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Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS - Get more info and links to re­lated lessons on all Justin’s GT ar­ti­cles at www.justin­gui­­mag

I’ve loved mess­ing about with gui­tar tun­ings since I first heard some­one play Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones) with the cor­rect tun­ing and be­ing floored by how much bet­ter it sounded than my hack stan­dard tun­ing ver­sion. Since then I’ve messed about with them a lot and I’m al­ways sur­prised at so many peo­ple be­ing afraid of chang­ing the tun­ing of the gui­tar, or think­ing it’s re­ally hard. It can be real hard if you make it so, but it’s such a fun thing to ex­plore and can be a lot eas­ier than most peo­ple think, so I hoped you might like to come on a lit­tle jour­ney with me.

A cou­ple of things be­fore we get go­ing: don’t try al­tered tun­ing on a gui­tar with a float­ing vi­brato. It’s a mas­sive headache. Se­condly, if you re­tune a lot, or have old (or rub­bish) strings, you might break one. But it’s not the end of the world, and if they were old you prob­a­bly should have changed them any­way. Also, if you tune a lot of strings up or down and dra­mat­i­cally change the string ten­sion, it’s pos­si­ble you might bend the neck and need to ad­just your truss rod. But in the 30 years I’ve been re­tun­ing it’s never been a ma­jor is­sue and only worth do­ing if you plan on leav­ing a gui­tar in a par­tic­u­lar tun­ing.

Drop D

The eas­i­est start to al­tered tun­ings is drop­ping the thick­est string down a tone to the note D. You can use the open D string (fourth string) as a ref­er­ence and slowly tune down the sixth string un­til they sound the same note, but an oc­tave apart. This is called drop D tun­ing and means that you can now play all the strings with your open D chord and it sounds fat! It’s quite a simple tun­ing and only af­fected

one string. That’s im­por­tant, for a few rea­sons: first, any chord you want to play that doesn’t use the thick­est string re­mains the same. And, se­condly, if there is a note on the thick­est string then you just need to move that note up a tone (two frets). So in Drop D all the usual chords that just use the first to fifth strings (like D, C, Am, etc) are all the same. If you want to play a G (or F) you need to fig­ure out how to move the sixth string note up while play­ing the rest. There’s no wrong an­swer, but lots of right an­swers. Here’s two… and the su­per simple pow­er­chord! G (frets low to high: 5 x0 0 0 3) F (frets low to high: 3 x 3 2 1 x) F#5 (frets low to high: 2 2 2 xx x) If you want to solo in drop D it’s no prob­lem, noth­ing changes, just avoid the sixth string! Go have some fun, then come back.

Dou­ble drop D

Now let’s tune the first string (thinnest string) down a tone (to D) as well. Now you’re in dou­ble drop D, a very com­mon folk and blues tun­ing. The first thing you should try is play­ing all your usual chords in the new tun­ing and lis­ten. There are some su­per tasty chords liv­ing here and you don’t need to do a thing. There is also some magic, so go and find it. If you want to play other chords you need to just move the note on the first string up a tone. It’s not that hard and it’s ac­tu­ally quite fun - but make sure you ex­per­i­ment and lis­ten be­cause it’s not al­ways about ‘know­ing’ what you’re do­ing. At this stage we’re just mak­ing some cool sounds and en­joy­ing it.

I’m sure you can fig­ure out most chords on your own but here’s a few ways you’d play some com­mon open chords in dou­ble drop D and a few su­per nice shapes to ex­plore. You’ll find some prob­lems (like Open C shape) but look for magic where you can’t find an easy an­swer (like play­ing Cadd9 in­stead). G (frets low to high: 5 x0 0 0 5) F (frets low to high: 3 x3 2 1 3) A (frets low to high: x 0 2 2 2 2) Cadd9 (frets low to high: x 3 2 0 1 0) F6/9 (frets low to high: 3 x 3 0 1 0) Asus2/4 (frets low to high: x 0 2 2 0 0)

It’s a lot of fun ex­plor­ing chords, but solo­ing still shouldn’t be a prob­lem – ei­ther stay off the out­side strings, or re­mem­ber that notes you are used to play­ing on the out­side strings are now lo­cated two frets higher. Play­ing a Blues in dou­ble drop D is quite fun and will force you out of play­ing the tired old vo­cab­u­lary that falls un­der your fin­gers eas­ily, and maybe take you to some fun places.

If you fancy check­ing out how some of the greats use dou­ble drop D, you might like to learn Song For Ge­orge by Eric John­son, Har­vest Moon or Nat­u­ral Beauty by Neil Young. For drop D, great ex­am­ples in­clude Queen’s Fat Bot­tomed Girls, Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Ma­chine, or Mon­key Wrench by the Foo Fight­ers!

Next in­stal­ment we’ll get into drop­ping the fifth string down to a G note and find­ing our­selves in open G tun­ing, which is an­other fas­ci­nat­ing one to ex­plore. Un­til then, grab your peg, give it a twist and en­joy your­self!

Be­low: Some new Drop D shapes for three fa­mil­iar chords

Justin says it’s re­ward­ing and fun to try new tun­ings

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