11

I'm currently learning a song which needs drop-d tuning.

Since I found myself switching back and forth from drop-d to standard tuning a couple of times a day, I wonder if I'm risking damage to the guitar by doing so.

[It's an acoustic guitar, in case that matters]

  • Shouldn’t you always relax the strings when storing it anyway? – JDługosz Feb 12 '17 at 10:33
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    @JDługosz That's generally when shipping the guitar or storing it for a long length of time. – neilfein Feb 13 '17 at 0:38
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    The only thing I noticed on my oldest guitar is the bottom string groove in the nut did wear down after about 15 years. But I was always retuning that one, and it didn't have a locking nut – Doktor Mayhem Feb 13 '17 at 12:42
19

It's not going to make much difference. The tension differential is less than 5% overall. If you can manage it, get another guitar and have each in the tuning you need. One always has at least one guitar fewer than one already needs!

9

Switching between standard E tuning and drop D tuning is so common that some guitarists use special tuning knobs that flip between the two with a switch. I have a bass guitar version on my Fender Jazz bass. Some guitarists have practiced this retuning so extensively that they can do it by feel with just the regular knob – if you have ever watched a medley of popular riffs on YouTube, you may have seen the performer do this. In short, don’t worry about it!

  • +1 for reminding of that idea. It's a good option - almost as good as having a 5 string! – Tim Feb 11 '17 at 8:40
5

I would say only when you actually tune up do you risk hurting the guitar but who does that anyway? Drop tuning may affect the intonation of the guitar but that is in no way breaking the guitar, and can be fixed relatively easily.

4

Not at all, I've used many, many guitars throughout the years. All of which could hold tone, and had relatively decent intonation. I would (and still do) switch between tunings. Standard to Drop D, Drop D to Drop C#, back up to Standard.

Now it can overtime give your tuning pegs more wear and tear, but thats the nature of playing guitar.

Also changing and using alternate tunings is a great way to learn more chord structures, and is great practice for those who like to focus on progressions.

4

I would also add to the very good answers, that in the past string tension was unfairly blamed for issues with humidity. Guitars are often damaged because of dryness (like winter weather or desert heat, or simply a dry house environment) or proximity to heat. The issues this low humidity causes falsely makes the strings look like the perpetrator.

And of course, if you try hard enough, with a weird enough tuning you can cause damage. For example if you fully loosen the four bottom strings, and tighten the top two strings to an extreme and leave the guitar that way for weeks or months... well then maybe you could cause the neck might to develop a twist.

  • I should also add that some tunings are prone to broken strings. – amalgamate Feb 13 '17 at 16:22
  • About prone-ness to broken strings, which strings are most affected (thick vs thin ones), and how many semi-tones do you think are safe to tune up? – heltonbiker Feb 15 '17 at 18:04
  • @heltonbiker I think that there is a complicated answer to your follow up question, but the simple one is that physics puts the highest tension on the thinnest strings. I find tuning up more than a whole step past open tuning to be useless without customized string selections. One could tune down and capo, to get past such limitations. – amalgamate Feb 17 '17 at 15:27
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    Also consider that when you think about the strength of wound strings, The core of the string is thinner than the string it's self. Without getting specific, the thinnest wound strings are similar in tensile strength as the non-wound strings. I am saying that in some light string sets the fourth string may be prone to breaking as much as or similarly to the sixth. – amalgamate Mar 2 '17 at 14:57
  • Wow, at the end of the last comment I made I said sixth when I obviously meant first (which is the high string)... Must have been a bad day. Sorry. – amalgamate Apr 3 '17 at 20:06
1

No problem. The drop-d tuning only changes the total tension about four percent, so it will not do any damage to the guitar. Your low E string will not last as long, however.

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