Drop tuning involves dropping the strings down pitches to explore a whole different tonal shape and be able to do things like easily fret across strings with a single finger. This also includes alternate tunings which may in part or completely involve lowering the pitch of the strings from standard tuning (EADGBE). Playing in drop-tunings has been used by metal and rock players for decades and one of the most popular forms involves just dropping the big E down a step to D (which can be achieved by dropping it down until the 7th fret of your E string matches the pitch of your open A). Songs like Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” and Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” use this tuning.
Here are the full step drop tunings.
Of course lowering the pitch of a guitar that was built for standard to several steps lower can create all sorts of problems. The tone can get muddy with a sloppy sound and strings that flop around with little tension. Adam Gotch’s excellent article goes over the many adjustments you can make to your guitar to help counteract these issues. Using the right string gauge is also important since too light a string gauge can cause these issues. Another consideration is the pickups, especially when you are getting below D tuning. Here’s a list of some of the best pickups for drop tuning.
This pickup remains really tight even with significantly low tunings. In fact, many people consider it the best pickup for low tunings. It has a great deal of treble and is a little less hot than the Duncan Distortion which helps it maintain clarity/articulation and not become over-saturated. It’s also featured on the Schecter C-1 EX Baritone that uses B tuning.
The Distortion has a ton of aggressive output and ample clarity. Even down several steps it maintains that raw distortion without becoming muddy or losing definition.
The tightness of the Alternative 8 sounds great in low tunings and it maintains plenty of upper-mids. Recommended for those with a warmer wood like Mahogany or Basswood and those with rosewood fretboards.
The Custom utilizes a Ceramic magnet and has a nice midrange punch. This helps it retain articulation and clarity even with heavy distortion and lower tuning.
The Blackouts series features a differential preamp to provide a more organic tone. They produce a bigger, louder tone and come in 7 and 8 string versions. The EMTY Blackouts (also available in 7-string) have a little more high end which helps with lower tunings.
The Invader combines triple ceramic magnets and can best be described as hot, loud and very heavy. It sounds great down to drop C, and lower if you have a higher string gauge. The Invader is perfect for those who want a deep metal chug.
The Nazgul features a ceramic magnet and a special wind that produce a heavy distortion. Even with such heaviness it doesn’t get muddy or mushy with a lower tuning, it retains quite a bit of articulation.
The Black Winter is the newest addition to the SD line. Featuring a unique construction, it has aggressive distortion and quite a bit of high-end saturation that balances well in lower tunings.
The Pegasus was designed specifically for 7 & 8 string guitar players for full sonic richness, articulation and clarity. The extended definition in the mids and treble help prevent getting muddy with low tunings.
Every pickup mentioned is also available in 7-string and the Pegasus, Nazgul, Sentient and Blackouts are available in 8-string. The Black Winter 7/8 string is available only from the Seymour Duncan Custom Shop.
Here’s a demo that shows many of our 6-string pickups that is done in Bb.
If you play in drop-tuning, what do you tune to and what pickups work well for you?