I Gotcher Modal Tunings ... Right Here.
An Original Tutorial by Alan Horvath
The very first altered tuning I ever learned, and may be the most common-used form of altering a normal guitar tuning, is the Dropped-D tuning -- E A D G B D ... which happens by simply dropping the high-E string to a D note, and playing as you normally would. A standard C chord-fingering creates a C9 chord ... it's absolute heaven. The G chord has a brighter character, and the D chord puffs it's chest ... the Em falls into an Em7 ... making you feel like you've suddenly sprouted wings.
The standard rule of thumb is, "Don't fret the changed string, just let it drone."
Another common dropped tuning is to also lower the low-E string to a D, so you wind up with D A D G B D ... check out Neil Young's "Harvest Moon"; Buffalo Springfield's "Bluebird"; The Doors' "The End"; Nirvana's "All Apologies"; The Beatles' "Dear Prudence"; I could go on! Don McLean's "Vincent" presents another variation: D G D G B E
Basically, if one or two strings are lowered in pitch, it constitutes a dropped tuning. I never heard of a "Raised" tuning ... but there are no rules I know of.
E A D G B D
D A D G B D
D G D G B E : Don McLean / "Vincent"
The first modal tuning I ever learned was D A D G A D. It may be the oldest one around, coming out of traditional English and Irish folk styles.
Basically, "modal" tunings are any non-chordal tunings. That is to say they don't constitute a chord of and by themselves, as do "Open" tunings. Here are most of the ones I'm familiar with:
An Open tuning is any tuning that produces a chord when strummed "Open" -- meaning no left-hand action; no chord-fingerings being used. Usually Major or Minor chords are applied ... sometimes 7th chords ... but 6ths can be transcendent, and you can modify the Majors and Minors till the cows come home. I'm convinced at this stage of the game, however, that there are no "new" guitar tunings or variations. I believe every musician in the world has, or will, come to that place where he just KNOWS he invented theeee new chord! But such a place is always found out to have been visited before ... rest assured. Have at it, though! Open tunings are a real blast!:
This one's simple. If you use a capo, you are creating a transposed tuning ... but most commonly, it involves dropping the whole tuning of the guitar down a half-step. This is something very common with Nashville players, where I picked up the habit ... and also with Heavy Metal players. The "Horvath Open G Tuning" is, technically speaking, a Transposed Open G Tuning ... because I often tune down a half-step, to an Open F# Tuning: F# F# C# F# A# C# ... or, I guess you could also call it an Open Gb Tuning: Gb Gb Db Gb Bb Db ... I call it, "An Open G Tuning; down a half step." and then I watch the other musicians wince!
I was doing a gig at "Stubb's" in Austin, Texas (late July '96) ... with hit songwriters Steve Dukes, Mike Puryear, and Chris Wahl ... a writers-in-the-round style performance for the Austin Songwriters Association. While I was performing one of my songs, Chris was attempting to jam along and finding NO success with his efforts. I watched him go for a note ... then, do a sudden double-take on his fret position ... look over at me ... then back at his guitar and finding absolutely zero "breadcrumbs in the woods" -- he's use to playing in D, or G maybe ... but never F#! When we got off stage, he leaned towards me with the most inquisitive look on his face and, with a deep, searching look, said "Man, what the hell key was that in!!!" I laughed hard and said, "F sharp!" with a look in my eye that said "you just couldn't find it, could ya?" He looked back at me like I was from New York City, or somethin' ... and finished packing his gear. Understand -- I ain't bustin' Chris' here. His performances and songs are always the most uplifting, memorable experiences -- it was just "one of those moments on stage" I guess I'll always remember. Transposed tunings, indeed!
The Nashville Tuning
This one is hot! I learned this from a producer in Nashville - a very good friend of mine, Scotty Turner:
To elaborate, you buy a set of strings for 12-string guitar ... take out the six thin strings for E A D G B E / 6 5 4 3 2 1 ... and install them on your 6-string guitar ... tuning the #6, #5, #4, and #3 strings an octave higher than normal. It's the brightest acoustic sound on the planet! ... and works beautifully on overdubs, as an accent on a regular guitar sound.
Gilmour (Pink Floyd) made a different version of the Nashville Tuning when he cut "Hey You" ... by putting the thin high-E string (#1) on the low-E string's position (#6) -- making the bottom-E two octaves higher, rather than the usual one octave higher. Cool!