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Why did everyone tune down a half step in the 90's?
Old 27th August 2010
  #1
Why did everyone tune down a half step in the 90's?

I remember that everyone was crazy about this tuning - a whopping HALF STEP DOWN from standard (wow, that's extreeeeeeeeme, man). Weezer, Green Day...even Smashing Pumpkins made a big deal out of switching to this tuning on "mellon collie."

Why? It's a whopping half step down. Doesn't seem like it would make a big difference at all.
Old 27th August 2010
  #2
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Mertmo's Avatar
 

I used to do it to. Been thinking about doing it again, actually...

I got the idea from U2, they used to play all their concerts like that, but
switched back to 440 after "all that you can't leave behind". I just thought it
was a great sound. Thicker and darker than 440, but not "HEAVY" like tuning
all the way down a whole step, which sounds like insta-metal to me.
It was easier to sing in that register for me.
Even a half step is a big difference to me, when hearing a song both ways.

I also was thinking of Stevie Ray Vaughn, a lot of his stuff was tuned that way.
But mainly U2. One of my favorite details of the Joshua Tree is that basically
the whole record is in 440, except for "Bullet The Blue Sky", which comes
crashing in a half step down. That's a big reason it hits so hard and sounds
so dark. IMO...

One thing that was a pain in the ass when I was doing this was getting other
musicians to retune so they could play my songs. Guitars don't like going
back and forth all the time. And the low string on a bass starts to lose it's
punch REAL fast when you tune it anywhere below 440.

That's kind of funny that it was a "90's" thing, I never had any clue, I
thought it was only me..... ha ha ha !!! but I never listened to any of the
bands you mentioned back then so that could explain it...
Old 27th August 2010
  #3
Jai guru deva om
 
warhead's Avatar
 

So David Lee Roth could hit the high notes.

dada---chee!

Thanks I'll be here all week.

War

Seriously I'm sure it's a combination of wanting to be different, the slightly fatter tone, the singer's range...
Old 27th August 2010
  #4
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Mertmo's Avatar
 

Ahhh... Van Halen, of course. I was obsessed with the original lineup when I
was younger.

That's it... going back to a half step down. heh
Old 27th August 2010
  #5
Gear Addict
 

For me, the main reason to tune down is for the vocals. My band tunes down a whole step because I'm a baritone and I simply can't sing the lines I write up in standard tuning.
Old 27th August 2010
  #6
I guess what's what I'm missing - "up in standard tuning" is a "whopping" half step. This should be minor at best - borderline-unnoticeable. Maybe it's a psychological thing?
Old 27th August 2010
  #7
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Mertmo's Avatar
 

Borderline unnoticeable? That's taking it a bit far.

Do a little test. Tune one way, play and sing a song. Tune the other way,
play and sing again. The difference in the vibe of the vocal performance
can be pronounced. That's mainly where I hear the difference.

And part of the point is that it's darker without being overbearing. The fact
that it's a small difference is part of why it's cool.

In the recording pursuit, we all chase that last 10% of tone like hell. Tear
our hair out, spend thousands of dollars to try and nail down *very* small
differences in sound. Why does it seem silly to you that anyone would
experiment with and/or sweat a much larger difference (IMO) in the
actual sound of the song being played and sung...?

Maybe you should just try it on one of your songs and see what you think.
It really can be different on a given song, especially with the vocal.
Old 27th August 2010
  #8
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slaves666's Avatar
a half step makes a big difference...I go down a full step.
Old 27th August 2010
  #9
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Because its easier than just playing in a harder key, same reason people use capos. Now if you go with a different guitar string tuning instead of just lowering across all six strings the same amount then it gets interesting. Some noted players do this and a few like Joni Mitchell that might surprise you.
Old 27th August 2010
  #10
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davet's Avatar
 

I'm playing 80 style music in a cover band. We're older adults, so we're down a full step just so we can hit the high notes. Makes a difference when you play four hour gigs.

It also fattens up the sound in a guitar, bass, drums trio.
DaveT
Old 27th August 2010
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mertmo View Post
I also was thinking of Stevie Ray Vaughn, a lot of his stuff was tuned that way.
.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

It's been 20 years. Rest in Peace. October 3, 1954 – August 27, 1990
YouTube - Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood (Long version!)


Saw him live twice, once with his brother, both amazing concerts.
Old 27th August 2010
  #12
Gear Addict
 

this has got to be a guitar band thing, no? guitars, bass, drums. seems like it might be unwieldy dealing with horns, strings, pianos and keys if you plan on discussing keys, chords, and notes.

i guess horn players do it all the time, but that's their thing. transposition is built into mastering those instruments. those that do/did this, do you then refer to the 5th fret of the bottom string as A-flat?

really, i'm just asking. not knocking it at all. if it sounds cool, by all means...
Old 27th August 2010
  #13
Gear Head
 

if i remember correctly hendrix also played in Eb.
Old 27th August 2010
  #14
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mexicola's Avatar
 

half step? wimps! heh

two steps down, ala Black Sabbath and QOTSA. Or drop D two steps down so that your E is now a B flat. 12-60's on your guitar, plug into a vintage tube bass amp...instant heaven!
Old 27th August 2010
  #15
Ahhhhhhhhh, so I get it. It's a macho thing - "I'm too maaaaanly to sing in standard tuning. I gotta go a whole half-step down." heh
Old 27th August 2010
  #16
Gear Head
It also lowers the tension on the strings, so the guitar will be looser.

Also, some people think that dropping the tuning by half a step, and then capoing back up one fret will make the guitar play more in tune for open chords, cuz it takes eliminates the nut from the equation. This is to better compensate for the out-of-tune-ness you always experience between open D and open E (the other solution being Mr. Feiten's compensated nut idea).

Also, when your open D chord has worn a rut in your third fret at the B string, you can use this drop-tune-capo scheme to stall while save enough money to actually get your frets dressed.
Old 27th August 2010
  #17
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Lance Lawson's Avatar
 

At least half of the younger acoustic guitarists I know automatically drop E to D which is fine. However I hate it when they ask to try my guitar (and many do) which is virtually always in 440 drop the D play the guitar then hand it back without returning it to standard tuning.
Old 27th August 2010
  #18
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syntax's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by onion View Post
this has got to be a guitar band thing, no? guitars, bass, drums. seems like it might be unwieldy dealing with horns, strings, pianos and keys if you plan on discussing keys, chords, and notes.

i guess horn players do it all the time, but that's their thing. transposition is built into mastering those instruments. those that do/did this, do you then refer to the 5th fret of the bottom string as A-flat?

really, i'm just asking. not knocking it at all. if it sounds cool, by all means...
To the contrary, wouldn't it make it easier to deal with horns?
Old 27th August 2010
  #19
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taturana's Avatar
Hendrix and Albert King would come to mind before SRV...

in my case, my voice sounds a lot better in Eb than in E, it resonates better ...... also you can use heavier strings and bend more while getting a beefier tone.....
Old 27th August 2010
  #20
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skythemusic's Avatar
For years I played in Eb but I like standard again now. The 90's were all about guitar which sound darker in Eb. To my ears it makes a BIG difference.
Old 27th August 2010
  #21
I just tune down an entire octave, then I play an octave higher on the guitar and bass. It sounds just like it would have otherwise, except it's tuned down an octave. The only real problem is when playing funk bass. I have to pull the string about 6 inches before letting it go.
Old 27th August 2010
  #22
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davet's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dean Roddey View Post
I just tune down an entire octave, then I play an octave higher on the guitar and bass. It sounds just like it would have otherwise, except it's tuned down an octave. The only real problem is when playing funk bass. I have to pull the string about 6 inches before letting it go.
LOL!!!

DaveT
Old 27th August 2010
  #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bassmankr View Post
Because its easier than just playing in a harder key, same reason people use capos. Now if you go with a different guitar string tuning instead of just lowering across all six strings the same amount then it gets interesting. Some noted players do this and a few like Joni Mitchell that might surprise you.
i dont use capos or other tunings because they are easier to play, i use them because they create the sound im looking for.

if you write a song in E, and instead of playing it in first position, capo the 4th fret and use the "C chord" formation, you get a brighter sound that allows bass and drums to really cut through.
Old 27th August 2010
  #24
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Shiny Beast's Avatar
 

Hendrix 1967. Apparently he liked the string tension a little looser.

Nothing new under the sun.

Well, maybe except Hendrix!
Old 27th August 2010
  #25
Gear Addict
 

Yeah, it's just capoing up, except it's down to change/transpose keys.

Not sure why it's referred to as not being 440 when it's still based on A=440 and each note is relative to that - you're just using other notes besides the ones in standard 6 string guitar tuning. There is not an open F string in standard tuning. So if you play in the key of F or play a key that has an F note in it, are you not in 440? No, it's still an F based on 440. And if you tune your E string down to Eb, it's still Eb based on 440.
Old 27th August 2010
  #26
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lots of 80s music was 1/2 step down too. VH G&R etc...
Sabbath tuned to C on the Master of reality record

Some do it since it's easier to sing, others
do it since it sounds darker and heavier
that's why I tune a 1/2 step up, since I
want to sound lighter and happier

rainbows , flowers, puppies and Kittens........


The problem with tuning down now is you are sort of cliche
that's why I like old Metallica & they tuned to 440
and no one has written heavier songs like creeping death
or trapped under ice or Dyers Eve

If you can't be heavy @ 440 you just ain't heavy
and you ain't my brother. Tuning down now is
as about as cool as fretboard tapping and spandex
Old 27th August 2010
  #27
jbo
Gear Head
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by onion View Post
this has got to be a guitar band thing, no? guitars, bass, drums. seems like it might be unwieldy dealing with horns, strings, pianos and keys if you plan on discussing keys, chords, and notes.

i guess horn players do it all the time, but that's their thing. transposition is built into mastering those instruments. those that do/did this, do you then refer to the 5th fret of the bottom string as A-flat?

really, i'm just asking. not knocking it at all. if it sounds cool, by all means...
I was just watching the video for GNR's November Rain, and I noticed that Axl has his piano tuned down a half step. it sounds like the song is in B but he is clearly playing in C. Since they have they almost always have the guitars tuned down, i guess tuning the piano down makes it easier to communicate... or maybe it's more likely that Axl isn't a good enough pianist to play it in B.

The official piano sheet music for november rain is in C... which would make it a real pain in the ass if you wanted to play along to the recording.

Whenever I've seen guitarist do this, they refer to the notes as whatever they would have been if they were in standard tuning, so fifth fret on the bottom string would still be A even though it's really Ab.

As a horn player (sax) I can tell you that playing with a rhythm section that is tuned down is actually great... We're already used to having guitarists not be able to communicate with us, and we're used to transposing on the fly... but when they tune down a half-step, they usually end up playing in keys that are much more comfortable on horns... When guitarist play in E and B, that puts tenor saxes and trumpets in F# and C#. when they tune down and play in Eb and Bb, that puts us in F, and C.
Old 27th August 2010
  #28
Actually I'd say the popular tuning of the 90's was the old Neil Young drop D, so just taking the low E-string down to D, this was massively popular obviously among grunge bands, but also among many others who were used to standard tuning but fancied being able to get a little more bass beef into their guitar sounds occasionally and of course people who were very lazy about barre chords.

If you've ever actually messed around with alternate tunings you'll find that it does make quite a significant difference to the overall tone of the instrument, the instrument resonates differently as well as changing the feel of the instrument and often inspiring experimentation, and yes it was associated with particular groups and sounds and there is a macho element of deeper/darker sounds, most hardcore metal uses lowered tunings.

I find that the lower you go the more harmonic richness you get with distortion, even dropping half a tone (what people in the music business like to call a semitone! :P ) is quite a large drop.

Please remember that scale frequency is logarithmic in nature, each scale is half or double the frequency of the previous, so you might imagine a semitone is only a small step, but it can actually be quite a huge gap and can dramatically change the tonality.

As a musician and hopefully not tone deaf you should clearly hear what a difference a semitone makes, it's a whole different scale for one thing, and each scale has it's own feel and uses, it's own identity.

My advice is simple, before you knock it, try it. Dropped tunings work well with both distortion and metal sounds as well as big plummy fender cleans for more deep those country and surf tones. Personally speaking I tend to stick with just standard tuning because I'm lazy and it's a bit of a pain to keep retuning the guitar (and I don't have enough guitars to keep them all in different tunings), or to permanently adjust one to a new tuning, adjusting actions/setup/truss rod etc, as of course different tunings pull the neck in different ways, but it's still worth experimenting; the minute you start resisting change in your music, style, technique etc is the minute you've died as a musician - which isn't to say you should spend all your time experimenting or that experimentation is the point and what music should be about (that's where muso's get it wrong and why their music sounds like crap) just that your own personal development and enjoyment can't happen if you're scared to try something new.
Old 27th August 2010
  #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by character View Post

Not sure why it's referred to as not being 440 when it's still based on A=440 and each note is relative to that -
thumbsup That's what I was thinking. A=415 would be kinda ridiculous.
Old 27th August 2010
  #30
Gear Nut
 
BATTLEFIELD's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DinosaurSR View Post
I remember that everyone was crazy about this tuning - a whopping HALF STEP DOWN from standard (wow, that's extreeeeeeeeme, man). Weezer, Green Day...even Smashing Pumpkins made a big deal out of switching to this tuning on "mellon collie."

Why? It's a whopping half step down. Doesn't seem like it would make a big difference at all.

Because you can get better harmonics, George lynch in the 80s, and soooo many other guitar players in the 80s did it all the time. sometime depends on the song and vocalist.
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