Drop-D Tuning

Bill Sheehan

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I love the richness afforded by the Drop-D tuning, but to save my soul I cannot seem to get used to it, so I always end up going back to standard tuning, and trying to figure our "workarounds", in standard, for the songs which would otherwise be played in Drop-D. They're generally passable, but I'm always conscious of missing that nice low D in certain chords or passages. Has anyone else struggled to get comfortable with Drop-D, and perhaps eventually broken through the mental barrier that seems to be hanging me up, to become a Drop-D enthusiast?
 

Peter Frary

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Low D is my favorite tuning and I often just leave a guitar tuned that way for months. The secret is to love playing in keys that need that note—G and D especially—or refingering the 6th string for the proper bass notes (two frets higher). Another possibility is to play a 7 stringer and tune the 7th string to D (I normally use C or B on my 7 stringer).
 

Bill Sheehan

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Thank you, Peter! I suppose I need to just make up my mind to get accustomed to re-fingering those 6th string bass notes, as you said, and I have a feeling there'd come a time when I'd realize that I'd "turned the corner" and that it had become second nature. My impression is that a lot of the classical guitar repertoire utilizes the Drop-D tuning. By the way, the duets that you and Grace do are so awesome!!
 

merlin666

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I kept one of my 12 strings in double-drop-D for a while and really enjoyed. You get most out an altered tuning if you learn a few songs that were written for this tuning and then you get a good feel for what chords work well. For my 12 string that mainly included a few Neil Young songs such as "When You Dance ..." Going the other way and trying to translate common chords and songs to drop-D is not usually an improvement and can be frustrating.
 

Bill Sheehan

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I think you're right, Merlin. It's almost like certain songs "live" or "reside" in drop-D tuning, and trying to figure out an effective way of doing them in standard just doesn't always cut it. And you make an excellent point about the "inverse" of that-- many songs work better in standard from the get-go, and don't necessarily work very well if we try to "re-imagine" them in drop-D ! I think my problem is that I hate re-tuning the sixth string from song to song and then having to contend with it drifting slightly out of tune once I've begun the next tune. I like the idea of just choosing my tuning and sticking with it for every song. (I realize that maybe I just need to get over that!) I've been listening to Earl Klugh recently, in particular his song "This Time". He uses standard tuning, and does the song in the key of E, so that his main bass note throughout the song is simply the low E. So maybe that's kind of a "compromise" in which we can stay in standard tuning but still have a fairly deep bass note to work with. I've heard some players say, however, that they're not crazy about working in the key of E...
 

johnnysmash

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If one keeps their guitar in open D or open G and plays most or all of their music in only the keys of D, G, Dmin, and Gmin. Is that possible, do-able, bad, good? I too am not hot on standard tuning and hate re-tuning all of the time.
 

Bill Sheehan

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Johnny, I remember several years ago, after learning a couple of nice-sounding tunes in open-G (DGDGBD), I sought to keep my acoustic tuned that way exclusively; but after a while I found that the "vibe", if you will, of the tuning started to become somewhat over-familiar (does that make sense?) and therefore a little monotonous. So I then discovered a few tunes in DADGAD and became enthusiastic about that tuning, but the same thing eventually happened-- it has a certain "sameness" to it that made me grow a little restless for a different sound. Then I heard some Tommy Emmanuel tunes, and read an article about him in which he said that he uses standard tuning but that he often employs little variations in his chord voicings to make it sound as if he's using an altered tuning of some sort. I think Tommy does in fact utilize drop-D with some frequency. So, it may be that standard tuning, with the occasional dropping of the 6th string down to D, may be a very good way to approach things. It's worth noting that one of the things that the DGDGBD and DADGAD tunings have in common is that 6th string dropped down to D; so perhaps one could say that standard tuning, with a dropped-down 6th string, gives us the best of both worlds.
 

johnnysmash

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Bill, Do I ever understand what you are saying. I change my mind about ukulele or guitar, and one key or the other at a faster rate then you do. Almost monthly or faster. That is my big problem. I need to settle down. I agree with you that regardless of tuning the bottom string should be a D. I especially love open D tuning. On piano I play in all 12 keys and on guitar I play in most keys, however, overall keys of G and D are my favorites.
 

Bill Sheehan

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Thanks, Johnny! Good to know I'm not the only one who bounces around and gets on a new "jag" every couple of weeks! If anything, however, I guess it shows that we're enthusiastic about what we're doing, and having a lot of fun with the journey!
 

fingerguy

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I putz with it and the stuff I play doesn't sound all that good on a Drop D tuning. I found capo has better sounding results.
 

LarryL

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I dont know what kind of music you like to play, but you might get some transcriptions of Johnny Smith, the great jazz guitarist. He used drop D a lot in playing the "standards" and it does sound lovely in his hands, but then anything would in his hands. They have them available thru chord melody productions...some really great stuff !
 

Ukecaster

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Playing drop D guitar reminds me of playing low G uke; you need stay away from or mute the low string on some chords, or close it with a fingering there. Big fun to get those thundering low D notes!
 

Jim Yates

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Not actually a "Drop D", but I like to capo the first five strings at the 2nd fret to get a "Drop E" tuning.
You still get the low root with D shaped chords, but you don't have to alter the fingering of standard chords. The drawback is that the F and F# notes on the 6th string are almost impossible to fret.
Shubb or Planet Waves capos work well for this.
 

Steve K.

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Please do not tell my wife I wrote this, BUT, just buy more guitars and you can have the tunings you like at your fingertips.
I fixed up and electrified a wreck of an acoustic for open D tuning. An old Alvarez 12 string stays in C, F, Bflat, Eflat, G, C. Chunky, low sound and keeps many pounds of pull off the bridge for long guitar life. Capo fourth fret to play in standard tuning shapes. A Jay Turser semi-hollow resonator stays in G tuning, and an ancient Teisco Del Ray in Joni Mitchell "Coyote" tuning.

For drop D, I admit to just adjusting the sixth string down when I want to play. With an electronic tuner I no longer worry about coming out of tune. The only problem is when I put the guitar down in drop D, then pick it up the next day and try to play standard...
 

Three Tenors

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Not actually a "Drop D", but I like to capo the first five strings at the 2nd fret to get a "Drop E" tuning.
You still get the low root with D shaped chords, but you don't have to alter the fingering of standard chords. The drawback is that the F and F# notes on the 6th string are almost impossible to fret.
Shubb or Planet Waves capos work well for this.

Yes Jim - I do the same thing (with a Shubb capo) - love that big low E in the actual keys of E (D shape) or A (G shape)!