9

Let's say I have a normal 6 string guitar that is standard tuned.

How low can I tune it? I'm especially interested in the tuning of the low E string of the guitar.

I have seen bands that tune it down to C#,C,A etc, but what is the lowest tuning that can be achieved?

  • 8
    A semi-tone above when it sticks to the pickup ;) – Tetsujin Nov 30 '14 at 9:55
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    Dependent on the thickness of the string concerned. You'd probably get a .100 bass string on but will have to adjust the action and maybe the holes it goes through. – Tim Nov 30 '14 at 10:00
  • Not really related to your question: youtube.com/watch?v=F8S-F3DKA-8 =) – Matthias Nicklisch Jan 28 '16 at 15:35
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In general, the longer the scale length - the more stable a string will be as the tension is lowered and the pitch follows.

A thicker gauge string will allow you to fudge the numbers a bit and get lower, but usually at the expense of intonation, which in terms of what you're looking for; you'll need to adjust for anyway.

Anything is possible with some mild modifications (like very large lower strings to get way low) but depending on the style you're going for and how you play, you can get some pretty good results with the standard 24-25" scale length guitar to about drop C (CGCFAD) without needing to change all that much.

I'm currently using a project SG with .11's and even though it's the shorter Gibson scale length (24.75"), it can djent down to drop A pretty well, even with what's considered "light" gauges for that tuning. (AEADF#B).


There are a few factors at play when it comes to tuning down on the guitar.

  • String Gauge
  • Scale Length
  • String Tension (Really, a combination of gauge + scale length + desired pitch)

As long as you keep these in a well-balanced ratio, you can tune down to your heart's desire (although, eventually you're guitar amp isn't going to like the low frequencies). The lower you go in tension/pitch, the bigger you'll need either string gauge and/or scale length to be. One factor is exponentially harder to adjust than the other.

Also, an intonation adjustment will more than likely be necessary after any of these suggested changes.

  • Using thicker strings for lower tunings will help get enough volume, but it won't help the intonation problem: barring change of string materials, the lower you tune, the sharper the strings will play on the frets. – Scott Wallace Feb 21 '17 at 18:02
2

The conventional answer is: down to the B a fourth below the low E in standard tuning.

However, to do this, you not only need to restring the instrument with very heavy strings. You will also need to pay a professional guitar technician to do a new setup. The technician will need to install a new nut with newly-cut slots to achieve the correct string height and slot width for each new, heavier-gauge string. The technician will have to adjust the truss rod to account for the different amount of tension on the neck caused by the strings, and to set the correct amount of neck relief to get the proper action. The bridge will have to be adjusted for overall bridge height, individual saddle height, and individual saddle position for intonation. It is possible that the bridge saddle slots will have to be filed out to be larger. In some cases, the entire bridge will have to be moved to a different position to accommodate the change in intonation, and this may require routing or drilling new holes. And if you have a tremolo bridge, rather than a fixed bridge, there are a different set of numerous adjustments and modification that will need to be done to that kind of bridge.

In general, the further you want to lower the tuning, the more setup work is going to need to be done.

On the other hand, there are many different designs for a "baritone" guitar that have a longer scale length and come already set up with heavier strings at a certain lower tuning.

For reference, a Gibson-style guitar has a scale length of 24 and 3/4 inches (629mm). A Fender-style guitar has a scale length of 25 and 1/2 inches (648mm). There are "baritone" 6-string and 7-string and 8-string guitars on the market with scale lengths of anything from 26 inches to 30 inches (762mm). Depending on the model, these guitars are designed to be tuned as far as a full octave below the low E on a standard-scale guitar.

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Wheat Williams' answer (bottom string down to the B below the normal E) suggests this will require special strings.

However I have tuned by acoustic guitar down to C, just a semitone above that, with regular strings. More specifically the lowest tuning I've played without changing strings is CGCGGC and you'll note only the E and G strings are detuned 4 semi-tones, the others not so much.

This tuning is quite playable but the bottom E can buzz when played too hard, I think it depends a bit how low your action is. You also haven't mentioned if this is acoustic or electric.

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I bought an inexpensive Tele style guitar with the idea to set it up as a baritone. A guitar magazine suggested the long scale would work. I put .013-.056 strings on it and tried to set it up BEADF#B, but I could not get it to intonate. Specifically, the sixth string saddle was tight against the back of the bridge. I even took the spring off. And even at that gauge, the strings were too floppy for me. It always sounded out off tune. (In Standard and Open D, it's been fine.)

I'm sure some guitars can be set up to drop past B, but for me, if you're going past D Standard (DGCFAD), it'll likely be a struggle.

  • 1
    If I was trying to get down to B I'd be thinking in terms of .062 or so, my standard E is a .052 already – Tetsujin Nov 30 '14 at 16:00
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Cannot answer for an electric guitar, but I can for accoustic. I use a Resonator guitar, plus an Archtop.

On the Resonator I use 016, .022, .029, .048, .060, and .070 strings; can hit a B♭ easy. Has a short neck and old school 12 playable frets, but like has been pointed out, I had this set up by my local Luthier. New nut, new drilling on the saddle to accommodate the largest string.

The Archtop uses 015, .019, .030W, .044, .056, and .080 size strings. But these guitars were made for that purpose. It didn't take too much to change the set up. Again, I can pull down 3 steps easy on this, it feels like a concert tuning they're that thick.

  • Welcome to Music Stack Exchange! I made one small edit in your question, to fix a typo and add some clarity, but I didn't change the essence. It's always nice to see an answer to an old question. Again, welcome. – L3B Mar 7 '17 at 0:40

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