Alternate tuning

As @Gio started the idea, here is the alternate tuning thread !

it’s all about :

  • What tuning are you using on your basses ?
  • What is the goal and the way you use it ?
  • Anything else about those alternate tuning :slight_smile:

So I’ll start. I’m using the standard tuning (EADG) as well as Drop-D (DADG). I always change from one song to another. It’s pretty fast as there is only one string to tune, and with some habbit it litterally takes no more than a few seconds.

I play a lot of dark rock/metal where the increased low range of Drop-D is pretty useful. Also there is a pretty cool thing with Drop-D : the 5th are on the same fret for the two lowest strings, which make some fingering easiest by allowing to play 5th with a simple finger-roll.

The downside is that you loose the string-to-string symetry, but as it concerns only one string it’s not a big issue in my opinion. This symetry thing is the reason why I get back to EADG when needed.

As the lowest string is lower than usual, the string tension is lower as well. It could be a problem with very light strings. I currently use 40/95 strings (which is pretty light !), it works well for EADG but is the limit for DADG, again in my opinion. For this reason I plan to switch to 40/100 very soon.

I’ll finish about Drop D by saying that even if it’s a very popular tuning for modern rock and metal, it’s not useful only in those styles. For exemple it can also be used in country (see my cover of Axe by The Steel Woods :slight_smile: ) and many other styles.

The tuning I want to try is BEAD : it’s nothing else than the 4 lower strings on a 5 strings, so it allows the lower range of a 5 strings on a standard 4 strings bass. This tuning is pretty low and requires a big strings gauge. I did not tried this tuning yet but I’m pretty curious about it ! Seems very promising to me :slight_smile: Also it would be possible to drop the thing to AEAD …


hoo boy, just when I’m earmarking the pedal thread to return to another day, yet another rabbit hole gets opened up! But all good. I guess there is more to this than just “Eat And Drink Grapes.” This will be another interesting topic. :grin:


When I was playing and writing for a bass & drum duo (Toast Machine!) I started messing around with tunings a bunch.
My go to (and maybe still all time favorite) is the good 'ol Dropped D… (and on a 5 string, it’s amazing, because that low B underneath the Dropped D sounds so perfectly sad!)


I have a 5 string for this stuff, and that 5th string had some great options. Here are some fun ones (all from low B to high G)

D,D,A,D,G - yep. Tuned that B string up to a D. This was to create the legendary quintuple D chord (playing a 5th fret D on the A, a 7th fret D on the G, and slamming the entire bass). Great for droney rocking.

Bb,D,A,D,F - this was a real fun open Bb major tuning, and led to some really fun tap and chordal stuffs.

A,E,A,D,A - The Dropped A! I can’t recommend dropping the low B string unless you have an extra long scale bass. But this tuning is real fun. Tons of open chords show up, and it healthily gets me away from having too many D-centric tunes.

C,D,A,D,G - This is the ultimate Mixolydian rock machine tuning. Everything is set up for Dropped D tuning, but that low C is there to give you a huge extra low note on the b7 chord. Makes for beefy riffs.

I’ve certainly messed around with many more, but these were the ones that ended up being fun compositionally and worked their way into actual songs.

(This next bit is only practically helpful on the more experienced, advanced end of things - but it is conceptually and intellectually helpful at any point on the bass journey)
Remember - the bass is just a piece of wood with strings on it. You tune it so that it serves your needs. The standard tuning is great and functional for most anything you’d want to do. BUT!! If you find yourself trying to create a sound, and the string tuning is the obstacle… just change it.
It was a huge conceptual leap to make for me - to adjust my bass to fit my ear, rather than my ear to fit my bass.

Happy to provide some sound examples of these as well, if folks are interested. No deadline promises!!


yeah Drop D is my all-time favorite too. but … what ? are you saying you drop the E to D on a 5 strings and let the B as it is ? BDADG ? I don’t have a 5st to try this but … well that’s intriguing !

that one made me laugh, because it remembers me one of my guitars. It’s a 60’s japanese guitar a friend gave me for a birthday. plywood body, no truss-rod, a neck width you could not imagine … this thing is vintage as f*ck. I tune it DADDAD and use it only for slide. sounds sooooo awesome ! your tuning sounds very “open” to me :slight_smile:

so well said ! no dogma here, those instruments are nothing else than tools for our creativity. so, be creative ! in every way, it counts :slight_smile:


I tuned down to Drop D to work on this

and just realized my bass has been in Drop D for four days now and I just kind of left it that way because it sounds awesome.

BTW, The Small Print has a fun and easy bassline that still sounds killer. Highly recommended.


drop tuning is a lifestyle :grin:


Still in Drop D :slight_smile:


OK, here goes - and if I can’t get an answer to my perhaps rather stupid (or obvious) question here in this kind and forgiving forum, then I will never get it anywhere else…

Apparently, from what I read, “drop D” is very popular (and almost a life style, apparently), and the idea is to have the option of the low D (for certain songs). As I have never done this (but since we are in the thread about tunings), I assume you just tune the E string down one note to achieve this!? (Don’t laugh - what’s painfully obvious to some might not be obvious at all to others :smile:)

But now, for the possibility of being able to play that low D, nothing on the E string is where it used be on the fretboard. Isn’t that completely messing up your finger muscle memory, and your knowledge of patterns and shapes that you have painstakingly learned?? With a drop D tuning, you’d have to remind yourself every time you get near that (former) E string that the notes you want to play are not were they used to - that must make for some stressful playing, no!?!

So, do you use the drop D tuning only for droning (on that lowest string) and use only the other three strings to play fills etc or are you all such fast thinkers that you adjust your fretting on the fly??

What’s wrong with getting a 5-string and just fret that (no longer so elusive) D on the B string?? :grin:



your question is not stupid and you’re totally right, moving this E string to D changes the patterns as everything is moved 2 frets away on this string.

using Drop-D doesn’t mean that you only drone on this string and play normally on the others ! see my last cover for example, it’s played in drop-D and I use all the strings on various frets.
so, you can play on this D string too but, yeah, there is some kind of mental gymnastics here. with some habbit it’s not really a problem. anyway when you learn a tab or create your own bassline, you just adapt the fingering and learn it the way it works with this tuning.
some fingering become more complicated but some others become more simple, for exemple if you want to play a 5th you know it’s just the string below (A) on the same fret. maybe it’s not a big deal on a bass but on a guitar it is because it allows to play power chords with only one finger, that’s very useful and convenient.
in the same logics, the octave is on the same fret on the D (high D :slight_smile: ) string. it can be convenient sometimes (or not) but the thing is that, yeah, we loose the string-to-string symetry.

there’s nothing wrong at all about getting a 5 string, it’s just different :grin: one interesting thing with alternate tuning is that it makes you play differently. that’s why I always change from EADG to DADG !

edit : there would be a way to get the low D and keep the symetry at the same time, by tuning down every single string to one note. that’s not drop-D anymore, but why not. I know they did things like that in the texas blues world (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble for example).


Thanks, @terb - that solves a couple of mysteries for me :smile:


Wouldn’t it be possible to have a mechanical device (maybe a bit like a whammy bar on a guitar) that drops the E string on cue/on demand exactly to D, but leaves the string otherwise as is??


yes this thing exists, it’s a replacement tuning machine with a lever to change from E to D on demand. it’s made by Hipshot and is well-named a D-tuner. it looks like this :


Ha, who would have thought - cool :man_dancing:


cool but pretty useless (at least for me) as switching from EADG to DADG and vice versa takes litterally a couple of seconds ! the only situation where it could be useful, I think, is if you have to change your tuning during a song.


Yeah it would be really useful live but not so much at home as it takes a few seconds to tune down.


Ah, so you would NOT use it during a song (every time you need that low D)!?! To be activated with the heel of the picking hand (like a tremolo bar). That would be useful, I guess…

Gotta make a drawing and get me a patent on this :grin:


in my case, for example with my previous band, we played 100% in drop D, so, problem solved :grin:


Drop D… every song that came out of Seattle in the early 90s. :smile:


True true true… but, like anything, once you’re there for long enough, it starts to make good sense. Honest.

The Dropped D tuning is a godsend for rockers and chord-players of all genres because it creates a big, luscious open chord on the bottom strings (Low D = root, A string = 5th, D string = octave)
Bassists do it to cover the range that the other instruments have… but that big open chord is why you can’t just use a 5 string. Just like on that ‘Hysteria’ thread - playing on an open string gives you way more options than having to run back to the 3rd fret of you B string.

Because in classical music the basses are often asked to double cello parts (which go down to a low C) they have come up with this ingenius device: the C extension:

It’s an extended fretboard for just the E string. It does what you’re suggesting - with the flick of a lever, you are playing that low note when you want it, but still have your instrument tuned and set up in the normal way.

And, yes, they also did this on electric basses… I remember seeing one in a bass player magazine ad… but I couldn’t find anything online. Hmmm… maybe you’ve got yourself a gig, @joergkutter!


Those are some amazing gizmos, @Gio! Thanks so much - learned a lot today (again)!

Ah, well, yes, I am happy to let someone else with much more pronounced power tool skills (and more of them to begin with) pick up that idea and start a business - @Korrigan!?!