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Guitars are tuned E-A-D-G-B-E by standard, but I prefer tuning it down to C (C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C) since it gives a meatier sound and is easier on my fingers.

I know there are plenty of other tunings, but is there any reason to use them other than to get a deeper sound?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Many alternate tunings are used to make it easier to play open chords.

Another notable example is the New Standard Tuning, which has been developed by Robert Fripp. The goal here is to force yourself to find new licks/chords since none of the tunes you usually play would (easily) work on this new tuning.

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Slide guitar is well known for alternate tunings. Usually the guitar is tuned to a standard, open chord (A is a prominent one) which makes playing open chords with the slide piece easier. Many artists will tune to a tuning that allows easier access to a suspended chord feel, which results in a more "airy" sound. See Jars of Clay (EABEBE) and Goo Goo Dolls (can't remember off hand but it's a weird one).

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In the song "Iris" (from the "City of Angels" sountrack), Goo Goo Dolls uses a tuning where all strings are tuned to the note D (in three different octaves), except the sixth one, which is tuned to B. The actual notes are (from high to low), D5, D5, D4, D4, D3 and B2. –  Rafael Almeida Jan 14 '11 at 20:25
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alternate tunings are not always for a deeper sound. Some are there to allow for alternate chords and open string sounds that would not be possible with a standard-tuned guitar.

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Do you know of any songs which use this sort of tuning? –  What Jan 13 '11 at 21:42
    
@What OTOH Never Goin' Back Again by Fleetwood Mack; All I Want by Joni Mitchell. Generally, anything difficult in Standard Tuning (eg. stacked-thirds) can be made easier with an Alternate (eg. tune to all-thirds). –  luser droog Nov 24 '12 at 10:40
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I like open tunings a lot, because they have a certain "flavor".

Open-G is very melodic and fun to improvise on, especially with another guitarist tuned the same way. It's popular with bluegrass.

Open-D is another one I used to use for slide. To me, it's not as pretty as G, but it's got more power.

There's been a lot of songs written using either.

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A good jumping off point is the song "Nothingman" by Pearl Jam. I use this as an example because although you can play it easily in standard tuning E-A-D-G-B-E it is easier to play with the B tuned up to C, so E-A-D-G-C-E

During the verse you play the following chords in standard...

0  0  0  0
1  1  1  1
0  2  0  0
2  2  0  3
3  0  2  3
x  x  3  1

But by tunning the B up to C we get...

0  0  0  0
0  0  0  0
0  2  0  0
2  2  0  3
3  0  2  3
x  x  3  1

So straight away we are doing less work and playing the same notes.

But look at that last chord again in standard tuning...

0
1
0
3
3
1

This is quite awkward to play, certainly more so than...

0
0
0
3
3
1

In the alt tuning E-A-D-G-C-E we play the following chord in the chorus ( actual notes played in brackets)

0 [e]
0 [c]
0 [g]
7 [a]
7 [e]
5 [a]

How to play this in standard tuning??? Lets try...

Fail!                     Fail!
0 [e]                     0[e]  
0 [b is wrong, need a c]  0[b clashes with my new found c and we're missing a g]  
0 [g]                     5[c can be found] 
7 [a]                     7[a]
7 [e]                     7[e]
5 [a]                     7[a]

Nearly...                          All the notes but damn awkward.
0 [e]                              0[e]  
5 [e sounds ok, still missing g!]  x[skip the clashing b]  
5 [c]                              5[c can be found] 
7 [a]                              5[g can be found]
7 [e]                              7[e]
5 [a]                              5[a]

Bar chord is simple but doesn't ring as nicely...                          
5 [a]                              
5 [e]    
5 [c]                               
5 [g]                              
7 [e]                              
5 [a]

Open is simple but we lose the easy slides between the `F` `G` and `A` chords...                          
0 [e]                              
1 [c]    
0 [d]                               
2 [e]                              
0 [e]                              
x [a]                              

So the chord is possible in standard, but with the alternative tuning we are able to slide nicely up to the target chord which in this voicing has a distinctive sound not quite available in standard tuning.

Try it.

Atthe end of the day, alternative tunings give you alternative options.

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Using different tunings can provide a different style of sound when you play guitar. DADGAD is a very good example of this, providing a celtic feel to some styles of playing. I have seen it used to accompany violinists. Another good one is DGDGGD. I experimented with this tuning as a way to play 'Monty Got a Raw deal' (R.E.M.) on the guitar, which was originally played on a bouzouki, and I was trying to find a way to emulate that sound. When I play that tuning, it can sound very exotic and eastern.

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The question is why use alternative tunings? not list your favourite tunings. –  Anonymous Jan 15 '11 at 15:04
    
Apologies, my mistake, I will edit my answer accordingly. –  Ali Maxwell Jan 15 '11 at 15:19
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i use alternative lower tunings to lower a song so I can sing it =P then (if in the same gig) I use a capo to get E back =D

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DADGAG with a bottleneck slide.

It gives you total slide freedom and makes it easy to push out small bluesy melodies at the same time. It's also an extremely full sound.

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