Pete Prown is a “noted American guitaraist and music journalist” who has written many guitar books including ‘Legends of Rock Guitar’ which he co-wrote with author and guitarist HP Newquist and ‘Shred!: The Ultimate Guide to Warp-Speed Guitar’ which he co-wrote with Rich Maloof. Pete is the GEAR EDITOR at VINTAGE GUITAR MAGAZINE and is also the leader of the “progressive rock” band Guitar Garden. Pete’s guitar music can be found at www.cdbaby.com/Artist/GuitarGarden.
HOW LOW Can YOU Go? by PETE PROWN
The Art of Drop Tunings and Heavy Strings
One of the hippest sonic innovations over the past decade or two has been the popular use of drop tunings, notably among heavy rock, metal, and alternative players. The advantage of drop tunings is that it pushes the range of standard-scale guitars down into lower ranges–not quite to that of the electric bass or Fender Bass VI, but roughly in the same territory as longer-scale baritone guitars.
To make things more interesting, this bottom-range of guitar riffing is not just a one size fits all situation. Today’s axemen routinely tune their guitars down to drop-D tuning (low to high, D-A-D-G-B-E) or the monstrously low drop-C (C-G-C-F-A-D). Acoustic pickers may notice this is the same drop-D tuning that has been used in flattop circles for decades, but rockers have realized that it sounds like Godzilla on a bad-hair day if you use a solidbody and add heaps of heavy gain. One last trick for drop tunings is to use the infamous one-finger barre chord across the bottom three strings. This evokes those deep, evil-sounding chunk chords that you hear on many modern metal recordingsthink In Flames, Avenged Sevenfold, or Slayer here. For even greater chunkin’ pleasure, some players even tune to the apolcalyptic drop-B (B-F#-B-E-G#-C#). Mixed with ample crunch, it sounds like you’re standing in the heart of a volcano.
To address this booming new market, string makers such as Ernie Ball, D’Addario and DR now produce heavy gauge strings specifically for guitarists seeking this skullcrushing sound. Why, you may ask, does one want heavy sets? Somewhere along the line, guitarists realized that in order to tune down without having their strings floppin’ off the fretboard, heavy sets were the perfect solution. Take a set of .011s or .012s and tune it down a whole step or two and suddenly, the strings feel like a set of .010s or .009s. Get the picture? Pretty cool, huh.
From DR strings