WTF is D Standard Tuning? Tutorial & Tips For New Players

D Standard tuning is a great option if you’re going for a heavier sound. Mastodon uses D Standard a lot. Here’s everything you need to know about tuning your guitar down to D Standard…


You can play metal in standard. People claim you can’t or that it doesn’t sound heavy enough. Well, I have two words for you: OPETH and Dillinger Escape Plan. They both play in standard tuning (EADGBE) and they’re both heavier than a tourist bus outta Mississippi.

But if you want a guitar sound that is lower than standard tuning but doesn’t require you to relearn anything, D Standard might be just what the doctor ordered. Mastodon plays in D Standard a lot, for instance, and I think we can agree that they sound pretty huge.

What I like most about D Standard is that it is just like playing in Standard; all the chords and scales and power chords remain the same, despite the fact every string has been tuned down a whole step – this preserves the intervals between the strings (but they sound LOWLIER which is what you want if you want to play chugga-chugga metal.

Because the intervals between the strings are persevered, you can play just as you would in standard. All the shapes and chords and scales remain the same. They will be different notes because each string is tuned down a whole step, and they’ll sound lower, but you don’t need to relearn anything else which is great.

D Standard Tuning

This is how you tune your guitar to D Standard Tuning. If you have a guitar tuner or a tuning app, start on the bottom string and tune it from E down to D, on the next string, you want G, then C, then F, then A, and finally D. Once you’re done it should look like this: DGCFAD.

D Standard Tuning

As you can see, each string is a whole step down from standard. When you play the bottom string open, it is a D instead of an E. If you want to play a power chord, however, it is exactly the same as it is in E Standard. All the pentatonic scales remain exactly the same too.

The notes on the fretboard have moved, however, so on the fifth fret, in standard, you’d be playing A but in D Standard Tuning you’ll be playing G# – you’re a whole step down remember. If you know all the notes on the bottom E string in standard, a quick way to know where you are is to just move the note down one.

D Standard Tuning is great for metal and heavier music. It’s also good if your band’s singer struggles to hit higher notes; this is why Metallica and Black Sabbath often play in D Standard Tuning live – the vocals don’t need to strain quite as hard to hit the higher notes. D Standard Tuning also sounds lower and, arguably, “heavier” than E Standard – although both tunings in the right hands can sound heavy as hell.

Bands That Use D Standard Tuning

Because D Standard is similar to standard tuning, unlike drop tunings, plenty of bands have used this tuning to great effect over the years. Mastodon uses D Standard quite a bit and so too does Metallica, as well as CKY, Judas Priest, Dream Theatre, and Cradle of Filth to name just a few bands off the top of my head.

Bands looking for an even heavier sound often tune down even further to C Standard. This being a whole step down from D Standard. Again, Mastodon uses this tuning quite a bit. Josh Homme did too on early Queens of The Stone Age and KYUSS. Sleep’s Matt Pike uses C Standard on most of SLEEP’s discography.

D Standard is great because you get all the versatility of standard tuning, everything remains in the same place, just a whole step down, and you get a heavier, beefier sound that lends itself really well to heavier music like metal, doom, and stoner rock.

Is D Standard The Same As Drop D?

D Standard is NOT the same Drop D tuning. With Drop D tuning, you’re only tuning down the bottom string a whole step from E to D. The rest of the strings stay the same, so Drop D tuning looks like this: DADGBE.

The upshot of Drop D tuning is that you can play power chords with one finger, no need to barre. Because only the bottom string has been tuned down in drop d, you will need to relearn your positions for your scales. The top string is tuned down a whole step but the other strings remain the same as they are in standard. This means the interval between the D and the A are not preserved, unlike in D Standard.

Which Sounds Heavier?

Drop D and D Standard both sound heavy but if you’re after a generally lower tone, you’ll want to go with D Standard. Why? Simple: all the strings are tuned down a whole step in D Standard. In Drop D, only the top string is tuned down a whole step – the rest of the strings are the same as they are in standard.

For this reason, you get a lower and “heavier” sound with D Standard. You can also play chords easily and you do not need to relearn your scales. Oftentimes, this makes playing fast or shredding through scales easier in D Standard. But Drop D does have its benefits such as one-finger power chords which are great for faster riffs.

Two of the biggest bands on the planet that use Drop D tuning are TOOL and Lamb of God. Melvins use Drop D too. All of these bands are VERY different but it does go to show just what you can do with Drop D tuning. Both TOOL and Lamb of God sound huge, so if you are after something that sounds like either of these awesome bands, you should definitely check out Drop D.

Best Strings For D Standard Tuning?

Because you’re tuning your strings down a whole step in D Standard, there will be less tension on the string compared to standard tuning. For this reason, you’ll want to use either 10’s or 11’s – both are fine for D Standard and Drop D tuning.

The best strings for D Standard will depend a lot on the scale length of your guitar too. If you’re using a Les Paul-style guitar, you’ll want to use 11-48 strings. With a Fender-style scale length, you should use 11-54 strings. This is my personal preference. My advice would be to try a few different variants and see which you prefer.

Most electric guitars in standard tuning will happily tune down to D Standard. I’ve never had any issues with this. The only time you might run into problems is if you’re using really thin strings. But even then it’ll probably still work fine.

Check out our guide to the best guitars for playing metal and doom/stoner rock – we have options for every price point and budget.

Richard

Richard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.

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