C# Guitar Tuning: Complete Guide

If you are interested in checking out C# tuning (Db) for your guitar you have come to the right place. I have been playing in C# on-and-off for many years and can definitely say that it has become one of my favorite alternate tunings. In this article, I will provide a guide on tuning your guitar to C sharp tuning and discuss tips and recommendations for its use. Let’s dive in!

c-sharp-tuning-for-guitar-article

What is C# Guitar Tuning

C# guitar tuning (C#-F#-B-E-G#-C#), also known as Db, is an alternative tuning for guitar. It is 1 and 1/2 whole-steps lower than standard guitar tuning. To give you an idea of the sound, a guitar tuned to C# would be about half way between a baritone and a standard guitar. The lowest string of a baritone is tuned to a B, with C sharp being a whole-step above.

A big advantage of C# is that it sounds like an open tuning while maintaining the harmonic structure of standard tuning, making chord fingerings very familiar. This is why C# is a great tuning for both beginners and experts. In fact, new players may find the low tension of the strings quite helpful.

c-sharp-tuning-for-guitar-illustration showing how to tune a guitar to C# tuning

How to Tune Guitar to C Sharp

To tune to C sharp you can use a digital tuner and change all the guitar strings 3 half-steps down. Alternatively, and my preferred method, you can use a reference note from standard tuning to tune to C# directly by ear.

Playing the 4th fret on the 5th string makes a C# note. You can use this note to tune the 6th string to C#, then continue tuning from there, using the 6th string as the new reference point for the 5th string, and so on.

Tuning this way helps train your musical ear, which is an invaluable skill. Just make sure to always check your work with a digital tuner so you build better accuracy.

Here is a YouTube video to help you tune to C# by ear, it gives all the reference notes for each string.

Keep in mind, when you first start switching to and from standard and C#, your strings will need frequent retuning, as the variable tension is a nightmare. Having locking tuners helps a lot in this department.

Intonation and String Gauge

C# tuning might require some adjustments to the instrument’s setup. You are going to most likely need thicker gauge strings.

This, of-course, is dependent on the type of guitar and how it can handle low tunings. If done properly, you should not hear any buzz when picking, especially from the low strings.

Adjustments to the guitar can include tweaking the truss rod to compensate for the decreased string tension, correcting intonation, and using heavier gauge strings. Check your intonation when you are done tuning to make sure it still holds.

As far as guitar strings go, I recommend opting for .11’s or even .12’s. Some players go with even lower gauges to not only accommodate for the lower tuning, but also get a heavier tone (13’s anyone?).

Jumping between standard and C# tuning can become problematic if you had to set-up your guitar specifically to use C#. Be mindful of this as you proceed.

How to Use C Sharp Tuning

C sharp guitar tuning is commonly used by metal or heavier rock bands. It’s deep tone and similar fingerings to standard tuning is a big advantage for guitarists who play heavier music.

Technically, you can play any song in C# that you can play in standard. Chords keep the same fingerings and shapes, you just have to transpose for C# instead (more on this later). The low sound of C sharp tuning, however, will make some parts, at times, unrecognizable.

If you want to check out music that is written specifically with C# in mind I recommend looking at bands like Black Sabbath, A Perfect Circle, Limp Bizkit, and Pantera as a starting point.

As you will come to learn, C sharp tuning is awesome for both heavy riffs and melodic or moody picking parts. I want to showcase both of these techniques using C# tuning with 2 examples next.

Playing Heavy Riffs with C Sharp Tuning

Black Sabbath’s Toni Iommi has been using C# tuning since the early days of the band. His use of alternate tunings goes back to a fingertip injury that forever changed how he played. A few of the songs on Master of Reality album utilize C# tuning specifically.

Songs such as “Children of the Grave” and “Lord of this Word” are examples. Check out the iconic intro riff to “Lord of this World”, and notice how the low tuning elevates this simple, heavy riff.

black-sabbath-lord-of-this-world-intro-tab-c-sharp-tuning-diagram

Additionally, I recommend incorporating power-chords into your playing when using C#. This helps highlight the low, deep sound of the tuning and adds a heaviness that is hard to achieve with standard. C# truly shines here.

These are a few examples of powerchords with roots on the 6th and 5th frets, respectively.

F5-and-C5-power-chords-on-guitar-diagram

Playing Melodic Parts with C Sharp Tuning

A Perfect Circle is another band that likes using C# guitar tuning. Most of the songs on the album Mer de Noms are written in C#. The intro to the song “Orestes” does a great job showcasing how simple melodic chord picking patterns in C sharp can sound moody and entrancing.

a-perfect-circle-orestes-intro-tab-c-sharp-tuning-diagram

Try playing playing melodic picking parts from songs you may already know to test them in C#. You will be surprised at how passages very familiar to you sound so different when played 3 half-steps lower.

C Sharp Tuning Songs and Tabs

The songs below feature both melodic parts and heavy riffs, which help highlight the versatility of C sharp tuning. I picked the best versions of the tabs for your learning pleasure.

Transposing Music to C Sharp

When learning chords or playing along with songs, you’ll need to transpose the music and positions of chords for C#. This can be a bit tricky at first, but with practice, it becomes more intuitive.

Keep in mind that the tuning is 1 and 1/2 steps lower than standard. Thus, to change chords, or a key of a song to C#, just move the notes 3 half steps down from where they currently are. Then you hold the chord that your transposition shows which should match the chord in standard.

The diagram below shows that if someone is playing an Am chord in standard tuning and you want to play along, you would have to play the equivalent of F#m in standard (either 2nd fret bar chord or 8th fret bar chord) while being tuned to C#.

transposing-from-standard-to-c-sharp-tuning-diagram

Its kind of strange when you first start transposing, but over time you will get better. If you are looking for an alternative to doing it yourself, I recommend using chord transposer’s online to help you achieve the same result without putting in the work.

Another simple way to get back to standard tuning from C# is by using a guitar capo. By placing the capo on the 3rd fret, the guitar is back to standard tuning. From there you can play chords as you normally would, just 3 frets higher on the neck.

C Sharp Tuning on Acoustic Guitar

C sharp tuning can definitely be used on an acoustic guitar but there are a few things to keep in mind. Acoustic guitars may be less forgiving when it comes to accommodating strings being tuned 1 and 1/2 steps down. Structural and intonation adjustments are also much harder to perform on an acoustic guitar.

From my experience, tuning an acoustic guitar lower than 1 whole-step may likely require changing the string gauge. With lower strings you can achieve a better sound from a down-tuned acoustic. However, this comes at the cost of playability as higher gauge strings on an acoustic guitar are larger than those on an electric.

Acoustic guitar strings are typically made of steel, bronze, or brass, and they need to be thicker (heavier) to produce a loud and full sound acoustically. Conversely, electric guitar strings are usually made of steel or nickel and can be lighter, as the sound is amplified electronically.

electric-and-acoustic-guitar-string-gauge-comparison-chart

This chart does a great job of showing the difference between common string gauges for electric vs acoustic guitars. Note that these are not the only available gauges, just the most common. There are many varieties of guitar strings available.

Conclusion: C# Guitar Tuning

The dark and heavy tone of C# makes it one of my favorite tunings to use when playing riffs or slow picking parts. I have come to love the simplicity and versatility of this tuning while exploring it over the years. The availability of a good number of iconic songs to learn is an added benefit that makes C# shine as a great alternate tuning to try for your guitar.

Ultimately, the best way to understand and appreciate C# tuning is to experience it yourself. I encourage you to down-tune your guitar and experiment with C sharp. I hope this guide helps you do just that. Thank you for reading!

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