularly favored in genres such as classic rock and folk, offering a distinct resonance that lends itself equally to electric and acoustic guitars.


Songs that use Double Drop D:

  • “Gimme Shelter” – Rolling Stones
  • “Ohio” – Neil Young
  • “The Chain” – Fleetwood Mac

DADGAD

DADGAD tuning allows guitarists to strum a Dsus4 chord when all six strings are played open. This configuration lends itself exceptionally well to fingerstyle playing and droning, folk-inspired sounds. It was made famous by British folk guitarist Davey Graham, who apparently was inspired by an oud player in Morocco using a similar tuning. It’s been a favorite in folk and rock ever since and is one of the most popular alternate tunings.

With the sixth, second, and first strings tuned down a step, a guitarist can easily play chords and melodies with open strings, creating a spacious, resonant quality.


Songs that use DADGAD:

  • “Over the Hill” – John Martyn (capo 5th fret)
  • “Kashmir” – Led Zeppelin
  • “Photograph” – Ed Sheeran

DADF#AD (Open D Tuning)

Open D tuning is an alternate guitar tuning that provides a D major chord when all six open strings are strummed. It’s similar to DADGAD but with a raised G string to F#.


Songs that use Open D:

  • “Big Yellow Taxi” – Joni Mitchell
  • “Kamera” – Wilco
  • “The Cave” – Mumford & Sons

CGCGCE (Open C Tuning)

Open C tuning lowers the pitch of all six guitar strings significantly compared to standard tuning. This allows an open C major chord to ring out when strumming the open strings. The pitches from low to high are C-G-C-G-C-E.


Songs that use Open C:

  • “Friends” by Led Zeppelin
  • “A Thousand Days Before” by Soundgarden
  • “The Fear” by Ben Howard

EBEG#BE (Open E Tuning)

Open E tuning is an alternate guitar tuning that provides an open E major chord when strumming the unfretted strings. It modifies the tuning of 3 out of the 6 strings.

This tuning offers a convenience for guitarists: it allows you to form major chords quickly by barring a single finger across the fretboard. It’s a favorite for slide guitar players, offering seamless transitions and resonating open chords, which enrich blues rock and classic rock music with a distinctive sound.

With this open voicing, strumming the open strings rings out a bright, resonant E major chord. The top two strings stay in standard E and B tuning, allowing familiar melodic riffs and leads. Open E tuning’s versatility makes it suitable for many genres including blues, folk, and rock music.


Songs that use Open E:

  • “Bo Diddley” – Bo Diddley (his self-titled song)
  • “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – Rolling Stones
  • “Statesboro Blues” – The Allman Brothers Band
  • Blood on the Tracks (the entire album!) – Bob Dylan

DGCGCD (Jimmy Page Tuning)

This tuning, DGCGCD, owes much of its renown to Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, transforming it into a staple for Jimmy Page fans (including me, hence why I’ve called it “Jimmy Page Tuning” – that’s not its official name). It yields a distinctive sound with the open strings, distinct from the conventional resonances of open G or open C tunings. Among the most iconic tracks to feature this arrangement is Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” Embracing this non-traditional tuning, guitarists from various genres find a wellspring of creativity.


Songs:

  • “The Rain Song” – Led Zeppelin (capo 2nd fret)

GABDEG (Thurston Moore Tuning)

The GABDEG tuning, recognized for its rich, open sound, offers an expansive landscape for songwriters and guitarists, particularly within the genres of alternative rock, metal, and indie pop (especially Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who I’ve named it after.)

One notable use of GABDEG is in the track, a band that celebrated the use of experimental guitar effects and unconventional tunings.


Songs:

  • “Teen Age Riot” – Sonic Youth
  • “Hey Joni” – Sonic Youth

Related: more info on Sonic Youth’s tunings (they use an insane amount)


DGDGBD (Open G Tuning)

Here’s a truly gorgeous sounding tuning – the Open G. When you adjust the pitch of your strings to this tuning, the result is a G Major chord when strummed open. It’s a favorite among slide guitarists and popular in the realms of blues and folk.

The preserved pitches of the fourth D string and the second B string provide a sense of grounding. In contrast, the altered pitches encourage exploration and creativity, leading to novel chord voicings and melodic lines not as easily accessed with standard tuning.


Songs that use Open G tuning:

  • “Rider on the Wheel” – Nick Drake
  • “Walkin’ Blues” – Robert Johnson
  • “Street Fighting Man” – Rolling Stones

CGCFCE (Nick Drake Tuning)

CGCFCE opens vast landscapes for the acoustic guitarist. It is strongly associated with the sound of Nick Drake, an incredible British folk artist renowned for his introspective and texturally rich music. This setup is often referred to as “Nick Drake Tuning. ” It allows for a harmonic resonance within the C-major family, offering a canvas for both melancholic moods and bright harmonics.


Songs:

  • “Pink Moon” – Nick Drake
  • “Place to Be” – Nick Drake

BADGBE

BADGBE tuning lowers the pitch of the bottom E string to a deep, resonant B. This tuning, while not widely adopted, holds a notable presence in the alternative rock scene, most recognizably in the grunge and progressive genres.

It provides a rich, full-bodied sound that enhances a guitar’s melodic capabilities.

Songs:

  • “Rusty Cage” – Soundgarden

CGCFAD (Drop C Tuning)

Drop C tuning gets its name from lowering the lowest string on the guitar down to C, while also dropping the pitches of the other five strings.

The resulting chord shapes and finger positions are the same as in standard tuning, just transposed down lower. This gives chords and riffs a deeper, heavier sound. Drop C tuning is commonly used in heavy metal and hard rock music, allowing guitarists to achieve chunky, low-end riffs.


Songs that use Drop C:

  • “My Curse” by Killswitch Engage
  • “Happy Song” by Bring Me the Horizon
  • “Confined” by As I Lay Dying

Related: Drop C tuning on guitar (complete guide)


BGbBEAbDb (Drop B Tuning)

Drop B tuning dramatically lowers the pitch of all six guitar strings compared to standard tuning. The lowest string is tuned down two and a half steps to B, while the other five strings are lowered by one and a half steps. This ultra-low tuning creates an ominous, dark sonic palette. The substantial reduction in pitch and tension lends itself well to heavy metal styles like doom and sludge metal. The dissonant intervals and minor tonality evoke a sense of dread and foreboding – alternative tunings don’t get much darker than this.

Songs that use Drop B:

  • “Duality” – Slipknot
  • “Whispers in the Dark” – Skillet

D Standard Tuning

With D Standard Tuning, you tune each string down a whole step from standard tuning.

Songs:

  • “Ace of Spades” – Motörhead
  • “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

Related: standard D tuning on guitar (complete guide)


How to Correctly Tune to Alternate Tunings

Tuning a guitar to an alternate tuning requires care and patience. It is important to tune each string individually, moving slowly and gradually to the new pitch. Sudden large changes in string tension can cause strings to snap.

When tuning a string up to a higher pitch, turn the tuning peg only a quarter turn at a time. After each small turn, pluck the string and listen to the pitch. Continue with small peg turns until the string reaches the desired pitch. Tune one string at a time gradually, using the pitches of adjacent strings as a reference. Online guitar tuners can also assist in tuning each string precisely to the notes needed for the alternate tuning.

Some alternate tunings patterns require lowering all six strings significantly. This can loosen the strings so much that it causes buzzing and rattling against the frets. Switching to heavier gauge strings can help. Otherwise, you need your action adjusting (go to your local guitar shop to get it set up properly).

Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. It’s basically my own guide to alternate picking, but rather than having it on a note somewhere, it’s here. I’ll keep adding to it as I discover new tunings or good songs to add.

Final tip: If you have more than one guitar (lucky you), it’s handy to have different guitars tuned differently so you can quickly grab a guitar when you’re in the mood for, say, Jimmy Page’s “The Rain Song.” Less time tuning means more time playing. Always a good thing :).

Good luck!

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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