Frequently Asked Guitar Questions
written by Travis*
This FAQ is meant to address some common questions about tuning to C and playing Queens songs. If you want to contribute anything to it, please send it in.
1. How to tune to C, both with and without the use of a tuner.
To do it right you'll really need a tuner - a chromatic tuner to be precise. A chromatic tuner is one that can display whatever note it hears, not just the typical E-A-D-G-B-E of a regular guitar tuning. The Boss TU-12H tuner is great as is the Boss TU-2 pedal tuner, which looks just like a normal stompbox, but it's a tuner. It also can be used to power your other effects if you have 'em. A ‘C‘ tuning is two whole steps lower than standard E. This keeps the intervals between the different strings the same, the tuning is just voiced lower. So you should tune to--
That's how it will read on your chromatic tuner. NOTE: A# and D# can also be referred to as Bb and Eb. They are the same thing.
# = sharp
b = flat
Without A Tuner:
Here is a way to tune from an E to a C by ear - it's kinda tricky, but possible. In standard E fret the 5th string at the 3rd fret (the 2nd dot on the fret board). You could also fret the 3rd string at the 5th fret (same note one octave higher). That's your C. Tune the open 6th string till it is one octave lower than the C on the 5th string at the 3rd fret ( 2 octaves on the C on the 3rd string at the 5th fret). Now tune the guitar the way you would normally by fretting the 6th string at the 5th fret and bring the 5th string to pitch. Then fret the 5th string at the 5th fret and bring the 4th string to pitch. Fret the 4th string at the 5th fret and bring the 3rd string to pitch. Fret the 3rd string at the 4th fret and bring 2nd string to pitch. Finally fret the 2nd string at the 5th fret and bring the first string to pitch.
I don't recommend this 'cause strings tuned to E are usually small gauge strings. They will not have enough tension on them once they are tuned to C. They will be floppy, sound like crap and it's really not good for your neck to do this with out making some adjustments (see #3 below).
2. Why tune to C at all?
It's a much lower voicing that your standard E. It has a very heavy feel to it. It's also much easier to sing to for certain voice registers. Certain Black Sabbath songs were in C because it sounded good with Ozzy's voice.
Kyuss tuned to C (and soometimes lower) 'cause they liked it.
3. The risks of keeping a guitar tuned to C when the guitar isn't made to handle it and what you can do to keep your guitar in good shape.
If properly set up there are no risks at all in keeping a guitar tuned to C. That being said there are a few things you’ll need to do. 1st you'll need to get some heavier strings. Since the C tuning is so much lower than the standard E tuning, the thicker strings will allow more tension. If you try it with regular gauge strings, they will be floppy, loose and not hold their tune very well. The heavier the strings the better. Several companies offer large gauge strings. The string gauge should be at least a .012 - .056 gauge and you want the 3rd string to be wound as opposed to plain steel. Some companies even make strings that are made to be tuned low. Find a set you like, and you’re on your way. Now this is very important, a lot of nuts (the thing at the top of the guitar where the strings sit) are not made for thick strings. You will need to have the nut filed in order to fit the larger string gauge. Otherwise you will try and force the string into a hole that is too small and when tension gets put on the string – BAM! It’ll crack your nut. Not good. You will also need the string height or ‘action’ adjusted since the strings will now be much higher off the fret board. And most importantly the truss rod (a metal rod inside the guitars neck) will need to be adjusted to compensate for the new strings and the different tension. Only try to do these things if you really know what you are doing. If you don't the best thing that can happen is your guitar will play terribly. The worst is you will need a new guitar, especially if you mess with the truss rod. Too many wrong turns and you will literally shatter the neck. Your best bet is to take it to a professional guitar repairman and ask for a set up. Tell them the string gauge and that you want it to be tuned to C or two steps down. They should know what to do. It’ll cost between $30-$60 depending on the rates in your area.
4. String gauge, pick, and other recommendations for Tuning to C.
See above. I recomend at least a .012 - .056 gauge string set. That's a good place to start. Don’t worry about the thicker strings, they will feel much looser tuned to C than the would tuned to E and won’t be that hard to get use to. In fact when you play a guitar tuedn to E with .009’s on it you’ll feel like you’re play thread. Get at least a 1mm thick pick. Once you set up a guitar for C, leave that as your C guitar. Tuning it back and forth from E to C will massively screw up your guitar’s neck. If you really want to play in E on your C guitar, get a capo and put it at the 4th fret. Now you’re back in standard E.
5. All other guitar-related recommendations for playing in C or any other tuning.
Make sure you get a guitar with a good, solid neck and nice sized frets. In terms of guitar sounds - a set neck guitar will have more sustain than a bolt-ons. Single coil pick-ups (like on a Telecaster or Stratacaster) will have a bright, chimey sound. This is good for a bluesy feel. A guitar with humbuckers (the bigger pick ups like on a Les Paul) will have a thicker, heavier sound. This is good for rock. Fender guitars or guitars made like Fenders will have a scale length of 25 1/2 inches from nut to bridge. This will have a lighter sound than a Gibson scale length of 24 3/4 inches. The shorter the string length, the darker the tone. A maple fret board will have a brighter tone than a rosewood fret board. Different woods will have different tones. A guitar made of swamp ash will sound different than a guitar made of mahogany with a maple top. There are many variables in a guitar’s sounds. Play as many as you can and find the one you like the best. Ultimately you’ll need to find a guitar that you really like the feel of no matter what it’s made of or what kind of pick ups it has.
Addendum 1: The Baritone Guitar
by Lee MacDonald*
For guitarits wanting to tune low (open C or even lower) a baritone guitar is much easier to set up and can hold a tone better than a standard guitar. The baritone guitar's scale is typically 26.25" to 27". They also typically come with heavier gauged strings (.011 to 0.13). The longer scale neck and heavier strings produce better tension and action than a 24.27" (Les Paul) or 25.5" (Stratocaster) scale guitar for detuned playing. Some good baritone guitars are: Yamaha's Drop 6, LTD VB-300 and HB-300 Series Baritone, and ESP James Hetfield signature series "The Grynch".
*Each part of this FAQ was written by and belongs to its respective writers. Please email Travis or Lee before you post either of their sections anywhere else.