Why do Metal Guitarists (and bassists) Detune so drastically?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by Tazziedevil, Jul 11, 2020.

  1. Tazziedevil


    Apr 2, 2019
    I jammed last week with some guys who play metal - Personally, I don't. Never have. I play mostly Jazz, Blues and some Reggae. Very much NOT metal... but the thing is in my area, no bands in my preferred genre/genres are looking, and I can't piece together enough other musos to form a bluey/soul/jazz band. I'm in my 40's, and even though I played guitar and bass in high school I never went through a Metallica phase or a metal period. I've always been a Jazz guy!

    There are, however, a good chunk of metal bands needing a bass player. Sooooo I headed out for a jam. If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with, right? Didn't really know what to expect, they didn't give me any covers to listen to, it was just a "show up and we'll play some riffs" kind of jam. 2 guitars, drums and a singer (who can play guitar if needed, one of the guitarists was playing bass after the bassist left). They were all good musicians and good communicators. We thrived from some riffs (a little jazz lingo there).

    My question/observation: The guitarists both had a 7-string they detuned a further step and a half down ( B E A D G B E ) -> Ab Db Gb Cb Fb Ab Db

    That... seems quite drastic and they would be playing spaghetti noodles on the low strings. I just tuned down a half step and played the higher octave or tried to play some more melodic things over the top, since a lot of their riffs were just those detuned guitars palm muted chugging away.

    Is there a reason they do it? Or is it just stylistic? It's just... very muddy!
    J_Bass likes this.
  2. Michedelic

    Michedelic MId-Century Modern

    Because....heaviness. Actually, it started, fittingly enough, with Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. A left handed guitarist, he suffered a serious injury on his factory job, losing finger tips on his fretting hand. Inspired by the tribulations of one of his guitar heros, Django Reinhardt, he fashioned prosthetic tips, used lighter strings and downtuned to lessen string tension.
    But then jazz guitarist George Van Eps pioneered the use of a 7-string guitar to allow him extra extended(downward)range...

    Lenny Breau and John and Bucky Pizzarelli followed similar explorations.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
  3. Rob112


    Sep 9, 2015
    A lot of it has to do with riffs bouncing off open strings or riffs that want to chug hard on a low note. For example if you have a chugged C riff it sounds way harder on an open C or 1st fret of a 5 string than 3rd fret 8 or worst imo 8th fret E(to booming for chug, great for smooth imo).

    That said I don’t really like drop tuning much I just bought a 5 string. I don’t really play many bouncing style metal riffs on opens so hasn’t been a problem.
    TolerancEJ likes this.
  4. Tazziedevil


    Apr 2, 2019
    Hmm, okay. I guess that makes some sense. But drop tuning a 7 string to an Ab? I didn’t ask what the previous bassist did, I can’t imagine playing a 5 string tuned to an Ab. That’s like playing a cooked spaghetti noodle!

  5. Rob112


    Sep 9, 2015
    yea I personally am not a huge fan, but if you go to learn certain songs from bands it starts to make sense. But you sound more like me so you probably just wouldn’t play many of those types of songs bc it gets annoying lol and I love metal and still prefer standard.
  6. ZBirdV8


    Feb 26, 2012
    Detroit Michigan
    I play my metal in standard tuning and I'm heavier than most of the swamp tuned bands.

    However, it began with Toni Iommi-He worked at a factory and was put in charge of the Metal Press-A machine that smashes pieces of metal flat. He was inexperienced and doing this on short notice as the guy who usually did this quit or didn't show that day. There was an accident and the press came down and took off his finger tips. From there he manufactured prosthetic fingertips, but was not able to press them hard enough to play the guitar in standard tuning so he slackened the strings out of necessity. Thus began the trend of down tuning in the genre. Sleeps Holy Mountain (Sleep), Dopethrone (Electric Wizard) and Master of Reality (Black Sabbath) are some of my favorite albums and they all feature C# or lower tuning.

    Tommy V and SasquatchDude like this.
  7. ZBirdV8


    Feb 26, 2012
    Detroit Michigan
    Cause you play some Reggae Bass:
  8. stigbeve


    Sep 24, 2014
    I don't really care for the downtuned stuff. I think the lowest I've seen/heard is a 9 string where the low string is C#.
    Been getting in to writing black metal the last couple years on guitar and it's all in standard.
  9. ThinCrappyTone

    ThinCrappyTone Guest

    Oct 1, 2011
    fwiw, a lot of detuned players will choose a heavier string gauge, which helps despaghettify the tension a bit.

    Also, many of those guitars are baritone scale, so not as floppy. For example my kiesel 8 string is 27”, which really helps keep it tight.
  10. ZBirdV8


    Feb 26, 2012
    Detroit Michigan
  11. JeezyMcNuggles

    JeezyMcNuggles Supporting Member

    Feb 23, 2018
    Santa Maria, CA
    I suck, but nobody really notices
    I used to play tuned GCGCF. Guitars were in drop C. I just used my 5th as another octave in case I wanted to bring the boom. Great for pauses/slides. Never really used it much other than that.
    Monterey Bay-ss likes this.
  12. Rdore2000


    Jul 21, 2008
    We proudly tune low (Drop C) and I think we sound pretty groovy.

  13. mikewalker

    mikewalker Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2017
    Canada, Eh!
    I bought a five string once, (35 inch scale Warmoth Gecko) because I was filling in for some friend's CD release party project (opening for 54-40 on Canada Day at a mountaintop ski resort) - and two of the songs required notes below low E. And actually, because a third song was based on a droning open D string riff, I just tuned the whole thing down a full step for that whole show (A-D-G-C-F). There was a spot in one of those three tunes where I actually could "use" the Low A, but basically it was nearly inaudible - getting close to the realm of 'indefinite pitch'... I'm not sure how far that note carried up the valley, but I'm sure it gave the subs a workout! :)
  14. QweziRider

    QweziRider Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2008
    Northern Nevada, U.S.
    I'm not a metal player, per se. But for recordings I work on along those lines, I use 11s on the guitar I tune down a full step from standard and 13s on the one I tune down two steps. No spaghetti there.
    ThinCrappyTone likes this.
  15. Seashore


    Jun 2, 2019
    I've been tuning down since I first discovered drop D as a fourteen-year-old guitarist. It wasn't about making guitar either "easier" or "heavier" at the time, but the feel of being slightly lower just sort of clicked and sparked my creativity. I tuned lower and lower without really thinking about it over the next few years as my voice changed, and eventually wound up in drop Bb. That was about the lowest I could get away with and still have decent chord definition for what I was playing, even with a baritone string set and careful amp and pickup choices. Eventually I settled on C# standard as the best compromise of girth and clarity for the stuff I was writing at the time. The band I currently play bass for is tuned to C, so I keep my five and six strings tuned up a half step.

    Once you tune down and get used to it and start writing for it, it's hard to go back, because those riffs really don't feel the same when they're played up in E. Not to mention that your entire setup is different. Thicker strings drive pickups harder, have different timbres, etc. You EQ your amp differently.

    Is it possible to be just as "heavy" in E standard? Sure, totally. I've gone back to E standard on guitar for another band and just finished an EP of my own with the guitars in all fourths (E to F) for fun. But that baritone range is pretty special, I've played and thought and written in it for most of the almost 28 years I've been playing, and it'll always be a part of my voice as a musician.
    Gfkfloyd and GreyMark like this.
  16. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA
    I play with a guitarist (non-metal) who plays a standard-tuned 8 string (regular guitar plus two lower strings - B and F#). I play a 5 string in standard tuning. I do enjoy playing with him, but this only leaves me with so much sonic space (7 notes exactly) below him. In theory, I could down tune further (and there are thicker strings from Kalium that could work), but there aren't too many practical ways of producing these notes (specifically, Ab below B is about all any conventional sound system can produce well). Anyway, if you're playing in a metal genre where most guitarists are down in these ranges, it's difficult to see what role a bass would really play.
  17. Discount Bassy

    Discount Bassy Supporting Member

    Mar 9, 2020
    Right Here.
    I play a baritone PRS SE277 tuned AEADGC, sort of a split between a standard drop and normal 4th bass tuning (yep, I'm a 5 string bassist w/a low B rather than high C) for the upper 5 strings. A good combination of one finger power chords and familiar patterns for scales in riffs and solo. Mediumish .068"-0.014" strings. Not floppy. Good sustain.
  18. chanson

    chanson Supporting Member

    It's usually pretty specific to what sub genre you're playing. Generally speaking, bands who play djent, deathcore, death metal, sludge/doom, etc will play in C or much lower.

    Other sub genres like thrash, power, heavy metal, speed, black metal typically play more close to standard or in standard.

    The reason? Popularity/trends/traditional within that style. Certain bands in whatever style helped to define the sound of a sub genre, and other bands stick with that formula. For a lot of bands in more modern styles, lower tunings means heavier sounding, though this is subjective. It's just a more modern approach than using the same tunings that have been used for decades in rock and metal music.
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
    Wasnex, Tazziedevil and Guild B301 like this.
  19. stigbeve


    Sep 24, 2014
    I just used a 4 string in standard when I played with a guitar player with an 8 string in standard. Sounded great.
  20. mattj1stc

    mattj1stc Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 13, 2009
    Dallas, TX USA
    That's good. It can depend on how/where the guitarist chooses to play. Similar to how a 5+ string bass can still be played like a 4 string, a guitar with additional strings can still be played like a regular 6 string. In my experience, I can say that playing a song that was originally done on instruments in regular tuning with the regular number of strings can sound just fine. However, on original compositions that utilize the lower guitar strings, it is sometimes difficult to find some space to play. As always, part of this depends on the mix and separation of the instruments. As a counter example, I've played a 4 string bass with regular guitars in bad mixes and also struggled to find sonic space.

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