3 Alternative Tunings that Helped Define Bands
The history of iconic guitar playing is riddled with alternative tunings. So many individuals have been able to form their sonic identity through altering the standard E to e tuning that most of us learn to play in. There is something about being unfamiliar with your instrument that yields creativity and produces a more inimitable result. In the case of the bands listed below, this result is having an instantly recognizable sound to their music. Yes, there is more at play here than just guitar tuning. However, while they might not be the sole reason, these tunings definitely have contributed to all of these band’s originality. So, without further ado, here are three artist and the tunings that sit at the core of their sound.
Queens of the Stone Age – C Standard
Josh Homme has a long-time association with C standard. Dating back to Kyuss, many of Homme’s tracks have found a home in tuning two steps below standard. This relatively extreme down-tuning gives a lot more bulk to the guitar’s sound. However, other than just being optimal for heavy playing, down-tuning to this extent starts to introduce some pretty interesting overtones (especially with any kind of gain added in). To my and many other ears, Queens get their distinct guitar sounds with the help of these mid-range overtones.
One of the coolest parts of down tuning is the interesting elements that start to take place tonally. Your pickups will respond differently depending on what frequencies your strings are making. Most guitars will really transform into different animals in different tunings. I consider this one of the most underrated ways to alter your guitar’s sound, go see for yourself. You may not feel as though your playing a different guitar altogether, but you are sure to see another side to it.
The Allman Brothers – Open E
It’s pretty hard to picture the Allman Brothers without slide guitars set in open tunings. I mean can you imagine if Statesboro Blues was played with no slide. Many of their songs would not hold the same weight if it weren't for the slide playing of Duane Allman. So, where does the open E tuning come into effect? Basically, if you want to play slide, picking an opening tuning like E, G, or A is the place to start. These tunings make playing a breeze by turning every fret into great a full sounding chord. Additionally, when you play open with a slide, you open the door to a lot of cool double stops that would not be possible otherwise. In Allman’s case, going with open E enabled him to have a much easier go at playing famous riffs and solos around chord changes.
Regardless of whether or not you want to sound like Duane, try out a few open tunings for yourself. Pick a chord and figure out the notes and find the best way to “make it” with the six strings you have available. This will definitely throw off any traditional licks or chords that you are familiar with, but that is not a bad thing. Trust me, once you start to play with open tunings, you will start to come up with stuff beyond anything you have before.
Sonic Youth – F# F# F# F# E B (and many more)
This tuning is the only one that I am going to talk about that has absolutely no name. I mean how could it? There is no real musical or logical way to come to this cluster of notes, at least not off the top of your head. No, this and most Sonic Youth tunings are fairly avant-garde in nature. But there is one thing that is for sure. Sonic Youth sound like Sonic Youth. I could list a bunch of adverbs here, but I think you understand what I’m saying. You know the band when you hear them.
So why would you ever want to tune to this or any other bizarre tuning? Well truthfully, you might not want to at all. These types of tunings are not for everybody, it can really feel like you’re constantly fighting to be creative (or even coherent) on the neck. But for some randomly tuning your stings to sound interesting is a liberating experience. I mean talk about making your instrument your own, try having your own personal tuning!
There you have it, three tunings that have helped define the artists who use them. Hopefully now you understand what these tunings add to their players and just how important they are. So, if you are looking to sound like Josh Homme, Sonic Youth, or The Allman Brothers I highly recommend playing in their tunings… and then practicing for a couple of decades. Yes, playing in the tuning of any of these artists will not make you sound just like them. But it is definitely going to get you a lot closer than if you’re not taking the time at all. Ultimately, it comes down to your fingers, but these artists have found tunings that greatly complement their playing, maybe you will too (give it a try).