Why do whole bands tune down?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by AGCurry, Dec 23, 2005.

  1. AGCurry


    Jun 29, 2005
    Kansas City
    I've been playing in bands for 40 years, and in that time I've never been in one that even DISCUSSED "tuning down." Now, it seems that it's fairly common.

    What's the deal?

    Is it so they don't have to play barre chords?

    Is it because they wan't the fatness of an E chord but can only reach a D vocally?

    And why haven't I heard about anyone tuning UP?

    I don't understand. Enlighten me.
  2. Vorago

    Vorago (((o)))

    Jul 17, 2003
    Antwerp, Belgium
    It sounds heavier, plus it allows you to play barre chords with one finger, making it easier for the guitarist.

    Cool thing is that an ultra heavy band like DEP uses E tuning exclusively :smug:
  3. justateenpoet

    justateenpoet Have you...killed the Venture brothers!?!?

    May 14, 2005
    In my experience (Hardcore/Metal) tuning down is usually a way for the band to achieve a lower, more agressive sound. A majority of today's heavy bands tune down to get the really crunchy tone that you hear so often.


    Tuning down is not a new thing. There were/are many pieces (written in the key of D major) written for classical guitar that utilize Drop D tuning as a necessity for chord arrangements. Classical guitarists sometimes also use tunings like EADF#BE in an effort to get a sound similar to a lute.

    In the end, altered tunings (for me) are really based on a "What you need vs. What you want" way of thinking. I tune my guitars down to CFA#D#GC because it sounds cool, but I keep my basses in standard tuning because it's what I need for gigs and the like.
  4. Folmeister

    Folmeister Knowledge is Good - Emile Faber Supporting Member

    May 7, 2003
    Tomball, Texas
    I am running into this for the first time in many years of playing. Lots of groups do this, KISS, SRV. . . .the list is endless. As far as I can tell it is about two things:

    1. A slightly fatter sound

    2. Helping vocalists make notes that push their range
  5. Petary791


    Feb 20, 2005
    Michigan, USA
    There's a couple reasons I can think of.

    1. Vocalists can sing lower.
    2. D is normally a darker key.
    3. Lower = heavier for the most part.
  6. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    This is quoted from a metal board and I completely agree:

    "I try not to tune any lower then Eb, it's too easy to sound emptily "heavy" without any real effort or skill in lower tunings. I see them as a crutch personally. I prefer to challenge myself to write heavy sounding riffs in standard tuning."
  7. xyllion

    xyllion Commercial User

    Jan 14, 2003
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Owner, Looperlative Audio Products
    As for tuning up, it has been done also. I've been told that some reggae bands have done it.
  8. I think most bands that tune down below dropped D sound like what my guitarist refers to as "butt rock" ....says they sound like they're dragging their ass on the ground, with all the chug chug style riffs they play......

    .. but then again, I like some of the stuff Chevelle comes up with....they definately sound like they listen to Tool....
  9. Black Sabbath may be what started this trend, but I could be wrong. Their guitarist, Tony Iommi was missing the tips of his fingers due to an accident, so he detuned in order that the strings would have a lower surface tension, and would be easier to fret with less finger pressure.

    I'm in a KISS tribute band, and everything they did live, and most stuff they recorded was a half step down from standard tuning. Not sure if they and other early metal bands picked this up from Sabbath or not, but that seems to be where it started. Sabbath did it out of necessity but it was clear pretty quick that it made them have a heavier, more evil sound.

  10. I see that you've never heard of Sonic Youth's alternate tunings.


    The first two F# are in the same octave (a whole step up from E) and the last two are in the same octave (a half step down from G)

    And down tuning does not always equal "heavier". By Starlight by The Smashing Pumpkins is a beautiful love song written in D tuning, that is, a whole step below standard tuning.
  11. Coutts_is_god

    Coutts_is_god Guest

    Dec 29, 2003
    Windsor, Ont, Canada
    I enjoy 1 step down. Mostly because of Our Lady Peace and Weezer. My band we play in standerd. We have a couple songs that would sound better a step down. Then the band tells me how much longer it will take to detune. Then tune up again, so it really isn't worth the time. Tunning once and jaming for 4 hours is better then tuning 8 times and jaming for 3 hours.
  12. ryco


    Apr 24, 2005
    My band used to tune down a step 'cuz it made it easier to sing
  13. I play in drop D exclusively. And occasionally write things in E. I love the way an open D on bass sounds, especially when you really go crazy on it. It makes some songs easier for guitar players yes, but if you check out Lamb of God, who play in Drop D. They have some real ****ing complex guitar/bass playing playing and they utilize all strings (not just the bottom three). The bassist really amazes me as he doesn all this super fast playing with a pick!
  14. Bryan R. Tyler

    Bryan R. Tyler TalkBass: Usurping My Practice Time Since 2002 Staff Member Administrator Gold Supporting Member

    May 3, 2002
    You don't hear of tuning up because of the existance of capos.
  15. Alvaro Martín Gómez A.

    Alvaro Martín Gómez A. TalkBass' resident Bongo + cowbell player

    Metal bands tune a whole step down for a meaner sound. Tuning the low E down to D is useful for playing power chords with just one finger. Both facts have been already mentioned, but there's a very important one missing: String bendings are much easier. That's why rockers like Ace Frehley and Eddie Van Halen tune their guitars a half step down. That was specially useful for Stevie Ray Vaughan since he liked very heavy strings.
  16. ras1983


    Dec 28, 2004
    Sydney, Australia
    because; unlike bass players; guitarists aren't a very accepting group when it comes to several new ideas and trends; like adding more strings that are tuned down. ;) :bag:

    but then again, many bassplayers just use a four with altered tunings which are actually based on standard tunings like BEAD, ADGC, etc (like stanley).

    i don't want to restart that whole jazz vs rock thing, but adapting the theory - such as arpeggios or modes or pentatonics - to new tunings is quite difficult, hence i can see why it would be easier to use altered tunings if all you do is play power chords or music that wasn't designed with theory in mind.

    imagine playing autumn leaves or blue bossa and your are tuned DADG, it wouldbe difficult initially to adapt the arpeggios and modes to this non-4th tuning.
  17. Dkerwood


    Aug 5, 2005
    Guitar wise, drop D allows a lot more of an "open" feel. I achieve a similar sound by playing an E chord on the 7th fret and letting the E, B, and low E strings ring out. One of the cool things about drop D (besides the one finger barre chord, which I find actually rather irritating) is that you can get somewhat of a "drone" out of the low D. Plus, an open D chord becomes 1-5-1-5-1-3... a very cool sounding voicing. You can change chords and still have a pedal D...

    The biggest drawback I've found is that you become rather locked in to playing your entire set in the key of D.

    As far as other tunings, including tuning up, Jars of Clay retuned their guitars to achieve their unique sound... I think it was EABEBE... and if memory serves, they used the smaller set of a 12 string set of strings to string their guitars. It's called "Nashville Tuning".
  18. AGCurry


    Jun 29, 2005
    Kansas City
    Thanks, guys. I wasn't really asking about alternate tunings, but just tuning all of your strings down by the same interval.

    I do have a couple of baritone guitars which I may tune in Bb, B, or C. But I don't do it for sound, I do it to make it easier to play in a certain key.
  19. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    I think many bands sound 'gimmicky' or 'typical' for tuning lower these days. So many do it these days, the appeal has waned. Like the over-emo music flooding the rock market, this thudding chug has gotten old as well. Can we get back to rockin' now?

    On another note, I play a number of the songs in our set list in open tuning. 'G' mostly(DGDGBD). Some like "Jealous Again", "Let it Bleed" or "Straight to Hell". They may not have their origins in an open tuning but, I can handle it.

    What's funny is that I have been doing this at rehearsal for months and only recently, when the new bass player asked to "check out my guitar" did the secret get out.
  20. the_burk


    Dec 21, 2005
    most often you tune down the whole giutar is to get a heavier more crunchy guitar and bass... AND .. if you wanna play a fast solo / bend strings .. you dont have to press as hard... witch make cool sounds and makes it alot!! faster... if you lower the string height and adjust the truss rod and file down your frets... then you can play malmsteen riffs on a guitar almost by doing nothing.. .

    tune down bass is just to get a lower tone... instead of buying a 5 string base...