Written by: Ed Howson
Published: 31 Aug 2016 - 12:00 AM


Your guide to tuning lower than a man's standards at 4am...


You’re in a band, and you want to be the heaviest motherfuckers out there, so you down-tune to drop Z and hit the brown note with your amp turned up to 11. Today we’re going to quickly talk about guitar tunings, and which one makes the heaviest sound.

We’ve entered the age of the heaviest guitar arms race, and this cold war is limboing to lower and lower tunings. Remember the 90s? Remember when ‘Walk’ by Pantera was heavy as shit, and it melted your face off? 

Roses are red, violets are blue, when I listen to Pantera, my neighbours do too. 

‘Walk’, ‘A New Level’, ‘Becoming’, ‘Five Minutes Alone’, and ‘I’m Broken’ all used a tuning that was a whole step down from standard (D, G, C, F, A, D), which for the time was fucking hostile. Pun intended. Even Rage Against The Machine was heavy as fuck, using a half step down, along with the Misfits and mid 90s Hardcore bands like Vision Of Disorder and Crown of Thornz.

It was during the 90s that the tuning wars really began, when bands were implementing C and C# tunings, and a number of bands started using 7 string guitars. The 7 string became prominent after Korn’s debut self-titled album in 1994, using a drop A tuning (A, E, A, D, G, B, E) and other slight variations. The 7 String guitar dates back around 230 years, and most commonly linked with Russian (Gypsy) guitar and Brazilian guitar, and in the last century has been used primarily as a jazz guitar. The seven allowed for a lower low end, while still retaining the same high end as a standard six string. Another common tuning that became well used in the 90s was the ‘drop B’ (B, F#, B, E, G#, C#) exemplified in Slipknot’s first single ‘(sic)’ in 1999. Now these tunings held us over for a decade, but it seems that recently there have been a number of bands tuning even lower, and getting guitars with even more strings. 

With guitars tuned lower than drunk man’s standards at 4am, it renders the bass practically useless. Both instruments will be sitting in the same frequency range, and they will be indistinguishable. Which works well for most bass players these days, who are generally shit and shouldn’t be heard anyway. When the bass compliments the guitar in a mix it sounds much heavier, because the same notes are being hit in a broader frequency range... Fucking science, yo.

Is a low tuning really necessary to be heavy? You can still totally shred in standard tuning, or even just drop D. Look at Lamb Of God’s ’Now You’ve Got Something To Die For’ for instance, that could induce a premature birth. The two most common tunings in metalcore (I use that genre label very, very loosely) are Drop C and Drop B, which both offer heaviness with clarity. Drop C is used by such bands as Bring Me The Horizon, Miss May I, August Burns Red, Of Mice and Men, The Amity Affliction, Attila, and the Ghost Inside. 

Take a look at that list of bands, and compare them for heaviness... not the same, are they? Take TAA and MMI for instance. Both use the same tuning, both bass players who sing clean vocals, both have a dedicated screamer, both have two guitarists (or in Amity’s case, used to have two). One is brutal as fuck, and the other is about as hardcore as a box of butterflies. Another example of this would be Korn and Thy Art Is Murder. Both use Ibanez 7 sting guitars, both are tuned to drop A, but it’s the playing style and song composition that changes how a band sounds, not the tuning of the guitar. Just remember boys and girls, if you are going to down-tune, go to heavier gauge strings that will suit that tuning... otherwise it will be like tremolo picking sloppy joe’s with a flaccid dick. Also remember to intonate your guitar, otherwise your notes will be hitting sharper than a junky’s needle.

Any number of things can change your sound, from the way you use your pick, string gauge, pedals, amps, EQ etc. So, perhaps the reason you can’t make your songs sound heavy is because you’re actually a little bitch wrapped in dark clothing. But whatever you pick as your tuning, don’t be a wanker about it, because no one actually cares how low you can go. Next time someone is being a tuning snob and says, “Drop C? Pfft, I’m in drop E...”, give them a swift kick in the dick and play a riff so mental that they’ll actually go insane.

Keep rocking, you maniacs.