5 Famous Guitarists Who Won't Settle for Standard Tuning
The first thing any beginner guitarist learns, or at least should learn, is how to tune the instrument. Everyone starts with standard EADGBE tuning (from the thickest to the thinnest string) and the vast majority end there as well. However, many musicians, and by no means just those in the experimental genres, are not content with only one tuning. Let's take a look at a few famous guitarists who like to "twist the pegs" into unusual positions. And please note: in the following short overview, we leave out the pure bluesmen, whose style is mostly based on various kinds of open tuning (i.e. into a chord), which is also the case of players who prefer the slide technique. We also don't mention those who tune to drop D, i.e. with the thickest string lowered by a tone – that's almost everyone who plays a hard genre nowadays.
The true world champions of "weird" guitar tunings are Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon, either as part of the former Sonic Youth or, after their break-up, in their solo projects. Frenzied experimenters in everything related to guitar playing and music in general, they've come up with perhaps dozens of different, often very bizarre tunings, many of which they've only used in just one song, and even then only in the studio version. One of their most typical and most frequently used alternative tunings is GABDEG, which they used for example in the famous song "Teen Age Riot" from the album Daydream Nation (1988).
In many ways, Neil Young is considered a traditionalist, he loves the old sounds of old guitars and amps, and his harmonies and solos are often simple and straightforward, but that's just one side of him. When he decides to switch, he begins to work his magic with highly unusual progressions and alternative tunings. He likes to drop all the strings by one note, but in some of his compositions, his speciality is the so-called Double Drop D, tonally DADGBD. He uses this in many of his famous songs such as "Cortez The Killer", "Ohio", "Cinnamon Girl" and "Fuckin' Up".
It is obvious where this rock 'n' roll dude with a bluesman's soul got his love for open guitar tunings. From his black role models, of course. Apart from the occasional open E (EBEG#BE) used for example in "Gimme Shelter", he is most characterised by the open G on just five strings (-GDGBD), which he plays on his legendary Telecaster called Micawber. When you see Richards on stage today, on the verge of his eighties, playing songs like "Honky Tonk Women" or "Brown Sugar" with his arthritic fingers, you can't help but think that he invented those open-tuned riffs at twenty-five on purpose, so that he could play them without problems until his grave...
This great innovator of the rock guitar could not have missed out on experimenting with tuning. In 1984, the founder of King Crimson and author of other extremely influential projects began working with the so-called new standard tuning, which employs perfect-fifth intervals between the strings. But unlike previous experimenters working with CGDAEB notes, he modified it into CGDAEG. Fripp finds it very inspiring for composing; even though some people claim that it is borderline unusable for playing certain kinds of chords. However, this doesn't seem to bother Fripp.
Led Zeppelin's instrumental frontman played most of the band's biggest hits, such as "Whole Lotta Love", "Black Dog", "Rock & Roll" and "Stairway To Heaven" in standard tuning. However, there are more than ten songs where Page changed the tuning of his guitar. In "Kashmir", we can hear not only harmonic but also sound peculiarities straight away – he tuned his Danelectro, on which he usually played this rock epic, to a very powerful sounding DADGAD variation. Another famous track, "The Rain Song", is in DGCGCD tuning and "When The Levee Breaks" is in EACFAC.
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