A lot of books and blog posts I've read, including Guitars for Dummies, The Rough Guide to Guitar, and this Stack Exchange question, encourage or expect me to have different guitars with different tunings.

I'm confused about the practicality of doing this rather than just re-tuning a single guitar. I'm sure it's slightly more convenient to always have a guitar in a specific tuning, but with a good tuner switching between different tunings should only take half a minute at most. This doesn't seem like a problem that's worth throwing thousands of dollars into fixing.

Coming from the other side of things, if you collect guitars for their different sounds or quality or etc, it feels like a waste to damn a single unique-sounding guitar to always be a single key rather than adapt it to wherever you want your piece to be. So having a bunch of guitars and assigning them specific tunings doesn't make much sense to me either.

What is the purpose of owning multiple guitars in dedicated tunings?

6 Answers 6


Changing the tuning too drastically can throw your setup out of whack. So, no, simply retuning is not hard. But setting up your guitar—checking neck relief, string height and intonation—each time is pretty time-consuming.

Also the specific setup for a particular tuning may differ. You mentioned slide and many people, including myself, prefer a higher action for slide. It's just easier to dedicate a guitar to it (for example I use my old one that I wouldn't otherwise use that much).


String instruments in general are designed with a single tuning in mind. The strings each exert a certain amount of force pulling on all the components, a combination of the strings length, tension, and diameter. Since you can't drastically change the scale length of a guitar the only other things you can change are the tension and diameter.

Most string sets are designed to work for a certain tuning to give you the correct amount of tension. If the string is too thick and tuned to high this makes the tension extremely tight and hard to play, whereas with a thin string tuned too low causes it to flop around and have a muddy tone along with slapping the fretboard and making it easy to bend notes out of tune. Thus if you pick one string gauge and tune it up or down the playability and tone will almost always suffer in some way.

Not only that, but intonation is thrown off with extreme tunings. That is, your lower frets (1-7) will tend to be out of tune. This is why bridges are adjustable so you can adjust the length of the string somewhat (usually only around an inch though). Between a whole tone up and down from a guitars set up tuning is acceptable, depending on the initial tension.

Retuning also takes time, time that a performer on stage doesn't have between songs.

This isn't even getting into vibrato or floating bridges like a Floyd Rose that is practically impossible to retune on the fly. A tuning has to be dedicated to any guitar that has one.


Retunings take time and aren't immediately stable: the string has to adapt to the new pitch first (like new strings have to adapt to their pitch). In a performance situation, that is impractical. Outside of a performance situation, retuning a string frequently is also likely to make it break eventually.

If you have a dedicated guitar for some drop tunings, you might even get thicker strings for the dropped notes than would usually be used in connection with the other strings. In that way, you avoid looser strings which have a different response and sound. This reasoning is also relevant when you have a guitar tuned lower or higher overall: again you'll want to pick a thicker or thinner string set than average, respectively.

Of course, the easiest way is to get along with a single tuning for everything.


One minor feature is that repeated re-tuning imposes wear on the strings, much like bending a paper clip back and forth. This can reduce their lifetime.


The question you cited states "for tonal reasons". I surmise that means that certain guitars sound better with certain types of tunings, or at least they help maximize the effect of different tunings, depending on the characteristics of that guitar and its use.

For example, you might want to use a very full sounding, large bodied, wide-necked, resonant guitar for certain open tunings, to exploit that open-tuned sound. But that might not be the guitar you want at all if you're playing electric blues or heavy metal.

@user37496 and @user44615 also make very good points in their answers - mechanically speaking, switching tunings is often not viable or desirable.

That's for you at home. For stage performers, it's not uncommon for a guitarist to have two or three guitars at hand with different tunings, not only for "tonal" or "mechanical" reasons, but also so they can work through a set smoothly when different pieces require guitars with different tunings. You cannot start re-tuning your guitar in the middle of a set. (For example, Keith Richards uses a lot of open tunings - he always has two or three guitars on stage when performing and he'll grab a different one for certain songs - sometimes for the sound of a certain guitar, and also because he needs a particular tuning for that song.)


Other answers have focussed on the technicalities of string tension and related issues. They're true enough, but they're missing the real point.

Most people who've been playing for a while have accumulated several instruments. At least you usually have a "beginner" guitar and then a "good" guitar you get when you've developed enough ability to find an instrument which fits your style. If you usually play steel-string, you may also have a classical, or vice versa. So most players who've progressed far enough to be investigating open tunings will have at least one instrument spending most of its time in its case.

The problem with alternate tunings, or any new skill, is that you need practise to internalise it. If you have to retune every time, that's putting an obstacle in the way of just doing it. If you have an instrument already sat there in the right tuning, you're simply more likely to pick up that instrument and have a quick play. That's the main thing when you're learning.

If you get as far as gigging and you play different tunings, spending 5 minutes retuning is not really acceptable. (It's a lot more than half a minute, as the neck settles with the new tension.) At that point you may want one or more extra instruments, so that your set flows properly and you're not wasting your audience's time. That's further in the future though. Initially, you can just use any instrument hanging around, so you don't have "thousands of dollars" thrown at it.

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