A Whole New World: The Takamine Guide to Alternate Tunings

A Whole New World: The Takamine Guide to Alternate Tunings

Why would anyone in the right mind take a perfectly good guitar and purposefully change its tuning? The answer is simple: because as musicians, we’re always looking for pathways to new sounds that will inspire new songs, and nothing will help change things up faster than exploring alternate tunings on your guitar.

Before we get into the good stuff, a few notes about your Takamine. First, our guitars are built to withstand typical alternate tunings without any serious damage. The small changes in neck tension via the strings being temporarily tightened or loosened a step or so will not cause any ill effects, though if you have a guitar that you’re planning on permanently using for a non-standard tuning, you may want to visit your local tech and have the guitar set up as such.

Second, the scale length of the guitar can have an impact. Slightly longer scale lengths will maintain better string tension and can therefore produce a more articulate tone in lower tunings than shorter-scale models. Takamine currently offers over 90 guitars at the 644mm (25.35”) scale length that will likely offer some advantages over the smaller guitars for downtuning. That being said, even our smaller 630mm (24.8”) scale models will probably do just fine for less drastic tunings like Drop D.

The G Series GD34CE is a guitar with a 644mm (25.35") scale, allowing it to easily handle typical downward tuning without the string tension (or neck tension) becoming an issue.

Another Takamine G Series dreadnought, the GLD11E, has a shorter 633mm ( 24.8") scale, making it a good choice for higher-pitch tunings.

Third point: almost every Takamine acoustic-electric guitar now offers a preamplifier with a built-in onboard tuner. That tuner is as accurate in alternate tunings as it is for standard, and is the fastest and easiest tool to dial in your new tuning on the fly. Any of you who’ve ever stood in front of an impatient audience onstage while de-tuning your instrument will appreciate this. For serious players, it’s not uncommon to gig with two or more guitars when you’re performing in alternate tunings, avoiding the “tune onstage” embarrassment altogether.

Almost all Takamine acoustic-electric guitars include a preamp with an onboard chromatic tuner. It can be your best friend when you're onstage and need to quickly get into a new tuning.

One tip in regard to alternate tuning, or even tuning in general. When you make changes to one string, the tiny difference in tension on the neck can affect the tuning of the other strings. A good idea is to go low to high, and then go through the same process and fine tune the strings once again when the overall neck tension is established.

Whether you're in standard, DADGAD, Drop D or any other tuning, it's a good idea to tune each string, and then go through them once again and fine tune to compensate for neck tension changes.

Final note: while the upsides to using alternate tunings include expanding your creative flow and coming up with more original compositions, the downsides are few. The one minor point we’d make is that you may note that the lifespan of your strings can be somewhat diminished if you’re constantly tuning, detuning, and retuning… but this is a pretty small tradeoff for the benefits you’ll likely receive in stepping into the new musical world of alternate tunings.

Learning to Play in Alternate Tunings
Before you start trying to learn existing songs that were created in alternate tunings, we recommend a different path. Get your Takamine in the new tuning of your choice, and then let your fretting hand do some random exploration of the new sonic territory. Sometimes familiar chord shapes will work in ways you might not have expected. Try out some new shapes as well. You might find some interesting sounds at different areas of the neck than you usually play… see how those shapes work up at the second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and other frets. Take the same shape and move it up and down the neck. See what happens.

The next step might be finding a familiar song that was done in an alternate tuning, and learning to play a cover version. Don’t feel bad if you have to pull up some tablature for your first few attempts. And don’t get frustrated! It takes a little while for the flexibility to kick in so that you don’t keep intuitively reverting to familiar chord shapes.

Keep in mind that alternate tunings are not absolute. Plenty of players regularly play in an alternate tuning by simply bringing everything down a half step, commonly known as Eb standard. But you can also transpose your alternate tunings in a similar way, if that helps feed your creativity and/or aligns better with your vocal range.

There are many players who keep pushing the boundaries of alternate tunings. You’ll sometimes see masterful musician Jake Allen — who does many of Takamine’s excellent guitar demos — performing in an alternate tuning but also using a capo to transpose the new tuning. The sky is the limit to what you can do to make your compositions sound interesting and original, so start twisting those pegs and see what happens!

Virtuoso guitarist Jake Allen isn't afraid of alternate tunings, nor further transposing those tunings with a capo. When it comes to tuning, most rules are meant to be broken.

Alternate Tuning Guide


It’s called “standard” for a reason. This is the way that 6-string guitars, both acoustic and electric, have been tuned for over a hundred years. All the chord shapes you’ve learned, all the scales both familiar and exotic, are designed to work within the framework of standard tuning. And of course, the advantage of standard tuning is two fold: it makes it easier to teach someone to play when the fingerboard is the same from instrument to instrument, and it allows players to develop the muscle memory to go very quickly to chords, scales, and riffs while performing a song.



The most simple of all alternate tunings only involves changing the pitch of one string. Take that low E string and tune it down a full step to D. That’s all. Drop D allows for a big, luscious power chord when all six strings are strummed in the typical D chord shape, but it also adds some depth and darkness in other ways. if you’re looking for a heavier sound, Drop D is probably step one.

Note that some of these example songs are set up the same as “Drop D” but starting with standard Eb tuning, making them Db-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb.

  • Everlong (Foo Fighters), Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden), Ænima (Tool), Them Bones (Alice in Chains), All Apologies (Nirvana)


Since you’re now in Drop D, how about taking the high E string and also pulling that one down a full step? Now you’re in Double Drop D, also known as D Modal (especially by fans of Neil Young). Try some barre chords in this tuning, and see how the notes on the high E string better align with the key you’re in.

  • Going to California (Led Zeppelin), Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young), Black Water (Doobie Brothers), Bryter Layter (Nick Drake)


Again, just one more twist of a tuning peg away from Double Drop D — this time bringing the B string down a full step to A — and you’re in one of the most well-known alternate tunings, one that’s so impactful that its name (pronounced Dad Gad) is the phonetic representation of the notes. DADGAD invokes the modal sound of Celtic music, not always immediately discernible as being major or minor without some added notes. It’s also associated with the folk music of multiple areas from Ireland to India to Morocco and more. if you want to hear some great DADGAD playing, look into the music of the late Bert Jansch.

  • Kashmir (Led Zeppelin), Photograph (Ed Sheeran), Wasteland, Baby! (Hozier), Outlaw State of Mind (Chris Stapleton)


We’re now in the world of open tunings. An open tuning simply means that strumming the open strings — with no notes fretted — produces all the key elements of a chord, most often in a major key. If you’re a fan of slide guitar, you’re almost certainly already using Open D or another open key tuning, allowing you to play complete chords using the slide. But Open D is used all over the place in pop, country, fingerstyle, blues, and many other forms of music.

  • Even Flow (Pearl Jam), Street Fighting Man (The Rolling Stones), Loser (Beck), Love the One You’re With (Stephen Stills)


We’ve finally left the key of D! It’s a miracle! But seriously, the reason why the “D” alternate tunings are more popular — other than sounding cool — is that tunings in higher registers do add bit of extra tension on the strings which is transferred to the neck and bridge/saddle. This Open E tuning, for example, has raised pitch on three strings. An easier — and safer — way to accomplish the same effect is to tune to Open D and add a capo on the second fret. But there have been plenty of cool songs with the shimmering sound of an Open E-tuned guitar. Also, with shorter-scale guitars like Takamine’s GLD12E, GY51E, Thinline Series models and more, tuning to slightly higher pitches is never an issue.

  • Gimme Shelter (The Rolling Stones), Say It To Me Now (Glen Hansard), She Talks to Angels (The Black Crowes), Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh)


We’ll make note of another open tuning, Open G, to point out that it’s not a requirement to have the fundamental (aka root note) of the key be on the lowest string of the guitar. In the case of this popular Open G tuning, the 5th of the key is on bottom. In addition to being great for slide work, Open G is very common in blues and folk music, as well as Hawaiian slack-key guitar.

  • That’s the Way (Led Zeppelin), Bad to the Bone (George Thorogood)


When Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was a child in the early 1950s, she contracted polio. The disease left her without the hand strength to perform guitar the way most people did, so instead she bent the guitar to her will by inventing dozens of her own tunings for different songs. Joni even had her own notation system for tuning; she’d identify the key of the lowest string, and then list the fret number to match the next string up. Therefore, Joni would call this tuning D-7-7-3-5-4 (which she’d also transpose down a step to C on some tunes).

  • Edith And the Kingpin, Furry Sings the Blues, Jericho (Joni Mitchell)


Yes, we’ve already listed a number of tunings that were used on records by the mighty Jimmy Page. After all, he was one of the most innovative and influential guitarists of the past 100 years, so it’s not surprising that he often strived to create sounds that were unique and difficult to replicate by other players. This fantastic tuning is often named after the hauntingly beautiful song that made it famous; it’s “The Rain Song” tuning that Page used from Zep’s 1973 album Houses of the Holy. Try your own song in this alternate tuning, taking advantage of the octaves on the 5/3 and 4/2 strings.

  • The Rain Song (Led Zeppelin)
Ralph C.

A great read.  Even to someone -- such as myself -- who is an unaccomplished musician.  Thanks for posting.

Keith S.

 Hey Ralph - try one or two of these open tunings and you'll feel VERY accomplished as you can get some nice progressions with just one finger. Also by playing one or two strings, you can get some very nice arpeggiated sounds too.