One of the most exciting things about the guitar is the ability to change your tuning for different sounds. This can be a great way to get closer to the sound in your head, or even create new ways of making music.
Drop tunings are very popular and there are many variations. Drop A tuning is probably one of the most extreme and requires changing all strings to accomplish. But once it has been done, the fat and chunky tones you can get are perfect for metal and other styles that use high-gain electric guitar distortion.
In this article, we are going to explore drop A guitar tuning and how you can use it to get some of the best sounds it has to offer.
What Is Drop A Tuning?
As you may be aware, the guitar is normally tuned to what is called standard tuning. This configuration on all six of the strings is EADGBE.
Drop A tuning is much different and requires lowering all six strings down a fourth or 2.5 steps. The lowest or 6th string is tuned down another one whole step beyond that. This is similar to Drop D except that all the strings need to be tuned down if starting with standard tuning.
Once tuned to drop A, your guitar should look like this, starting with the lowest string:
As you can see, this makes for a very low-sounding tuning that is ideal for heavier styles of music. But drop A is an extreme tuning, as the string tension is significantly reduced. Some string thicknesses don’t play nice with this tuning, as they become very loose.
When this happens, the strings are likely to buzz against the frets when you play, creating an undesirable sound. To remedy this, a thicker string set would be necessary, something like a medium or heavy set (.012 – .056 gauge) would help prevent the fret buzz.
This can also have a great effect on getting a thicker sound, which is perfect if you’re playing metal that needs a fat or chunky tone.
If that doesn’t fix it, then your guitar might also need to have the action adjusted to raise the strings farther away from the fretboard.
Make sure to check out our other tuning guides:
What Would You Use Drop A Tuning For?
Drop A tuning is mostly used for heavier styles of music, as the low-end sound suits metal and other distorted genres well. This is the primary reason why a guitarist would use drop A tuning. But it can be used for anything that needs a deeper or darker tone.
Some vocalists with deeper voices use drop A guitar tuning because it makes it easier to hit certain notes.
This gives them a more comfortable pitch to sing to, which can also help prevent them from straining their voice.
Drop A also makes it easier to play the guitar because you are now able to Barr three strings with one finger for chords. This makes it easier to play chords that are normally more difficult in standard tuning.
You will also find that this tuning is popular with 7-string guitars as one of the many variations available.
How To Tune To Drop A
The best way to tune your guitar to drop A is by using a tuner. This will help ensure that each string is tuned properly and in the right order. Drop A tuning requires some rather large changes to each of the six strings, it can become easy to get confused if doing it without one.
If you don’t have a tuner, or would prefer to tune by ear, the process is still possible. But it becomes more difficult and time-consuming the lower you tune the strings.
The process of tuning to drop A is the same in either case. To perform the tuning, here are a few steps to get started from standard:
- Begin by tuning all six strings down to a perfect fourth. For example, your low “E” string in standard tuning would become “B” when lowered by a 4th. Your strings should now be tuned like this: B, E, A, D, F#, B.
- Then tune the low string (which is now a B) down an additional step to A.
- Recheck all strings and adjust them as necessary, as some may have gone out of tune with the large tension changes.
This is all that is required to tune to drop A. If you are familiar with the way a baritone guitar is tuned, then this should be very easy for you.
It’s also worth noting that electric guitars will tune up well in drop A with a bit of tweaking and string changes. Acoustic guitars might not work as well with this tuning, but this depends on the model and build quality.
Power Chords and Drop A Tuning
Now that you are tuned to drop A, many changes need to be learned. The first is the use of chords and how they are played. If you’re into metal, then learning to play power chords in drop A is crucial with electric guitars.
If you have ever used drop D tuning, then you will be happy to learn that this is similar. Drop A uses the same barring method of 3 strings on one fret with a single finger. The chord patterns can be used here in similar ways.
In the pictures below, you will see an example of 3 power chords:
- Open A
There are many more chords available like this, later on in the article, you will find a fretboard diagram with all the notes. This will help you determine the root notes that can be used to play more power chords.
Scales In Drop A
Drop A guitar tuning gives you a lot of new opportunities when it comes to scales. You now have more opportunity for depth in your playing and tones.
The first thing you need to do is learn the new notes on the fretboard. This will help you understand where each note is and how they relate to one another.
In the picture below, you will find a fretboard diagram with all the notes in drop A guitar tuning.
Starting with the major scale, you will find they are arranged in the following notes:
When you consider these notes on the fretboard diagram above, you will see that the scale flows perfectly and is similar to standard tuning, just shifted.
The minor scale in drop A is very interesting as it doesn’t contain any flats or sharps. It consists of the following notes:
This makes it very convenient when learning this new tuning and the minor scale. When you consider what this looks like on the fretboard, the picture below puts it all into perspective.
Drop A Tuning Songs
When getting started with drop A, it’s always best to have a few song references to help. This will help you get the feel and flow of the new tuning arrangement when memorizing notes. A few good examples of guitar songs that can help are found below.
Alone In A Room by Asking Alexandria
Asking Alexandria has a thick, fat sound in the song Alone in a room thanks to drop A guitar tuning. It has both clean and distorted parts, which add to the depth of what this tuning is capable of.
You can find the tabs here: alone in a room tabs.
Sarcastrophe by Slipknot
Slipknot uses many drop tuning configurations. Drop A is used quite a bit, and the song Sarcastrophe is one of them. The tone in this song has depth, but it’s also more mid-heavy, with a unique brightness to the sound.
The tabs can be found here: Sarcastrophe tabs.
Layers Of Time by Lacuna Coil
Layers of time by Lacuna Coil is another great song in drop A that has a pretty heavy feel and presence to it. Lacuna Coil has only gotten heavier with each album as time goes by, which is quite a bit different from most bands.
Find the tabs here: layers of time tabs.
Wormholes by Volumes
Volumes are a progressive metal core band that uses a lot of drop guitar tunings, but this particular song is in drop A. It’s a little more on the technical side and gives you an idea of what this tuning can do for a more progressive sound.
You can find the tabs here: wormholes tabs.
Stacked Actors by Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters has done something a bit different in the case of drop A. In the song Stacked Actors the guitar is tuned down but only one string. The 6th is tuned down to A. The rest of the guitar strings are tuned to standard. This is an interesting tone and that is why the song has a unique sound. They aren’t even a metal band!
You can find tabs right here at Ultimate Guitar: stacked actors tabs.
Additional Songs That Use Drop A Tuning
A few other songs that have been created using drop A guitar tuning are:
- Supremacy by Muse
- The Heretic Anthem by Slipknot
- King of all Excuses by Staind
- Welcome to the fold by Filter
- Sorceress by Opeth
These should also be added to your list of songs to work on while you learn and memorize drop A notes and scales.
Bands That Use Drop A
Many bands use drop A tuning, we suggest you explore some of their songs and learn a few. This can help you with new sounds and techniques in this awesome tuning arrangement. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Breakdown of Sanity
- Bring Me the Horizon
- Coal Chamber
- Five Finger Death Punch
- Impending Doom
- Of Mice & Men
- Our Last Night
- Parkway Drive
- Rings Of Saturn
- Suicide Silence
- The Devil Wears Prada
We hope you have enjoyed our exploration of drop A tuning. This is a great tool for guitarists of all levels to add to their arsenal. With the help of this guide, we hope you feel more comfortable learning and using drop A in your music.
What does drop tuning mean?
Drop tuning is the act of removing a guitar or bass from standard tuning and lowering the string tension. This will then lower the notes and tones along the fretboard.
Will drop A tuning damage my guitar?
No, tuning a guitar to drop A will not damage it in any way. You will find that because of the low tension, the strings may buzz against the frets. To resolve this, a thicker string set or an adjustment to the neck and action may be required.