Alternate Guitar Tunings, Partial Capos, and Different Chord Sounds

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Do you use alternate tunings or partial capos on your guitar? What are your favorites and why? I'll start. I have used many alternate tunings. I don't know that I have favorites so much as I use the tuning to break me out of my comfort zone or to easily play different chord sounds using familiar chord shapes. Sometimes, okay often they are odd/weird/jazz chords. Often the different chords gets me to a different melody. Without changing from standard tuning I can also get to the different chord sounds by using a partial capo, in other words a capo on some, but not all of the strings. I like the three string or partial capo that can either be used on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings or on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings. I also have a Spyder capo that can act on individual strings, however it takes a couple minutes to set up. Okay for songwriting, not so much for playing out. Conversely I often find that if I generate a song that I like well enough to play out, I eventually figure out how to play it in standard tuning. How about you?

I have one guitar tuned to open C (C G C G C E) after hearing Devin Townsend talk about using it. And I immediately discovered that Jimmy Page must have used it for most of Led Zeppelin III. If you find standard tuning a bit of a challenge, you'll probably get on with it because just strumming the strings is pleasantly melodic.

I have tried Robert Fripp's New Standard Tuning (C G D A E G) several times, but it's a step too far for me. If you try it, be aware that the higher top end means it's best to buy strings specifically designed for the tuning, because normal strings won't last long.

And if you play slide, D A D G A D is essential. So much fun.

I only started playing guitar just over a week ago, and I've tuned it to open G, so suddenly I can play like Keith Richards!
So much fun to play slide!
Perhaps I should try open D next, thanx @headfirstonly.
Like @AndyGetch, I'm using the guitar to break me out of my old ukulele-playing go-to patterns.

I use them a lot and always keep one guitar tuned to something interesting. Joni Mitchell and Stephen Stills used some really inventive tunings but also sometimes a basic drop D can add all that is needed. DADGAD of course if useful for folk tunes. I also use alternative tunings for the ukulele - so much simpler with just four strings. I've used them too with my cigar box guitar to include G7 and Gmaj7. I must try out different capos one day. @Fuzzy you are so right about open G and Keith Richards. The corollary is that without the right tuning it's not possible to sound like him.

I think I mention this one every year, but one of my six string guitars is tuned (from bottom) F# A C# G# B E - the tuning used by Andy McKee on the track Art of Motion.

And my four string basses are usually tuned D A D G - I started doing that around twenty years ago when I wanted a five string and couldn't afford one.

Open D or open G, both for slide playing, sometimes DADGAD (which is not exactly the same as open tuning but close) and every now and then something more esoteric. I also play a little mandolin, which is kind of like the first four strings of the guitar backwards ( tuned in fifths not fourths) . An old friend of mine years ago was in a mandolin orchestra and told the following joke “we spent half our time tuning, the other half playing out of tune”

I like using partial capo a lot and have shown great restraint thus far in 50/90 with not really breaking it out yet.

E B E A B E is the effective tuning with partial capo on fret 2.

My 3 electric guitars (all 6-strings) are:

C standard, for extreme metal
Drop D, for rock
E standard, for lighter stuff

I had a capo once, but it was so cheap it wouldn't stay in place. Never properly used a capo. Will no doubt pick one up at some point, but there are far more important pieces of gear to spend my money on first.

I like the idea of the Spyder capo being able to affect individual strings.

Might change the metal guitar to D standard. C standard feels a little flubby. Not sure.

dzd's picture

All of the above, plus a bit in Open E. Lots of variations on open C/F

@headfirstonly I didn't really get along well with "new standard tuning" either, it's fine and I can see its advantages for certain things, but not for me.

Don't ever really use a capo

@cblack if C is a little wobbly, can always try a higher gauge set of strings as well it'll take some of that wonky out, or shorter scale length Wink

I'll try D standard first. Honestly, the only reason I went with C standard is because that's what Arch Enemy use.

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Yeah it's a little much unless using a super short scale and/or some 13 or 14 strings Biggrin

I'm using 9-42s lol.

D standard it is!

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Oh goodness, I bet C was super floppy Biggrin

I've always preferred thicker strings I want my D string to be about a 42, but some people like wearing tightie whities too Wink to each their own.

Yeah, C was fairly loose. But not as bad as a bass guitar, I guess. I prefer thinner for how they feel under my fingers. All my guitars are 9-42, other than my acoustic which is 12s.

I have at least one guitar tuned up to an alternate tuning, swap it out when it becomes too familiar. Have a couple tunings I come back to like DADGCD, DGDFBD and EADF#BF#. Bought a partial capo after @metalfoot mentioned using it in a song description, inspiring tool, but I haven’t used it that often, usually because I often overlook it in my pile of capos.

If I get a capo, I think it'll be the Spider. But I'm unsure how much use I'd get out of it. Like, what does a capo let you do that you can't do without one? Or is it just that it makes certain things easier and gets you trying new progressions?

My "Dropped B" has been featured on a number of songs over the years (EADGBB) & I really enjoyed Open G for a few things. Cross-Note D (DADFAD) is also lots of fun. I do want to try the Alternate Cross-Note A (aka the Sitar Tuning - EAEAEA), might experiment with that this 50/90.

I also play around with lots of exotic scales as well as weird Capo positions. Another fun thing to do is use a slide above the pickups ("fretting" notes beyond the fingerboard) or picking above the nut. My one guitar (my dad's 1967 no-name f-hole hollow body) has a floating bridge, so picking below the floating bridge with lots of FX (especially reverb, delay & flanging) is always a trip Biggrin

Quite a few years ago, @Joanne Gabriel got me interested in Spoon Guitar (using a spoon on the guitar) - which led to using various pieces of cutlery & other dishes (bowls are lots of fun). In fact, I did an entire EP of experiments using these sorts of techniques called Cuillères Intergalactiques

And you might of noticed I use a whole pile of different plectrum on my songs…

I guess for me, anything that is different than what is expected from guitar playing is of big interest to me.

See You In The Shadows…

When I heard about Kenny Barron's voicings on piano, I naturally tried to emulate this on guitar. So I came up with CGDEbBbF. This gives a lush m11 chord with a lot of space. If you fret the 3 higher strings on the 1st fret you get a nice major chord - a maj9#11 to be exact.
Here is my version of message in a bottle in this tuning:

Just did a Skirmish using my "Dropped B" Tuning inspired by this thread:


See You In The Shadows…

I have my Fender in open C at the mo, (CGCGCE) and sometimes have it in DADGAD or DADFsharpAD which I iscovered learning Joni Mitchell's Cactus Tree. I like to find a song in that tuning then look at the tab to get some shapes, I should make that a regular practice!

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Wow @lowhum, that message version is beautiful!

Concerning tunings: I like what Chris Whitley did with DADADE

@cblack probably the most common use of a full-size capo is to effectively tune the guitar to a higher pitch to easily transcribe a song to another key. Much easier on the strings and guitar than tuning the guitar strings to a higher tension to achieve that higher pitch. For those who only know a few chord shapes, it allows them to play in different keys. Capos that cover less than all the strings open up many possibilities that some have covered earlier in this thread.

I've fiddled around with different tunings a little bit through the years and one that I've grown to like a lot is DGDGAD. I think of it as a hybrid between DADGAD and open G and I find it quite useful for both blues and celtic-tinged folk.

A few years ago, I tuned a guitar I seldom use to Open-E7. It was fun for blues-y things.
I don't remember where I got the idea...nor why I stopped. Smile

I also had once tuned a guitar to a pentatonic to make it sound like a guqin but it needs restringing with e a and d strings so you can do a lot of different scales even diatonic ones

A curious tuning for mandolin I used recently: GDF#C#. Nice jazzy lydian sound

I used this to make my electric guitar sound like a sitar. It's a little extreme - first remove the lowest two strings (A and E) and replace them with two first strings (E) tune these both the the note D. They act as drones for the other strings. I saw this first on a very interesting YouTube video

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@Roddy I've tried some things similar to that, never that specifically. Usually if something is Nashville strung and tuned top 3 or 4 strings in a much lighter gauge, then playing around with different open tunings you do get some really cool drone effects you don't usually get even in an open tuning, and it lets you explore different styles of playing and phrasing. I might actually try that one specifically next time I restring one.

Watched that, sounds nice, might try, always been eager about easterness, maqams & ragas about D Ab B Gb A Eb ... with open notes, it gives you a diminished triad in the lower three ('Ab dim' ('G# dim')), and another diminished triad in the high 3 ('Eb dim' ('D# dim'))... (ooh there must be a way to do 'augmented/whole tone tuning' as well)...

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No idea what this one would be, I'm willfully ignorant when it comes to things like theory, it just makes my eyes glaze over, just turned knobs until I found one I liked, put it on a tuner after the fact, but did enjoy it my telecaster will probably stay there for a little while F# Bb C# F# A Eb

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@ustaknow Biggrin or music store shelf tuned