Drop tunings allow guitarists and bassists to play lower notes which aren’t possible in standard tuning. It’s a great way to experiment with different chord shapes and to keep your playing fresh.
Many classic heavy rock riffs have been written using drop tuning. Lowering the sixth string makes deeper tones available, and allows us to play riffs faster due to the different finger positioning.
Let's take a look at some electric guitar strings that are ideal for drop tuning.
5 Best Guitar Strings for Drop Tunings
The Ernie Ball 2625 Not Even Slinky strings are ideal for tuning down your guitar because of the firm construction and thick gauge. Ernie Ball achieves these two qualities by using nickel-plated steel wrapped around a tin-plated steel core wire.
The heavy construction of these strings creates a lot of tension on a guitar. Although this makes note-bending more difficult, it also makes drop tuning easier. A good amount of tension is maintained even when dropping the low E string down multiple steps, due to the heavy gauge.
All in all, these might be one of the best strings for drop C for you, if you usually limit your playing to drop D and drop C. Although it can handle drop B as well, I personally prefer even thicker lower E strings for drop B and drop A.
It’s a testament to the quality of Ernie Ball strings that they appear on this list twice. The Mammoth Slinky strings are a great choice if you plan to drop your tuning down to a B or lower, as they provide the perfect amount of neck tension required.
A common problem guitarists face when dropping tuning with medium or light-gauge strings is that the treble-end becomes extremely tight, making it impossible to bend notes.
Ernie Ball have created a solution to that problem with the Mammoth Slinky strings. They have achieved this while keeping the super bright sound which so many guitarists choose their strings for.
One of the standout qualities of Elixir Strings is the comfort they provide. The friction underneath your fingers is minimized by the strings' special coating.
The Nanoweb strings are both smooth and easy to play, but their heavy gauge design makes them sound awesome in drop tunings.
Bending the high strings is usually compromised with heavier strings, but isn’t an issue with these. The singing highs and solid, heavy bottom is perfect for playing arpeggio-style riffs which move up and down the scales and octaves.
Elixir is also renowned for the durability of their strings. They retain that new-string feel long after you start using them.
The popularity of DR Strings has been on the rise for producing top notch guitar strings. They are renowned for their flexible strings and bright tones.
The DDT-11 strings are made especially for drop-down tuning.
These strings are extremely heavy gauge. They can easily handle being dropped down in pitch, with the low E string even capable of getting down to an A. If you like to play dark, heavy riffs these are the strings for you.
Gauges for Drop Tuning
The ideal string gauge for drop tuning really depends on how far you intend to go down.
A typical set of 10 to 46 gauge strings are capable of playing in drop D, but the lack of tension on the higher strings isn’t ideal. At this standard gauge the low strings would also have insufficient tension and might have problems holding tuning.
A 52 gauge low E string would be better suited for playing in drop D. The 5th string (A) at a 42 gauge would also be sufficient for this tuning. The problem of lacking tension in the low strings would be solved.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as just getting higher gauges for the lower strings. This certainly allows those strings to be tuned-down with no issues, but if there is too much of a gap between the gauges of the other strings on the guitar, the contrast in tension will make it difficult to play and sound consistent.
Therefore, it’s important to choose strings with gauges which have consistent differences and are heavy enough to handle drop-tuning.
When choosing the best strings for drop tunings, it’s important that they are comfortable to play despite their thickness. There is nothing worse than having to cut your practice routine short due to hand cramps or finger pains. This can be an issue with heavy-gauge strings, but luckily, there are certain materials which combat this.
Nickel is commonly used for electric guitar strings due to its warm sound and richness. Sometimes with heavier strings, steel is utilized. Steel has a punchy, clear, natural sound with great attack. In order to make the strings smoother on your fingers, the steel may be coated with Nickel, providing the best of both worlds – durability and comfort.
Thin layers of polymer are also used to coat some drop-tuning suited strings. This material prolongs the life of a string and prevents them from losing their initial clarity too quickly.
Time to Experiment
Using drop-tunings can revolutionize a guitarist’s playing. I find that if my playing becomes stale and repetitive, tuning down can really rekindle the creative spark.
When it comes to choosing the right strings for drop tuning, we are looking for a combination of comfort, durability and sound.
Knowing what sound you are aiming for is essential to choosing strings which will provide you with the right amount of these qualities. Thankfully, guitar strings are not too expensive so we can experiment until we find the strings which are best suited to our needs.