Drop A Guitar Tuning: Metal’s Secret Weapon

Alternate tunings offer guitarists new possibilities, moving beyond the limits of standard tuning. Drop A tuning is one such alternative that changes the guitar’s sound, producing deeper and more powerful tones.

This Killer Rig article will explain how to set up your guitar in Drop A tuning, discuss its use in different musical genres, and explore the advantages and disadvantages of this tuning.

The goal is to give you a better understanding of Drop A guitar tuning, helping you decide whether to use it in your own playing.

Drop A Tuning by String

This table is a great way to get started with drop A. It provides standard tuning alongside drop A to help you set up your guitar:

String NumberStandard TuningDrop A Tuning
6th (Low E)EA
5thAE
4thDA
3rdGD
2ndBF#
1st (High E)EB

What Is Drop A Guitar Tuning?

Drop A lowers each string on the guitar by a perfect fourth from the standard tuning. This includes an additional full step down on the low E string to reach A.

This tuning is popular in genres like heavy and death metal for its deeper, more robust sound.

While Drop A is often associated with seven-string guitars, where the lowest one is tuned from B to A, it can also be applied to six-string models.

In this case, every string is tuned down a perfect fourth, and the lowest one goes an extra full step down to A.

When adopting this arrangement, it’s crucial to change the string gauge and ensure the guitar is properly set up for the new tuning.

How to Set Up Drop A Tuning

Setting up your guitar in Drop A tuning involves a series of steps that not only change the pitch of the strings but may also require adjustments to your guitar’s setup for optimal performance. Here’s how to go about it:

Tools Needed

  • Chromatic tuner
  • String winder (optional)
  • Capo (optional for stabilizing tuning)

Steps to Achieve Drop A Tuning

  1. Start with Standard Tuning: Before you begin, make sure your guitar is in standard tuning (E A D G B e).
  2. Tune Down the Strings: Using a chromatic tuner, tune each string down a perfect fourth. The new tuning will be (B E A D F# b).
  3. Additional Step for Low E String: The low E string needs to be tuned down an additional full step to reach A. So, the final tuning will be (A E A D F# b).
  4. Check Intonation: After tuning, play some chords and scales to check if the guitar sounds in tune across the fretboard. If it doesn’t, you may need to adjust the intonation.
  5. Adjust String Tension: Tuning down can make the strings looser. If you find the tension too low for comfortable playing, consider switching to heavier gauge strings.
  6. Fine-Tune: Use the chromatic tuner to fine-tune each string. It’s common for strings to drift out of tune slightly during the initial adjustment.
  7. Check the Setup: Lower tunings may require adjustments to the guitar’s truss rod, action, or even the nut and saddle. If you’re not comfortable making these adjustments yourself, consult a professional.

Power Chords In Drop A Tuning

Now that you are tuned to drop A, many changes need to be considered. 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, 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 diagrams below, you will see an example of 3 power chords: open A, C, and D. Look at how one finger is able to shape the entire chord.

Open A Chord Diagram in Drop A Tuning
C chord diagram in Drop A Tuning
D chord diagram in drop A Tuning

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 possibilities 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:

Drop A guitar fretboard note diagram

Major Scale

Starting with the major scale, you will find they are arranged in the following notes:

  • A
  • B
  • C#
  • D
  • E
  • F#
  • G#

Consider these notes on the fretboard diagram above. You will see that the scale flows perfectly and is similar to standard tuning, just shifted.

Minor Scale

The minor scale in drop A is very interesting as it doesn’t contain any flats or sharps. It consists of the following notes:

  • A
  • B
  • C
  • D
  • E
  • F
  • G

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 Minor Scale Guitar Fretboard Diagram

Popular Songs in Drop A Tuning

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 – 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.

Sarcastrophe – 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 specific brightness to the sound.

The tabs can be found here: Sarcastrophe.

Layers Of Time – 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.

Wormholes – 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. But gives you an idea of what this tuning can do for a progressive sound.

You can find the tabs here: wormholes.

Stacked Actors – 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.

Other Bands That Play In 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 my favorites:

  • Breakdown of Sanity.
  • Bring Me the Horizon.
  • Chimaira.
  • Coal Chamber.
  • Five Finger Death Punch.
  • Parkway Drive.
  • RED.
  • Slipknot.
  • The Devil Wears Prada.
  • Volumes.

Advantages of Drop A Tuning

Switching to Drop A tuning offers a range of benefits that can enhance your playing and broaden your musical horizons. Here are some of the key advantages:

Tonal Depth

  1. Lower Pitch Range: Drop A tuning extends the lower range of the guitar, allowing for deeper, more resonant tones. This can add a new dimension to your music, especially in genres that value a heavier sound.
  2. Rich Harmonics: The lower tuning can produce richer harmonics and overtones, adding complexity and texture to your sound.

Playability

  1. Simplified Chord Shapes: One of the most immediate benefits is the simplification of power chord shapes. With the lower strings tuned to a perfect fifth interval, power chords can be played with ease. It’s simply a single finger across multiple strings.
  2. Easier Riff Construction: The tuning can facilitate the creation of complex riffs, as the lower string can act as a constant pedal tone. This frees up the other strings for melodic and harmonic exploration.

Versatility

  1. Genre Flexibility: While most commonly associated with heavier genres, Drop A tuning is versatile enough to be used in a variety of musical styles, including experimental and ambient music.
  2. Combination with Other Effects: The tuning pairs well with various effects like distortion, delay, and reverb, allowing for a wide range of sonic experimentation.

Disadvantages of Drop A Tuning

While Drop A tuning offers numerous advantages, it’s important to be aware of the potential downsides and challenges that come with it. Here’s a rundown of some issues you might encounter:

Technical Adjustments

  1. String Tension: Lowering the pitch can result in reduced string tension. This may affect playability and require a switch to heavier gauge strings.
  2. Intonation Issues: The change in string tension can also impact intonation, necessitating adjustments to the guitar’s setup.
  3. Truss Rod Adjustments: The altered tension may require tweaking the truss rod to maintain proper neck alignment, which can be a complex task if you’re not experienced.

Genre Limitations

  1. Not Suitable for All Genres: Drop A is most effective in heavier genres and may not be the best fit for styles that require a brighter, cleaner sound.
  2. Learning Curve: If you’re accustomed to standard tuning, the switch to Drop A can initially be disorienting, requiring time to adapt to new chord shapes and scales.

Equipment Constraints

  1. Amplification: Not all amplifiers handle lower frequencies well, so you may need to consider this when using Drop A tuning.
  2. Pedal Compatibility: Some effects pedals are optimized for standard tuning and may not produce the desired sound when used with Drop A.

Being aware of these challenges allows you to take proactive steps to mitigate them, whether it’s adjusting your guitar setup, choosing the right equipment, or dedicating time to get comfortable with the new tuning.

Conclusion

I hope you have enjoyed this 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, I hope you feel more comfortable learning and using drop A in your music.

FAQs

Why are my String Loose when Drop Tuning?

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 fix this, a thicker string set would be necessary. Something like a medium or heavy set would help prevent the fret buzz.

But a thicker string set can provide a wider sound. This is perfect if you’re playing metal that needs a fat or chunky tone.

The low end of your tone will be improved, which is normally what a player using this tuning is going for.

If that doesn’t fix it, then your guitar might also need to have the action adjusted. You need to raise the strings farther away from the fretboard.

What strings are best for drop A?

String gauge for Drop A tuning largely depends on the type of guitar you’re using and your personal preferences in terms of playability and tone.

However, as a general guideline, thicker strings are often preferred for lower tunings like Drop A to maintain tension and improve tone.

For electric guitars, many players opt for a heavy or “baritone” string set, which might range from .012 to .060 or even higher. For example, a common set could be .012, .016, .020, .034, .046, .060.

Remember that using heavier gauge strings might require some adjustments to your guitar’s nut, bridge, and truss rod to accommodate the increased tension.

It’s often a good idea to consult with a professional luthier if you’re unsure about making these adjustments.

Will drop tuning damage my guitar?

Drop tuning itself will not damage your guitar. However, it does change the tension on the neck and can affect intonation and action.

These are the height of the strings above the fretboard and the guitar’s overall tuning over the length of the neck. If these changes are significant, it can make the guitar feel different to play.

If you frequently switch between standard and drop tunings, especially ones as low as A, it could potentially lead to some wear and tear over time due to the constant changes in tension. However, this is typically minor and part of the normal use of a guitar.

Some guitars, especially higher-end models, are built to withstand changes in tuning and string tension better than others. If you’re planning on using drop tunings frequently, it’s worth considering a guitar that’s designed to handle it well.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!