Since I play bass I will tackle this question from a bass guitar perspective.

I've had some musicians state that the following tuning is Drop C tuning (E is dropped to D, and then all strings are dropped 1 additional step):

C - G - C - F

I've also had other musicians that state the following tuning is Drop C (only E string is dropped to C):

C - A - D - G

I always assumed Drop C was the later version (only E string), since Drop D tuning is when only the E string is dropped. However, many bass/guitar players I talk to disagree with this. What is the correct definition of Drop C tuning?

  • This comment is about guitar, but it can be applied to bass as well. I'm just specific when talking about tunings. If I want CADGBE, I say "E drop C". If I want CGCFAD, I say "D drop C". It removes confusion and when playing a 7-string song on a 6-string, "Drop B" is ambiguous; it could mean BF#BEG#C#, BADGBE, etc. Saying "C# drop B" and "E drop A" respectively removes the ambiguity.
    – Cole Tobin
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 18:50

10 Answers 10


CADG is the most common way I've heard this term used for basses. It could also refer to the drop D tuning with a low C on the bottom according to Wikipedia, in guitar context: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_c_tuning

Incidentally orchestral basses fitted with a low C extention have the CADG tuning too, although with the extension no fingering changes are necessary save for having to negotiate the notes below the low E on the string in question.

I'd say both are correct colloquially for the term 'drop-c', although my money is placed firmly on the CADG tuning convention.

  • 1
    Ugh, that Wikipedia article is pretty bad. Half unreferenced, the other half marked "unreliable" and/or dead links :P
    – user28
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 20:12
  • 1
    Agreed that entry could use improvement. OTOH, the Drop D article is quite a bit better: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_D_tuning
    – Joe Lewis
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 20:26
  • I've come across dozens of bands using CGCF tuning, and 0 that use CADG tuning. That wikipedia page has moved a long way since 2011, but look at the list of bands that use drop C tuning. I reckon most of them will be using CGCF on the bass and CGCFAD on the guitar. At least, the few which I checked are all tabbed for those tunings.
    – Edward
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 0:46

Coming from a guitar perspective, Drop D is usually used to make power chords easier. If it was simply to gain access to the lower D then you would drop all the strings, to keep their tension more consistent and keep access to all your normal chord shapes.

The same theory then applies to Drop C. Take EADG(Be), lower a step to the DGCF(Ad) tuning, and drop the lowest to C to make power chords easier, and you get CGCF(Ad).

CADG(Be) would just be standard tuning with a low C, I guess!

The important thing, though, is that you're consistent in your terminology; use the definition that the people you're talking to understand.

  • 3
    If you intend to leave an instrument in an alternative tuning, you should consider getting the proper gauge strings, so that the tension is consistent. Unless, of course, you like having two strings flappier than the rest (which is fine!)
    – slim
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 11:24
  • @slim Definitely. One could certainly pick and choose strings so that my point about tension is moot, but I generally like playing with sets. Then again, I suppose there are probably string sets designed for alternate tunings.
    – user28
    Commented Dec 14, 2011 at 17:35
  • @MatthewRead pretty much all string companies sell singles. Sets are designed for standard tuning so it doesn't really make sense to stick to sets on principle if you're not tuning to standard or a transposition thereof
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 10:21

There is no international registry of names for tunings. There is no "true definition".

You've noticed that saying "Drop C" isn't enough to get your meaning across, so be more specific when saying it, and ask for clarification when you hear it.


Your second tuning (C-A-D-G) is drop c, because the 'drop' part only refers to the lowest string. The first tuning you showed (C-G-C-F) would be D drop C, because every string is tuned down a whole step to D-G-F-C (D-standard tuning), and the lowest string is tuned down further to a C.


There is no true definition, since the term is an abbreviation, but most commonly refers to CGCFAD for guitar, CGCF for a 4 string bass.

This means the definition can vary. However, according to general consensus on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drop_C_tuning (emphasis mine):

Drop C tuning is an alternative guitar tuning where at least one string has been lowered to a C, but most commonly refers to CGCFAD, which can be described as D tuning with a 6th string dropped to C, or drop D tuning transposed down a whole step. Because of its heavier tone, it is most commonly used in rock and heavy metal music.

If you follow the Drop_C_tuning link, you'll find the majority of songs written in "Drop C" are CGCFAD (or CGCF for a four string bass). From a chord or scale perspective, the fingering is the same as Drop D, only at a lower pitch, one whole step down.

In Drop C (or Drop D), the first two strings make 5ths, instead of 4ths, which makes it possible to play chords more like fingering a scale on the two lowest strings, while the upper strings retain their normal fingerings. For example, Outshined, by Soundgarden.

Outshined Guitar Tab from Songsterr

There's been a history of dropping tuning to achieve a deeper sound in blues and hard rock. Robert Johnson and Jimi Hendrix tuned to E flat. Heavy metal and other styles use Drop D tuning. Since the late 1990s, artists dropped that down another whole step to Drop C tuning. For example, Chevelle's Face on the Floor, enter image description here

The higher strings are tuned as normal, with respect to the 2nd string, meaning, 4ths for a bass. Notice that the minor pentatonic, 1st (open C), ♭3rd (3rd fret C), 4th (fifth fret C), 5th (open G), ♭7th (3rd fret G) and octave (5th fret G) are all in the same fingering position, within two frets. This lends itself well to blues and heavy metal in Drop C/D, and the ♭5th (6th fret C) is still within three frets. Couple that with squishy strings, as the tension is much lower, and bends are more pronounced. The downside is that the lower tension may produce more buzz without adjustment. Intonation may also require adjustment.

I've also had other musicians that state the following tuning is Drop C (only E string is dropped to C)

From a strict definition, sure, but playing with a major 6th between strings would be awkward at best, even on a bass, but, the terminology could certainly be used for both, since it is a short form.

However, bass players do not always tune like the guitar players they accompany. 4-string bass players may choose to play in a different position, rather than re-tune, but often can't play an octave down for all the notes. 5-string bass players can be a bit more flexible, using the same tuning when accompanying players using standard or drop tuning and still being able to hit all the notes one octave down. I've even seen one bass player tune in fifths, like a cello (CGDA) for more range on 4 strings.

If you tune a 5-string bass to drop C, you are actually tuning up, and have a few options. For a straight 4th tuning on the upper strings, you want CGCFA#. For a guitar tuning, CGCFA. Another popular tuning is CGCFC, which puts the upper two strings in 5ths also.

For better intonation and action, and to relieve some of the additional tension on the neck, use lighter gauges, something like 40-125 gauge. Here's a chart a reddit user put together from D'Addario's tension guide. Ernie Ball also has an article recommending string gauges by tuning (scroll down for bass).

This does create some conflicting scale constraints, as 34" scale is best for lighter, higher strings and 35-36" is best for the heavier, lower strings. This is exacerbated by using a 5-string bass tuned with more range, like a drop tuning. Multi-scale basses solve this by having different scales for each string.

Ibanez SRMS805


Quote from my upcoming book:

"Dropped – 'altered' standard tuning in which one or two strings are lowered by a whole step. E.g., 'Drop D' (D-A-D-G-B-E ≡ A9sus4/D) – Rocky Mountain High by John Denver.

"Shifted – 'adjusted' standard or scordatura [alternate] tuning, whereby ... a combination of one or more strings have been lowered for effect"

Based on the above:

  1. Drop C is E-A-C-G-B-E.

  2. C-G-C-F-A-D is referred to as:

    (1) Technical -- Shifted Scordatura Dropped Drop D tuning

    (2) Laymen -- Drop D down a whole (step)

The term "shifted" indicates that the frequencies of standard-tuned (other than one or two strings lowered by a single whole step) or scordatura-tuned strings have been adjusted up or down.

  1. C-A-D-G-B-E is also called Shifted Scordatura Dropped Drop D tuning, which in this case is often termed "Low C" by guitarists.

Drop C tuning is Drop D with all 6 strings down a further full step down. So the the high E is tuned down two whole-tones and the other 5 strings a single whole step.


Well, assuming that sufficient fighting has gone into it, you can take a look at the music typesetter LilyPond's definition.

It has a drop c tuning apparently only for guitar (which then is one step down from drop d) but not for bass. With guitar, the definition makes sense because of facilitating easier chords. With bass, I don't know: chords don't make a whole lot of sense there. I'd lean towards using the same, but frankly, I have my doubts about the sound quality of an E string as loose as that.


I'm probably the best from a technical standpoint but from what I have been taught and understand from others is:

Drop C (C1-G1-C2-F2)

Low C (C1-A1-D2-G2)

  • Hi firstperson - welcome. Please read our tour and How to Answer pages to understand the differences between online forums, and this site, as typically adding a post with exactly the same information already there is not useful. Instead, please upvote the answers which you agree with.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jun 19, 2016 at 15:48

In my experience 'dropped' tuning means that you detune the bottom E string by a whole tone compared to standard guitar tuning so that you get a 5th (power chord) with a simple barre across the bottom two strings.

Just doing this gives you 'dropped D' tuning which can be useful for playing power chord riffs and some blues scales.

Beyond dropped D you can keep the same relative tuning and detune all the strings in semitone steps to get dropped C# and C where the scales and chords are the same shape as dropped D but the whole scale is lower.

In general going to dropped C is not so much about playing style as tone as it creates a more bass heavy sound which you hear a lot in late 90's metal onwards. Although some bands (notably Korn) went for 7 string or longer scale length guitars to create the same effect.

It is also worth noting that once you get into C tuning on a guitar you really need to use quite heavy gauge strings (ie 13g on the bottom E) to maintain a usable string tension.

  • You would prefer higher tension strings more than a higher gauge. For some reason you dont talk about tension when it comes to electric guitar strings. Higher gauges seems the only way to increase tension.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Dec 26, 2021 at 18:18

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