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. Aug 2 '14 at 18:50

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
    Dec 13 '11 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
    Dec 13 '11 at 20:26

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
    Dec 14 '11 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
    Dec 14 '11 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
    Feb 3 '17 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.


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.

There is no true definition, since the term is an abbreviation.

This means the definition can vary. However, 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 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. For example, Outshined, by Soundgarden.


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. More recent artists drop that down another whole step to Drop C tuning. For example, Chevelle's Face on the Floor,


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

Playing with a major 6th between strings would be awkward, even on a bass, but, the terminology could certainly be used for both, since it is a short form.

Having said all that, bass players do not always tune like the guitar players. 4-string bass players may choose to play in a different position, rather than retune, 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 tunings 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.


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
    Jun 19 '16 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.

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