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  • Writer's pictureSteve Fairclough

Altered Tunings

Whenever I play a clinic or concert, people are always fascinated to know how difficult it is to play in altered Tunings, and why would anyone want to do it?

So here are some answers…..

It’s not difficult if you’re prepared to concentrate. That’s it. End of.

And why would you do it? Because altered Tunings give your Imagination a kick in the pants, they stimulate your creativity, and they sound great. Big expansive ‘Piano Type’ chords, that you just can’t get any other way on a guitar.

From the Top:

Probably the easiest and best known alternative tuning is to simply de-tune your bottom E string down a tone to a D.

Known as “Drop D“, this tuning crops up everywhere from Classical to Country and even Hard rock. Just try playing a big ‘ole D chord with that bottom string ringing out!

Here’s a piece for my newest nephew Solly!

Next up:

Next up for me would have to be DADGAD. Probably the best known alternate tuning, it has a distinctive Celtic sound all of it’s own. Tune the strings exactly as they’re written with the Bottom E string tuning down to D, the A,D & G strings staying put and finally the B string down to A and the Top E down to a D.

DADGAD brings it’s own rewards if you set out to master it. Some players like Pierre Bensusan play in no other tuning.

Try tuning to DADGAD and then playing some regular open chord shapes. Listen to the strange exotic ‘Jazz’ type altered chords it gives you….

Here’s one of my tunes…..

Open D:

Probably the next best known tuning, and one that’s very simple to get to from DADGAD is open D or DADF#AD where the G string is dropped half a tone to a F#.

If DADGAD is seen as Irish or European, then this is surely synonomous with the USA.

Just try sliding a bottleneck up your open strings, and you’ll hear the basis of every desert highway scene you ever saw.

However, I found it just pretty, and wrote this for my Daughter when she was 3 years old……

And this for anyone struggling with whatever life throws at you…….

Open D Minor:

Drop the F # to an F natural, and you have the Open D minor tuning.

A weird one:

One of my own favourites, and pretty rarely used is this….. EAC#EBE.

I have nothing to say about this tuning except that when I discovered it, I wrote a tune for my wife, which is probably about the most requested tune I play. It’s called Lana’s Garden, and it’s here……

Open G:

DGDGBD is the way you get to open G.

Again, I always associate it with the USA, as many Blues and Rags were written using it.

If you drop the B to a Bflat, you get Open G minor, which is also very interesting and one that I use here……..

C Tunings:

Drop C is basically just Drop D but with each string tuned a further tone down giving you CGCFAD, Open C however is much richer and gives you a lovely open C chord


Finally, if you drop the E string to an Eflat you get Open C Minor.

I hope these tuning ideas inspire you, give them a try and see what music you make…  Meanwhile, here is the most comprehensive list I could muster……

A Selection Of String Instruments Tunings

Note: all tunings are given from lowest course to highest course.


Standard tuning: EADGBE. Open D: DADF#AD. Open E: EBEG#BE. Open G: DGDGBD. Open A: EAEAC#E. Irish: DADGAD.

Note that open D, G and other open tunings are often used by slide or bottleneck players, and particularly so on resonator guitars.

Harp Guitar: Harp guitars have a standard tuned guitar neck and additional open unfretted bass strings, usually tuned stepwise downward from the low E, i.e. D C# B A G F#.

Bass Guitar: EADG one octave below guitar.

Guitarrone: ADGCEA (high A octave lower).

Requinto (terz guitar): GCFBbDG.

Vihuela (modern Mexican): ADGBE; like guitar but the ADG are one octave above standard EADGBE, one octave above standard guitar.


Soprano, Concert and Tenor: GCEA. Baritone: DGBE. Note that some players tune the soprano ukes to Bb: FBbDG or to D: ADF#B. Also note many players use the high 4th string, so that on the soprano uke the G string is one octave higher than it would seem, or one step below the treble string.

Venezuelan Cuatro: ADF#B. Note the B string is one octave lower than expected, or only one step above the 4th string.


Brazilian tuning (Traditional): DGBD, modern “Natural” tuning: DGBE. Portuguese tuning DABE (D one step below E) DGBD, DGBE, GGBD, AAC#E, DGEA, GCEA others.

Mandolin: GDAE.

Mandola: CGDA.

Octave Mandolin: GDAE one octave lower than standard mandolin.

Mandocello: CGDA one octave lower than mandola.


Tenor: CGDA. Irish/Italian Tenor: GDAE like octave mandolin. Plectrum: CGBD. 6 string: like guitar, EADGBE.

Note: the above are all played with a flatpick (plectrum).

5 string banjos

Classical and modern C tuning: G CGBD. G tuning: G DGBD. D tuning: A DF#AD.

Also many other tunings, especially in clawhammer and frailing styles.

Dobro, Steel and Hawaiian Guitar

Most Dobro players use what a Hawaiian would call G “high bass” tuning, GBDGBD.

Old Hawaiian Players used many tunings, here are a few:

A low bass: EAEAC#E. A high bass: AC#EAC#E. D tuning: DADF#AD. E tuning: EBEG#BE. Bm (G maj7): GBDF#BD. Bm7 (D6) : F#ADF#BD. G6 (low): GBDEGB. G6 (high): BDEGBD (my favorite tuning!). E7: BDEG#BE.

MANY other tunings are used!

Bandurria and Laud: (Laud is one octave below bandurria): G#C#F#BEA.

Other pitches possible depending upon string gauge. Always tuned in 4ths.

Cuban Tres

Standard tuning Gg CC Ee. Note that the G and E courses are tuned in octaves, the middle to unison C’s; rarely the C course is tuned to B for some songs. Some players tunes one step up, AaDDF#f#. One older pre-1930’s tuning: DdFFAa.

Puerto Rican Cuatro: BEADG (note that the B and E courses are in octaves).

All of the 4 sizes tuned to this pattern, only the octave register changes.

Lute Can be tuned at many pitch levels. Most common:

6 course: GCFADG. 7 course: DGCFADG or FGCFADG, rarer CGCFADG. 8 course: DFGCFADG, also CFGCFADG and CDGCFADG.

Octave Mandolin, Irish Bouzouki and Cittern (modern Celtic) Octave mandolin: GDAE.

Irish Bouzouki: GDAD.

Cittern: DGDAD, CGDAE, rarely others.

Greek Bouzouki

3 course (6 string): DAD (note low D in octaves). 4 course (8 string): CFAD (note C and F in octaves), also GDAD and ADAD.

Oud & Cumbus: Start at string number 6 or your lowest pitch (and the thickest).

Standard Egyptian/Arab: D G A D G C. Old Turkish Classical: A D E A D G (most instruments will need a heavier gauge string set for this specific tuning). New Turkish Classical: F# B E A D G. Turkish/Armenian: E A B E A D. Turkish/Armenian Variant: C# F# B E A D. Standard Cumbus: D E A D G C Cumbus can also use any Oud tuning. Arabic #1: DGADGC. Arabic #2: CFADGC. Arabic #3: CGADGC.

Also some tune DEADGC (this pattern is the same but transposed tuning as the Cümbüs) or CEADGC for certain maqam; note many older ouds did not have the lowest course, or have it where the 1st course would be. Also some tunings are transposed, i.e. the C string actually sounds some other note.

Habib Hassan Touma in “The Music of the Arabs” maintains that GADGC is the standard tuning; the additional course can be tuned several ways, some above the C string, some below the low G, and he always considers it to be where the 1st course would normally be.

Old Turkish Bolahenk: EABEAD. Old Turkish Mansur: ADEADG (restringing necessary; was used by the oud player with the Necdet Yasar Ensemble when he toured America several years ago). Modern Turkish Bolahenk: C#F#BEAD. Modern Turkish Mansur: F#BEADG (restringing necessary, rare!). Most modern Turkish and Armenian oud players use the C#F#BEAD tuning, and can play in many key and tonal centers by skillful transpositions. Iraqi soloist tunings (uses the top 5 strings of a standard set plus one very thin course): FCDGCF, GADGCF.

Other Arabic Instruments

Moroccan Gimbri: GDA.

Buzuq: Gg cc (note that the c is a 4th above the higher of the G’s).

Keman (Kemanjah, Arabic violin): GDGD or GDGC; some players trained in Western violin also are using regular GDAE tuning, as do many Moroccans. (In Morocco the violin is held upright in the lap).

Moroccan Rebab: GD (also found in other Andalus musics in Tunisia and Algeria).

Turkish Instruments

Saz: note that there are numerous tunings in the folksinger tradition. These are the “standard” tunings.

Baglama: GDA, but can also be transposed up depending on the situation, saz neck length, etc. to AEB, BbFC, CGD, DAE, etc. Note also that the 3rd string is always in octaves, and often the 1st course is also in octaves, but a low octave is added making it seem only a step above the 3rd. Some players even double the middle string in octaves!

Çura: GDA one octave above baglama; often all courses are unisons, no low octave doubles. Some longer neck çura sazes can be tuned lower, DAE for instance.

Black Sea Kemençe: DGC, also EAD, other, but always in 4ths.

Spike Fiddle Kemanche: GDGD, also many others.

Cümbüs: written notes in method book and on string set are DEADGC, but the actual playing pitch is transposed permanently a 5th higher: ABEADG.

Yayli Tambur: written and highest possible tuning- DAD, DGD (lowest course w/ octave double); most players actually tune lower to ADA or AEA.

Keman (Turkish violin tuning, played western style under neck): GDAD.

Fasil Kemançe: DGD.

Russian Instruments

Balalaika: Prima (standard small lead) EEA note that the two E’s should be nylon guitar high E’s, and the A a metal string app. .010 gauge; the middle E should be closer to the other E at the bridge than to the A. Played with fingers only, never a pick! Also, “real” balalaikas never have 6 strings in the strict tradition, although village players sometimes used them. Other sizes are tuned either DDA or lower octave EEA, and are played with a leather pick.

Domra: EAD.

Yugoslav Tamburitza: EADG, note the D and G are double; other systems also.

Dulcimer (mountain or Appalachian)

Many tunings! DAD, DAA, DDD, etc, plus modal variants like DAC, etc.

Violin: GDAE.

Viola: CGDA.

Cello: CGDA one octave lower.

Bass: EADG (only size tuned in 4ths).

Chinese Instruments

Pipa: ADEA.

Yuet Chin (Yue Qin): GDG, GCG, DAD, etc: old versions only GD or DA.

Er Hu: DA like middle two on violin; note bow goes BETWEEN strings and requires both sides of the hair to be rosined.

Ruan: GDGD

San Xien: GDG, GCG, DAD, DGD depends on neck length.

Hardanger Fiddle: too many different ones!

Strumstick: GDG.

Grand Strumstick: DAD.

Chromatic Strumstick: DGBE or others.

Sitar: many variants; these are the main playing strings. The chikaris are GCC and the sympathetics change to match the raga. Note often all pitches are sharp, sounding C#G#C#F# Some books: CCG, GCCF. Ravi Shankar: CCG, CGCF.

Nyckleharpa (main playing strings): Old: DADA. Modern: DADB.

Tricordia: like mandolin, but triple strung.

Tiple: like Ukulele, but multiple courses with octaves.

Portuguese Guitarra (note lowest 3 course are octave doubles): Guitarra de Coimbra (app.47 cm scale) CGADGA.

Guitarra de Lisboa (app. 44 cm scale): DABEAB. Other tunings from “Instrumentos Musicais Populares Portugueses”: CEGCEG, CFGCEG.

Viola Braguesa (lowest 3 course octave doubles): DABEA, DGBF#A, EABEG.

Viola Amarantina (lowest 3 courses in octaves): DADF#A, DABEA some models have a low added 6th course; the book did not mention the tunings for 6 courses.

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