You may ask if it’s possible to leave your guitar tuned down a step, wondering if it will harm your instrument or if it is a common practice. In this article, all of this and more will be answered.
Although the standard tuning of the guitar already allows plenty of possibilities, one may wonder if it’s possible to change it. This could happen to better achieve the desired sonority or to adapt more easily to the technical demands of a particular song.
So can I leave my guitar tuned down a step?
You can leave your guitar tuned down a step, it’s even a common practice. The guitar has, at the headstock, 6 tuning keys that allow the player to change the tuning according to his will. That means that you can transpose all the music a ½ tone down without having to play it differently.
However, to do it correctly, you must know that there are some positive and negative implications of doing so. For example, tuning your guitar down a step will also decrease the tension of the strings, which will make them lose their brightness and strength.
Is it safe to leave my guitar tuned a step-down?
Leaving the guitar tuned a step down won’t harm your instrument in any way. However, you should know that the stability of tuning is desirable, and the contrary can make your strings less durable. Your strings like to be in a constant state of tension, changing it at every moment may make them last less time.
So the strings get accustomed to the tension in which they were set. That’s also why your guitar goes out of tune when it’s tuned down, they’re trying to get back to their state of “stability”. To stop them from going out of tune, you should stabilize the tuning for some time (one day or two will be sufficient).
Does tuning down ½ tone affect your guitar tone?
The quality of the sound can certainly be modified. There’s a tendency for the guitar to lose most of its tone brightness when you tune it down a half step. That may seem strange since it is “only a half step”, but keep in mind that this already implies a significant change in the instrument tone!
To avoid that, you should know that there are different variations of gauge and tension regarding to strings (there are high and low tension strings, thick and thin ones). Thick gauge and high tension strings are more appropriate for low tunings since they compensate for the loss of tension and firmness of the string. Keep in mind that the tension of the string should always be higher if the tuning is lower.
Step down guitar tuning X alternative guitar tunings
The difference between step-down guitar tuning and alternative guitar tunings is simple. While a step down guitar tuning means lowering down all the notes by a step, alternative guitar tunings are dispositions of string notes that alter their standard intervallic relationship.
So step down guitar tuning means lowering down all the strings by a step (½ tone), which maintains the intervallic relationship between them. In other words, the shapes will be the same, but all of them will sound a ½ tone lower. Alternative guitar tunings are different tuning dispositions of the strings, which means that the intervallic relations between the strings will vary. That will lead to different chord shapes and different ways to play the same musical idea. A famous example of alternative guitar tunings is the drop D, that means tuning down only the E string to D.
Here are the differences between step down guitar tuning and alternative guitar tunings:
Step down guitar tuning
Alternative guitar tunings
Lowers all the notes a step, equally
The notes are lowered/raised differently
The chord shapes will remain the same as in the standard tuning
The chord shapes will change according to the new disposition
Good for playing in a lower key than the original
Good for playing shapes and melodies that would be difficult in standard tuning
All the strings will decrease in tension and consequently change timbre
Changes in timbre and tension depend on each string (how much each one was lowered/raised)
In this article, we will discuss only the first possibility.
How to tune your guitar a step down?
To tune your guitar a step-down, you have to turn the tuning keys to the right, if you’re using a right-handed guitar, or turn them to the left, if you’re using a left-handed guitar. Using tuning software, you will simply turn the tuning keys until you reach the desired tones.
As you want the guitar to be tuned a step lower, you should tune down the E string (bass) until you reach D, the A until you reach G, the D until C, G until F, B until A, and E (high) until D.
It’s important to clarify that a whole step equals two frets, which means that your instrument gets two frets lower when you tune it down a step. If you want then to play as if it was in the standard tuning, you can then simply use a capotasto on the second fret, which will compensate for the lower tuning.
Reasons to leave the guitar tuned down a step
There are plenty of reasons to do so:
- To achieve a darker timbre
- It can be done to increase the weight of the sound.
- It makes bends easier to do (especially if it is on the electric guitar)
- To adapt the music to the voice of someone
Let’s see each one of these reasons more profoundly, comprehending what are their advantages and disadvantages.
To achieve a darker timbre:
Tuning your guitar a step down will modify the tone a lot. It will get much darker, which may be convenient if you’re playing music that requires dark tones. In heavy metal (electric guitar) it is often desirable to have a darker tone, so it is more common to see it happen there.
However, you should know that this change of tone implies a decrease in tension, so it will also signify a decrease of the intensity and “loudness” of the strings. To compensate for that, the best way is to buy strings with more tension. The tension will then be normalized.
To increase the weight of the sound:
Tuning down the strings will make the guitar sound heavier and “full of bass frequencies”. That can be suitable for some cases if your purpose is to have a stronger sound. If you want to make it even stronger and “bass-like”, it’s important to buy thick gauge strings, that will make it more coherent.
To make bends easier to do:
That is usually more common regarding the acoustic guitar, in which it’s more difficult to perform bends. Tuning down the guitar will lower the tension, which will make it easier to perform bends. If that’s your interest, you should know that buying high tension strings won’t be a good choice, since what you’re looking for is exactly a diminution of tension.
To adapt the music to the voice of someone:
Leaving the guitar tuned down a step is also a good way to adequate a song played on the guitar to the voice of someone. That makes it unnecessary to transpose all the harmony a ½ tone down, something that would extinguish the characteristic sound of the open strings.
In this article, we’ve concluded that there isn’t any way in which your guitar can be harmed by leaving it tuned down a step. However, the strings can last less time if you change the tuning obsessively.
There are plenty of reasons to change the tuning of the guitar, but in general, that is desired to achieve a particular timbre and weightness of the sound. If you want to leave your guitar tuned down a step, it is quite simple. You just need to turn the tuning keys to the right, until you see, using tuning software, that you’ve reached the desired tone.