Often, nowadays, guitarists will tune to Eb etc.as a matter of course, for various reasons.I'm thinking of the 1930s and 40s, when guitarists were playing in dance bands.A lot of the music they played was in Bb, Eb,and other flat keys.Were there any guitarists who thought " If I tune to Eb rather that E, I could use open chords in some of the songs, to give a brighter sound than having to barre everything" To me it would have been a great option, but who actually, if anyone, did so ?
closed as too localized by Dr Mayhem♦, American Luke, neilfein, Jason W, Chipsgoumerde Apr 26 '13 at 13:22
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A point for dropping to Eb is that it gives you open strings which have sustain. The style of jazz accompaniment, as epitomized by Freddie Green, is closed and muted strings all over the neck, on archtop guitars that are notable for the punchy attack but minimal sustain, so the benefit you get is being on the position marker rather than off it. I don't doubt that some players tuned down, but I don't see it being wildly useful to that style.
Tuning to Eb can have a variety of advantages. When playing in a band with horns that are Eb and Bb instruments, tuning to Eb means that you use bar chords and play in their key much more easily. Having that lower Eb also means that for a tune in that key, you don't have to go up almost a whole octave to play the root note.
It will also change the tone, but it will be darker, not brighter. Because there will be less tension on the strings, you can also bend them farther with less effort and generally break fewer strings from bending.
You can also take advantage of the different resonance capabilities of a particular guitar with different tunings. For example, I have a Yamaha acoustic that has tremendous bass response. When I tune to Eb, I not only get a huge low end to the sound, but the whole range of the instrument sounds more balanced because it fits that frequency resonance more closely. For guitars with more resonance in the high end, a standard tuning or even an F tuning may produce a better sound. (Careful with the uptuning though. You will likely need very light gauge strings and a careful readjustment of the instrument to handle the additional tension.)
If you are considering downtuning, you should think about keeping your tuning there instead of switching from E tuning to Eb back and forth. Intonation, proper truss rod setting, and action height all will be affected by a change in tuning. If you have a floating bridge, it gets even worse!
I'm not familiar with guitarists from the 30s and 40s that played exclusively in Eb tuning, but I have to believe that many of them did.