Why Do Guitars Sound Better Tuned Down?

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You may notice the guitar is tuned down when you sit down and hear some amazing live guitar performances. The guitar somehow sounds nicer and has a rich sound that you want for your own guitar. Why do guitars sound better tuned down? 

Guitars may sound better tuned down because of the following:

  • Lower overall pitch
  • Deeper bass notes
  • Rich vibration and resonance
  • Easier Playability
  • Lower vocal pitch

In this article, let’s explore why guitars sound better tuned down. We also look at how you can tune down your own guitar and other common questions about tuning down your guitar.

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Why Do Guitars Sound Better Tuned Down?


What Is A Tuned Down Guitar?

A tuned-down guitar has strings that have been tuned down from its original notes. Tuning down guitars are common in metal and acoustic performances. Many also think a down-tuned guitar sounds better.

Before discussing how they sound good, we must figure out what a tuned-down guitar is. It is basically a guitar whose tuning has been lowered. This means instead of your usual EADGBE tuning, the strings are tuned to lower pitches.  

In many cases, you can view drop tuning as the opposite of using a capo. Capo raises the pitch of the strings, while drop tuning lowers the pitch of the strings.

There are many reasons why guitarists drop-tune their guitars. Most want to play at lower pitches to fit the vocalists’ ranges. Some also drop-tune their guitar to play a deeper, rawer sound. This may explain why dropped tunings are popular in metal music. 

Drop tuning has many variations, such as Drop D, Drop C, Half-Step, and more. We will look further into these tunings in the later sections. 

Why Do Guitars Sound Better Tuned Down?

Suppose you listen to performances by some guitarists. In that case, you may notice how the guitar sounds a little deeper than you expected. Surprisingly, the deep sounds actually sound good and seem to complement the vocals too.

There are many reasons why turning down the guitar may sound better to you:

Lower Overall Pitch

When you down-tune a guitar, you basically lower the overall pitch of the guitar. For example, in a half-step tuning, your string goes from a regular EADGBE to Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb. The symbol’ b’ denotes a flat note.

When you do this, you lower how every string vibrates and sounds. Lower pitches can have a different tonal quality; you may associate it with deep, rich sound. Some also think deeper sounds vibrate differently and ‘go deeper’ into your body. 

As a result, you may have a better impression of the guitar sounds and think they sound better.

Deeper Bass Notes

Ever heard of the saying, ‘It’s all about the bass?’ Aside from sound systems, the same concept can apply to guitars.

Many drop-tune arrangements play on this, and try to lower the bass strings on your guitar. For example, in Drop D tuning, your strings go from EADGBE to DADGBE. Notice the fattest string has gone down from E to D note.

This allows the guitar strings to vibrate at a lower frequency, which produces deeper bass notes. Deeper bass notes may sound more ‘penetrating to the soul’ on an acoustic guitar, which may explain why they sound better. 

For electric guitars, they can produce deeper, darker sounds. This can explain why dropped tuning is popular with blues or heavy metal.

Rich Vibration And Resonance

A guitar with drop tuning sounds better because they have richer vibration and resonance. Things are going to get a little scientific here, so read carefully. 

Guitar strings that are tuned higher vibrate at a higher frequency. Higher-frequency sounds tend to sound high and clear to the ear. However, your body is less likely to ‘feel’ it. 

Tuned-down strings work differently. They vibrate at a lower frequency, which makes them sound low. You can still hear it, but your body is more likely to ‘feel’ it as the vibration waves reach you. 

You can experience this by looking for a sound system, preferably a large one. If you stand before a tweeter, you may notice the sound pitches are high; you can hear them. 

Now, go stand in front of a bass speaker. You may notice the vibration and sound waves ‘hitting’ your body hard. This is the effect that lowering strings can help you experience, although not at the level of a bass speaker. 

When it comes to resonance, you may notice that if you strum a tuned-down guitar, the sounds tend to stay on longer, and the strings vibrate in a way that complements each other. This is resonance, although, to many, the guitar sounds nicer. 

Easier Playability

When you lower the pitch of the strings, you also lower the tension on the strings. This makes playing easier, especially for players looking to play individual notes. 

The reduced tension on the strings also makes it easier to execute more difficult playing techniques, such as bending, hammer-on, pull-offs, and more. It may also be easier to play certain chord shapes too. 

As a result, when you play on a tuned-down guitar, you may notice yourself playing with more expression and fluidity. This helps you to produce better sounds from your guitar. 

Lower Vocal Pitch

Finally, when you tune down your guitar, you may notice that your singing vocal pitches also drop together. The lower vocal pitch may also make your guitar sound good. 

You may notice how some genres of musical performances like to use deeper, lower vocal pitches. For example, jazz (e.g., Diana Krall or Louis Armstrong) or country (Trace Adkins or Blake Shelton.) These deeper vocal pitches usually get accompanied by down-tuned guitars too. 

Lower vocal pitches are less ‘penetrating’ and ‘menacing’ to the ear and can help you to relax more. This may explain why combining down-tuned guitar and lower vocal pitches makes them sound better overall.

How Do You Tune Down Your Guitar?

To tune down your guitar, start by deciding the tuning you want. Then twist the tuning peg on your guitar slowly to release the tension. Use a tuner to confirm your string is vibrating at the right pitch. Strum the strings to confirm all strings are sounding correct. 

Tuning down your guitar is not a hard thing to do. The key is to know the tuning you want and to have a tuner to help you. 

We list down here some of the more popular tunings for guitar and how you can tune the strings to achieve the tuning:

Drop D Tuning

Drop D tuning is probably the most popular drop tune. It is also easy to execute. To drop tune your guitar to Drop D:

  1. Check all the guitar strings are adjusted to regular tuning, EADGBE.
  2. Now look for the 6th, Low-E string, or the fattest string. 
  3. Loosen the tuning peg of the string on the headstock. Twist slowly and keep plucking the string. You should hear the pitch going down. 
  4. Use a tuner to help you confirm the string is now at a lower D pitch. 
  5. Strum the strings together to ensure the guitar sounds harmonious.

Drop B Tuning

Drop B tuning may be more popular with heavy music, such as metal or trash. This is because it produces deep, dark sounds that these genres love. Songs that use Drop B tuning include ‘Freak On A Leash’ by Korn and ‘Duality’ by Slipknot.

To drop-tune your guitar to Drop B tuning, you can repeat the entire steps in the Drop D tuning. However, you tune your low-E string to a lower-pitched B note instead. 

Half-Step Tuning:

Half-Step tuning may be popular with many genres of music since it essentially drops all strings by half a tone. In fact, legendary guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, BB King, and Stevie Ray Vaughn regularly play in half-step tuning. 

To drop-tune your guitar to half-step tuning:

  1. Check all the guitar strings are adjusted to regular tuning, EADGBE. Use a tuner to confirm this.
  2. Now look for the 6th, Low-E string, or the fattest string. 
  3. Loosen the tuning peg of the string on the headstock. Twist slowly and keep plucking the string. You should hear the pitch going down. 
  4. Use a tuner to help you confirm the string is now at a lower Eb pitch. This should not take too many turns on your tuning peg. 
  5. Now repeat steps 3 and 4 on all strings. Your strings should now be tuned to Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, and Eb.
  6. Strum the strings together to ensure the guitar sounds harmonious.


Can You Tune Down All Guitars?

Generally, all guitars should have strings that you can tune down. This applies to classical, acoustic, bass, or electric guitars. In fact, almost all string instruments can be tuned down. 

The key is to ensure the down-tuning process is executed properly. A tuner should help the process, together with a clear idea of what you are doing.

Will Tune Down My Guitar Damage It?

Tuning down guitars generally will not damage them. In fact, tuning down your guitar may help protect it better long-term. 

This is because if you keep your guitar tuned lower, the tension on the strings is not as high. This means there is less pulling power on your guitar neck, which may reduce the likelihood of your guitar neck bending. 

However, if you are rough on the tuning peg during the down-tuning process, you may damage it. This means you want to be gentle and slow when down-tuning your guitar.

Can You Tune Up Guitars?

You can tune up your guitar. The process works similarly to drop tuning, with the only difference being that you twist to tighten the strings more. 

When tuning up guitars, it may be wise to be slow and gentle, as adding too much tension on the string too drastically can break it. 

Tuning up guitars can also be achieved by using a capo. Instead of tightening the strings, you simply place a clamp on the strings instead. You can quickly return to the regular tuning just by removing the capo.

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