Tunings and the 6 and 7 String Guitar

Happy New Year!!

[Note, as of 1/3/13 I have openings on Wednesday and Thursday night at 7:00pm.  Contact me if you want to start the new years off right!]

I’m currently reading the Keith Richards autobiography.  If you’ve ever struggled with playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women or Brown Sugar, don’t feel alone.  Keith discovered open G tuning in 1968 and even tossed his 6 string away for this new method of playing he adopted.

What the heck is open G tuning?  Well, to start let’s look at the way a guitar is tuned normally:

The notes E, A, D, G, B, E don’t really fit nicely into any one chord.  The top three (E, G, B) make an e minor and the top four (E, B, G, D) make an E minor 7th but that’s about it.

At some point, slide guitar players got into the act.  A slide is made up of either glass, plastic, or metal and lays vertically across the neck, but of course in a straight line.  Not happy with the standard tuning above, they changed the tuning so that all the notes, when lined up vertically along one fret, will make a major chord.  In other words, the notes in the G Major chord are G, B, and D, so if an open string note isn’t one of those notes already, we tune up or down to the nearest in the chord.  See line two of the chart below:

It requires the 6h, the 5th, and the 1st string to be changed.

Keith took it one more step – he tossed the 6th string, making his tuning:

G D  G  B  D

And then those licks became easy for Start Me Up, etc.

If you’ve read my posts, you know I bought a new 7 String guitar.  For those in the heavy metal world, “drop” tuning is common, even when you have a 7 string guitar.

I used my 7 String in “Standard Tuning” which is:

7   6  5  4   3   2  1

B  E  A  D  G  B  E

The most common thing played on the 7th string are the “power chords” which are typically Root and Fifth of the chord, played most commonly with first finger and third finger.  For example, with Standard tuning, I could play a C power chord with my first finger on 7th string 1st fret (C) and 3rd finger on 6th string, third fred (G).

Many metal heads prefer more “gonk” or bottom end and they do what is called “Drop A” tuning.  If you only have a 6 string, you can do virtually the same thing with “Drop D” tuning.

On the 6th string,  your bottom E on the 6th string becomes a D.  Your fifth for the power chord will now line up on the same fret.  In other words, open 6th and open 5th are now D and A and that make a D power chord.  as you go up the neck,  you only need to bar 6th and 5th strings with one finger.

On the 7th String, the 7th string itself is dropped to A instead of B.  This has the same effect as with the 6th stringer but in a lower range.  open 7th and 6th string is now a power A chord (A and E).

One of the issues facing the working musician is how to keep these tunings straight?  It wouldn’t be practical to be tuning back and forth throughout the night on the same guitar.  What most guitarists do is have a guitar dedicated to each tuning they want to use.  One guitar might be standard tuning, another might be Drop D tuning or something else.

Another alternative, although more costly up front, are the “virtual” guitars made by Line 6 and Roland.  I don’t own one myself, but Line 6 makes a “Variax” guitar line where without turning a tuning peg, you can change your tunings on the fly.  Of course nothing comes perfect and what you gain in flexibility you lose in other areas.

So this has been an introduction to various tunings on 6 and 7 string guitars.  Use a tuner if you don’t trust your ear yet and experiment about. Remember to not tune your strings the wrong way – in other words too tight – or they break!

Happy Strumming!




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