One of the most exciting things about the guitar is the ability to change your tuning. 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. It requires changing the pitch of all the strings to accomplish it.
But once it has been accomplished, the fat and chunky tones you can get are perfect for metal! Plus, other styles that use high-gain electric guitar distortion.
In this article, we are going to learn about drop A guitar tuning. Let’s explore 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 from standard.
Once tuned to drop A, your guitar should look like this, starting with the lowest string:
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 Would You Use Drop A Tuning For?
Drop A tuning is mostly used for heavier styles of music. 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. This is 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. 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! It’s 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 sequence. Drop A tuning requires significant adjustments to each of the six strings. It can be easy to get confused if you’re doing it without a tuner.
If you don’t have a tuner or prefer to do it by ear, it’s still possible to achieve Drop A. But it becomes more challenging and time-consuming the lower you tune the strings.
Regardless of the method you choose, the process of tuning to Drop A is the same. Here are the steps to get started from standard tuning:
- Begin by tuning all six strings down a perfect fourth. For instance, your low E string in standard tuning would become “B” when lowered by a fourth. Your strings should now be tuned like this: B, E, A, D, F#, B.
- Then tune the lowest string (which is now a B) down an additional step to A.
- Recheck all strings and adjust as necessary. Some may have gone out of tune due to the significant tension changes.
And that’s all you need to tune to Drop A. If you’re familiar with the tuning of a baritone guitar, this should be quite easy for you.
It’s worth noting that while electric guitars can handle Drop A tuning with some tweaking and string changes, acoustic guitars might not fare as well. However, the suitability of this tuning for an acoustic guitar will depend on its model and build quality.
Power Chords and 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 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, C, and D. Look at how one finger is able to shape the chord.
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.
Starting with the major scale, you will find they are arranged in the following notes:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. But gives you an idea of what this tuning can do for a progressive sound.
You can find the tabs here: wormholes.
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.
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 my favorites:
- Breakdown of Sanity.
- Bring Me the Horizon.
- Coal Chamber.
- Five Finger Death Punch.
- Parkway Drive.
- The Devil Wears Prada.
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, we hope you feel more comfortable learning and using drop A in your music.
What string gauge is 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.