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I have read that Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix tuned their Fender Stratocasters to Eb standard. I have not heard of it being done to other guitars.

Is there anything specific to a Stratocaster that lends itself to this tuning?

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  • Another consideration is what gauge strings were used when tuned down.
    – Tim
    Feb 18, 2022 at 8:54
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    The world is full of guitarists using lowered tunings. Are you sure all of the dozens of artists here use Strats only en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_guitar_tunings#Lowered_(Standard) Feb 18, 2022 at 9:22
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    For a detailed overview, you can also go to ultimate-guitar.com/explore and select a tuning. Current statistics: Standard 1,513,398, Half-Step Down 33,973, including artists like Guns'n'Roses, Nirvana, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, and The Beatles, none of whom are known as Strat users. Feb 18, 2022 at 9:58
  • This is a valid question. I've heard in interviews that because of the difference in scale length between a Les Paul and a Strat, that tuning a Strat to Eb will give it similar tension. But I am looking forward to someone's fleshed-out answer. Feb 18, 2022 at 13:49
  • The answer is already in comments. There are lots of hard rock and metal bands with downtuned Les Pauls and Explorers out there.
    – ojs
    Feb 18, 2022 at 14:40

3 Answers 3

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I've heard in interviews that because of the difference in scale length between a Les Paul and a Strat, that tuning a Strat to Eb will give it similar tension. But I am looking forward to someone's fleshed-out answer.

Fender Stratocaster has 25.5" scale. Gibson Les Paul, historical competitor, has shorter scale of 24.75". Indeed with the same strings and the same tuning the string tension would be slightly higher for Stratocaster. However in order to equalize the tension, one would need to lower the Stratocaster tuning by quarter of a tone rather than half tone.

To back it with some numbers, according to stringjoy tension calculator (https://tension.stringjoy.com/)

  • High E string, .010" gauge, has tension of 17.8 lbs at 25.5"
  • High E string, .010" gauge, has tension of 16.8 lbs at 24.75"
  • High Eb string, .010" gauge, has tension of 15.9 lbs at 25.5"

These differences are not very large, but certainly noticeable. 25.5" scale might be slightly more favorable for downtuning, but going just by a half step down already overcompensates for the difference between 25.5" and 24.75".

String tension depends on the string gauge a lot. This page (https://stringjoy.com/jimi-hendrixs-guitar-string-gauges/) mentions Jimi Hendrix used .010" (which today are perceived slightly hard by many rock guitarists) and Stevie Ray Vaughan used .013".

  • High E string, .013" gauge, has tension of 30.1 lbs at 25.5"
  • High Eb string, .010" gauge, has tension of 26.8 lbs at 25.5"

The difference between 10s and 13s is huge. Lowering the tension certainly helped Ray Vaughan to use high gauge strings, but the resulting tension was still quite high. So definitely tension alone wasn't what made Ray Vaughan to choose his tuning.

As other mentioned, there are many artists who used half-step down tuning with shorter scale guitars. The list at https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/explore?tuning[]=2 includes songs played by Slash from Guns and Roses, a famous Les Paul user.

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  • The interesting thing about Henrix' strings is how thin the wound strings are. Normally manufacturers put the same low 6th string to a .008 set.
    – ojs
    Feb 18, 2022 at 21:08
  • @ojs Interesting indeed! But I can't comment about it. Perhaps that's a topic for a separate question. Feb 19, 2022 at 0:14
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Tuning standard down a half step is common in rock music regardless of guitar type. Two other well know examples are Guns and Roses and KISS. Incidentally those bands used guitars other than Fenders: Gibsons and Ibanez especially, mostly humbucker type instruments.

More generally you can say that pretty much any tuning could be found and any type of guitar. There are so many players in so many style, using so many types of guitars, and non-standard tunings seem more and more popular, you could probably find an example of just about any combination if you looked hard enough.

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Is there anything specific to a strat that lends itself to this tuning?

I'm going to say no.

Other Answers have pointed out that this tuning is used by many artists who are not Stratocaster guys. As for why SRV and Jimi Hendrix played that way, it's hard to say.
I think it's a safe to guess that SRV preferred really heavy strings for their sound, and downtuning made it easier on his fingers.
I've heard somewhere (I wish I could back this up) that Jimi's time as an axe-for-hire meant he played with alot of horn bands, where keys like Eb, Ab, Bb were more common. A guitar in Eb standard tuning has convenient open chords in Eb and Ab (not so sure about Bb). Another reason is that Jimi's voice was more comfortable in Eb.

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  • Good points about playing with horns - I wondered that for years! Not convinced about the last sentence.
    – Tim
    Feb 19, 2022 at 8:12
  • Last sentence is one of those things that you find claimed all over the internet, but I haven't found a primary source. It's usually just "I read in a biography once" and things like that. Not a singer but I find it plausible
    – Awalrod
    Feb 21, 2022 at 13:59

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