Low Tune Guru

Here at Stallings USA we have been frequently questioned about String Gauges & Low End Tuning. And since we do predominantly cater to the Low Tuning Metal Heads, it has been our privilege to research this matter in depth. We started out building guitars for people who wanted something that other guitar companies just wouldn't provide. A guitar that has off the map Looks & a Sound to match. As a result we entered into an area that few have traveled. The Twilight Zone of the spectrum of sound that is virtually nonexistent in most of today's commercial music scene. This is what Black Sabbath entered way back in the 60's as they paved the way for all those Metal Heads that have followed in their musical footsteps.


Stock Gauges vs Custom Gauges

When ordering a custom made instrument, it is usually your option to order custom fitted string gauges for your guitar. And since every Nut on our guitars is hand made & slotted to fit the gauge of strings at our factory, if you change your gauge later on, you may have to have this Nut re-slotted to fit the new selection. If, when ordering your guitar, you don't specify a particular gauge of strings then we will use our stock gauges which we refer to as 11's. This is usually a standard set with 49,38,28,18,14,11 and these are sometimes referred to as EXL which stands for Extra Light.

There are times when I will want something a bit different out of my sound, so I might use a 60 on my low string. If you change from the stock set up, and use this gauge of strings, you will definitely need to take the guitar in to a guitar maintenance technician & have them re-slot the Bone Nut a bit to accommodate the heavier gauge of strings. If you have one of those cast metal locking nuts, then don't worry about it. If you have one of those, you really can't do much adjusting other than placing a shim under it.

On a stock set up of a custom shop guitar, the Bone is usually slotted for the gauge the guitar came with. So if you put thicker strings into the slot of the nut, then the string doesn't quite sit in the slot at the underside position of the string. There is a simple fix for this, and a guitar maintenance technician is the one who will have the proper nut slotting files and technique to accommodate this gauge of string for you.

But you must keep in mind that once you pick a gauge of string you should stick with that size of string, because when the guitar maintenance technician slots it for that gauge, it won't accommodate a string that is thicker. A thinner string will still work, but if you go too thin it may buzz at the nut a bit since it won't be as tight as it was slotted for.

Low Tuning

There are a few things about low tuning you might keep in mind. When you low tune to "C" or "B" your string tension is less than the normal "E" 440 tuning. This means it has less tension on the guitar, not more tension. So you don't have to worry about putting pressure on the neck. And the way Stallings USA guitars are built, we have a few optional additions that allow the guitar to withstand just about anything you do to it. We have Carbon Fibre reinforcement techniques as well as the Rosewood stringers which both add extra strength as well as that beefy tone.

The only thing you must keep in mind is that as you tune lower, the strings become much looser on the guitar. This sometimes creates problems with tuning, so I suggest you at least go with a set of 11's on your High string and go up from there until you get to your Low string. At one time my setup had a 60 and then I was using a 50 below that one. And although it made for a great Low end thump, this made it more difficult to pull off those beautiful screaming harmonics on those particular strings. So, when I changed the second string to a little lighter gauge, it made it easier to pull off the harmonics once again

Gauge Suggestions

So let's say, presently your guitar is slotted for the following gauges top to bottom 49,38,28,18,14,11 D'Addario EXL115 strings. So you have to decide what part of the guitar you want the beef & what part you want the harmonic screams. What you could do, is buy these strings & take away the 49 & replace it with a 60 if you want thump on the Low string & keep the harmonic screams on the others. This of coarse will depend on how you play, and what strings you use to do what.

But let's say, since you are doing the drop "B" thing you will probably use the two Low strings together allot, and this sounds good when they are heavier strings. So you might want to use the gauge suggested moving top two down one slot. So you then take away the 28 & move the 38 into it's place, & the 49 down one, and then use the 60 in the Low string position. Then the gauges will be 60,49,38,18,14,11. This will give you a balance for your bottom end & you will have the other strings like normal.

Some guys simply buy a set of 7-strings. Then they throw away the 11 & move all the strings down which puts the beefiest string (which is usually a 60) into the Low position. This will give you the following order; 60,49,38,28,18,14, and from a standpoint of heavier gauged strings this would also seem to solve the tuning difficulties.

If you use these heavier gauges of strings, get ready for your fingertips to take a beating. After awhile you will find a way to pull off the harmonic screams, but they will be a little harder to do with heavier strings. After a while you will get used to it, the lighter gauges will seem ridiculous, and you won't believe you ever played them. Especially the 9's & 10's that are always breaking on you. But I personally don't like this particular set up because it puts a round wound string into the "G" string position & everyone knows how finicky it is to tune the "G" string. It likes the solid wire string for tuning the best! So if you know a place that sells singles, you can get a solid wire jazz string to put into this position. But like I always say, everyone has their own preferences!

Oscillation Factor

Oscillation is a factor that occurs when the string travels in a round circular movement as it vibrates. This occurs more when the player does a lot of side to side speed picking. On a Low tuned guitar, this factor is increased exponentially. This creates two situations!

The first, is that annoying fret buzz that you hear when the string vibrates against the frets. Even if your neck & frets are perfectly straight, you will get fret buzz on a Low Tuning guitar. This is rarely heard through the amp unless you're trying to play a clean melodic piece, and with a bit of experience, you can play this with very little buzzing. Try playing such pieces with a finger picking technique & you might like the results. The only thing to do to reduce this factor is to go to a heavier gauge of string. This won't eliminate it, it will only reduce it. And with a little practice, and just the right technique you can reduce it to almost nothing.

This is why most people who use Low tuning, like to raise their action at the bridge. But this just creates a different problem. When you raise your action higher, the string has to travel further down to the fret to create your note. This can cause the string to go slightly out of tune when it is fretted. So your notes will be out of tune when fretted, even while they are in tune when they are strummed open & unfretted. And the harmonics may be in tune when open, but out of tune when fretted. So when you tune to open harmonics, you're out of tune when fretting a note. If you tune while fretting, then your open harmonics are slightly out of tune. So the best solution is low action, and then the string has less travel to the fret, and thus you stay in better tune no matter which tuning method you use. And Low action is always an easier guitar to play compared to a guitar with High action. So it's a give & take situation, and like I said, everyone has their own preferences! The guitars made at our factory come stock with the lowest action possible, yet high enough to eliminate the fret buzz. And since our guitars are always professionally set up before leaving the shop, this is not a problem!

Secondly, For Low tuning, always remember that the thicker the gauge of string, the less pressure sensitivity, therefore the better the guitar stays in tune during play. When you use the lighter gauges, the pressure sensitivity allows the string travel with less pressure and therefore, more out of tune. In other words, it's like playing a scalloped fingerboard. Very difficult to keep in tune! So you must keep these factors in mind when choosing your gauges. A happy medium is always more versatile in the long run. But there are always different thoughts on what each individual wants their guitar to do. This is why it is a good idea to have several guitars, each set up differently for what that guitar does best. And sometimes each song has something different in it, so you may need a different sound for that particular song. So, this way you can use the guitar that is set up best for that particular need.

Low Tuning and Floating Tremolos

If you are trying to low tune a guitar that has a floating tremolos, you just might find that you are running into problems with the bridge bottoming out in addition to the tuning problems. Now on the issue of simply adjusting the bridge to work for you. Yes you can do that, but you won't be able to use the guitar in "E" 440 unless you change it back. Also keep in mind that the trussrod adjustment is going to be different as well. In addition to the easily remedied issues, you will also notice that with a Floyd floating trem, you're still dealing with springs. Once again, as the spring pressure is loosened to accommodate the low tuning, so also is your string sensitivity increased because the looser string pressure also allows you to move the bridge slightly out of tune while fretting a note or bending a string. This is not quite as bad on a Kahler due to what I would consider a superior design! But once again, another problem added to the others, which in turn multiplies the tuning issue. I call this "opening up a can of worms". You can read more about my take on this in our FYI section.

Final Analysis

I would simply experiment around until you find what works best for you. Keep in mind that after you have made your final selection, then is the time to bring your guitar by our shop for Maintenance! Or, if you live too far away, you can always take it in to a qualified guitar maintenance technician in your area & have the nut slotted for that gauge you have chosen. This is important to do after you have made your choice, because then you will have that low action where it is supposed to be, at the headstock position where the nut is slotted.

The Netherworld Series

We now have a very special guitar configuration for all those Low Tune Gurus out there. It is our top secret Netherworld scale! To clear up any confusion, this is not a Baritone guitar! And it is not a particular model that we offer, but rather an addition to the model you may order. Although the Dragonslayer guitar is our most popular model to date, The Netherworld Dragonslayer is simply a Dragonslayer model guitar with our Netherworld scale configuration. You can order this same configuration with any guitar model, with the exception of our Vintage Series which of coarse is "vintage" and cannot be changed if it is to remain vintage.

The Netherworld scale is simply a longer scale than our stock models, but not as long as a Baritone which is in essence a bass scale. Since it is longer, it can only be applied as a 22 fret configuration. This is perfect for those of you who wish to tune really low, and get the beef you are looking for and just can't get any other place. It may take a bit to get used to from a fret to fret perspective, but once you get that dialed, you will be thumping your way to your hearts desire. We suggest beefy strings for this scale and you will get maximum benefit out of this setup as you blow doors.

I hope this answers all your questions & helps you out in setting up your guitar correctly so that it plays at it's highest possible potential.

Now, go out there & Rock Someone's World!


For the ultimate Low Tuning Guitar please feel free to check out

The Netherworld Series

Note: We are a guitar Custom Shop that specializes in guitars and basses Made in the USA, Custom Shop Guitars, Exotic Woods, The finest materials on the market, hand tooled precision, and Luthier expertise. Stallings USA, and Dragonslayer Guitars provide our customers with a range of products and services such as custom shop guitars, clothing, electric guitar service and repair. We build hollow body guitars as well as solid bodies, and our specialty is neck through body styles. We also do bolt on necks and set neck construction. We use exotic woods such as mahogany, quilted maple, flamed maple, ash, rosewood, ebony, redwood, and others. We use authentic nitrocellulose lacquer in our finish paint process. Our inlay work is hand made from real pearl and abalone. Our hardware includes Floyd Rose, Kahler, Seymour Duncan, EMG, Gotoh, Schaller, and Grover. We are also a Guitar Service, Repair, and Setup center specializing in acoustic and electric guitars! We are a Certified Gibson Service Center. We service Gibson, Epiphone, Fender, BC Rich, PRS guitars, ESP guitars, Jackson guitars, and all other electric guitars and basses. Servicing the communities of Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Irvine, Saddleback, Tustin, Santa Ana, Garden Grove and Westminster. We are located in Costa Mesa, Orange County, CA, down the road from Guitar Center in Fountain Valley.