Is Drop Tuning Bad For Guitars?

Drop tuning is the most popular alternate tuning, and even though it is a simple change, it can  really add a lot of versatility to your playing.  Drop tuning is a well-loved technique many guitarists use in various genres, including metal, progressive, blues, and rock. While it is super common for both beginners and expert guitarists to drop tune, you may ask yourself, is it drop tuning bad for my guitar? The tension differences may be a cause for concern for some, but you may wonder if this will have any long-term effects on your guitar and its intonation.

In this article, I will cover all things drop tuning and answer the burning question: is drop tuning bad for guitars?

What is drop tuning?

First, let’s cover the basics of what drop tuning actually is. Generally, when you tune your guitar, you tune it to: E-A-D-G-B-e. When drop tuning, you tune the low  E down to an even lower note, usually a D. Drop tuning is a common tuning for heavy metal and progressive guitarists, but it can be used for a wide range of genres – including with acoustic or classical guitar.

Most common drop tunings

The most common drop tunings are drop D and drop C, which means the bottom string is tuned to the low D or C below the E. Drop B is not as common because most string gauges won’t be able to handle this low of a pitch, but it is also possible.

Difference between drop tuning, open tuning, and lowered standard tuning

There are different types of alternative tunings, and some of the most common ones you will have heard of are drop tuning, open tuning, and drop standard tuning. So, what are the differences between these three types?

Drop tuning: This is where the bottom string, or low E on standard tuning, is tuned an octave down to a different note – generally a D or C.

Open tuning: This is where all the strings are tuned so that a chord will be played when you strum all the open strings in unison. For example, in open G tuning, the strings are tuned to D-G-D-G-B-D.

Lowered standard tuning: Also called D standard tuning, C standard tuning, E flat standard tuning, etc. Lowered standard tuning is when you drop all of the strings a half step, a whole step, or more. For example, D standard tuning should be tuned as D-G-C-F-A-d.

Check out my guide for tuning electric guitars for more on this.

Is drop tuning bad for guitars?

No, not at all!  Most of the standard drop tunings, like drop D or drop C won’t pose any issues for your guitar. The only possible problem with alternative tunings is that the tension of the strings changes, but there is only a tiny difference in tension in drop D or C tuning, open tunings and drop standard tunings – definitely not enough to do any damage. So, you don’t have to worry about the neck warping or the truss rod bending.

That being said, constant usage of unorthodox tunings can potentially damage your strings and cause your guitar’s neck to warp slightly.

Why use a drop tuning?

So, now that you know what drop tuning is. Why use it in the first place? There are many benefits to drop tuning that make it popular for guitarists all over the world. In fact, you’ll find drop tuning in some of the world’s famous songs, like “Everlong” by The Foo Fighters (drop D),  “Heart-Shaped Box” by Nirvana (drop D), and “Chop Suey!” by System Of A Down (drop C). And here are some of the reasons why:

Easier to play power chords

When you tune your guitar to drop D, it becomes much easier to play power chords. Since the low 3 strings of your guitar become a chord (D-A-D), you can easily forgo these strings and focus on the other strings instead. This means instead of using your other fingers to fret power chords, you can only use your index finger and free up your other fingers. This makes for easier and faster playing, especially when it comes to arpeggios and licks.

Lower pitch

When drop tuning, the low E is lowered to a D, C, or lower. Lowering this string creates a lower range of notes you can play on your guitar. For example, in standard tuning, the lowest note player is an E2, but in drop D tuning, for example, the guitarist can also play D#2 and D2.

As a plus, drop tuning can also aid singers with lower voices.

Heavier sound

By tuning down the lowest string,you give your guitar a deeper bass register and giving you a heavier, darker, and grungier sound. This is partly why drop tuning is so popular in genres like hard rock, punk rock, and metal. Although tuning a single string down a note or so doesn’t seem like it would change much, this slight change can affect the entire sound of the guitar and your playing style!

Easier to bend

Since the lowest string is looser in drop tuning, it makes bending it much more manageable. You can bend and manipulate the dropped string to your will by taking advantage of the lower tension in the string. Drop tuning is an excellent resource if you’re looking to achieve a beautiful low-register vibrato. 

Best string gauge to use for drop D and drop C

Since the low string will be lower in drop tuning, it is generally better to have a thicker string gauge. Thicker strings have more low-end frequency, making for better sound on your low notes. Though it is not necessary to use a different string gauge than your standard guitar strings, the best string gauge to use for drop D is regular light (10-52) or medium gauge strings (11-54). And the best string gauge to use for drop C is medium gauge strings or higher(11-54) or heavy gauge strings (12-56). Just remember heavy strings mean a heavy sound, but they are also harder to manipulate and play fast licks with. Thick strings also do not have as much treble tone.