Drop C is a popular tuning among heavier genres of music such as hardcore, metal, and others. This tuning lowers the range of the guitar down two steps below the standard E. The other main change in tuning is that the top string (low C) is lowered an additional tone to create an octave between the first and third strings of the guitar.
Playing hardcore music is much easier in this tuning, as it allows you to play full bar chords just by placing your finger over several strings on a fret. The most probable thing is that you’ve tried out Drop D, a much more common and easier tuning to get to from a standard EADGBE tuning and Drop C just gives you a lower range and a heavier sound.
For various reasons, though, you probably wouldn’t want to constantly change your tuning between standard and Drop C tuning:
- Firstly, your strings wouldn’t hold the tension properly in both tunings; if they hold true to standard tuning, they probably won’t hold well to Drop C.
- The drastic difference between the two different tunings will not be good for your guitar’s fretboard.
- You will probably have to raise the action on the guitar. Drop C tuning will strings that need more tension hit other frets, clang, and sound dirty.
Drop C Tuning
Drop C tuning (C G C F A D) is an alternative guitar tuning in which the sixth string is tuned two tones lower or “down” tuned to C. This is a major third from E down to C. The rest of the strings are tuned one tone lower. The rest of the strings are tuned one tone lower.
Drop C tuning is popular with many heavy metal bands because of its deeper, heavier sound. Drop C tuning can produce fifth chords more quickly and easily than with standard tuning. If you want to tune your guitar in drop C tuning, you can start from standard tuning or drop D tuning. Please note that you may need to change your guitar’s settings to adapt it to this new tuning.
Another option if you are looking for this sonority and deepness would also be in purchasing a seven-string guitar, which has all the strings of a standard tuning of a six-string plus a lower B string, so you can get that Major third down and even a fourth.
Step by step: How to take Standard Tuning ( E A D G B E ) to Drop C ( C G C F A D )
- Make sure you are in standard tuning. We could start from Drop D, but this can alter the tuning, and you could end up breaking a string. If you are using thicker strings, best tune them first to standard tuning.
- Much like tuning to Drop D, where you use the open D string (4th string) as a reference to tune your 6th string to, in this case, the reference note would be on the third fret of the A or fifth string. You will need to find a C note on the guitar, and the most accessible C to use is this one. NOTE: you are retuning the sixth string DOWN to the octave below the reference note- not up to the same C note. If you end up doing this by mistake, you will probably break the string.
- Press on the sixth string at the seventh fret. The newly tuned low C note will produce a G when you pluck it while pressing on the seventh fret. Use this note as a reference note for tuning the fifth string. This will be an exact match and not a different octave as it was with the sixth string.
- Press on the fifth string at the fifth fret. Once you have the G string tuned to G, you can use it to find the reference note for tuning the fourth string. The C note you will use will be found at the fifth fret of the fifth string. Or you can directly use the retuned sixth string, open.
- To tune the third string, look for the F on the fifth fret of the fourth string, which will be freshly tuned to C. Tune the third string until it matches this note.
- Once the third string is tuned to F, you can use it to find the reference note for tuning the second string. Pressing on the third string at the fourth fret and strumming it will produce an A.
- Now that the second string is tuned to A, you can find a D at the fifth fret. Use this as the reference note to detune the first string from a high E to D.
- And that’s it! You’re good to go. When you are finished, strum each string, pull on them a bit to force it as much as possible, and make the necessary adjustments to make sure they are all in tune. At this point, you may have to make some adjustments to the guitar to accommodate the new tuning.
Set up Your Guitar to Handle Drop C Properly
Take into account that the string caliber that you use with a standard tuning will not properly stand a Drop C tuning—especially the sixth string, which has just gone down two whole steps. The strings will lose tension when you detune the guitar to a lower pitch.
Lighter gauge strings will lose tone and sound slack, especially at the top part of the fretboard. To avoid this, get strings ranging from 0.012 to 0.062 inches. Most string brands such as Ernie Ball or Daddario make sets of strings explicitly designed for drop C tuning:
- Daddario EXL 148: These are made especially for Drop C tuning. 012, 016, 020, 034, 046, 060.
- Ernie Ball 2214 Mammoth Slinky: These have a tad more definition and a wrapped G string. The low E string is even thicker, so it may suit Drop A and Drop B. 012, 016, 024w, 034, 048, 062.
- Pyramid Bass Drop C: For your bass guitar in Drop C tuning.
If you feel that the 0.012 gauge is too heavy for the bottom strings, there are string sets that mix gauges and still use the heavier gauges for the lower strings. This is a matter of personal preference. You might not get it right the first time, so experiment a bit until you find the feel and sound you like, but the sixth string should be a 060 or 062.
You will also find that you’ll have to raise the bridge. When tuning the guitar in drop C, the bridge may lose tension and tilt up or down. This is quite rare, but it is a possibility. You will also need to raise the bridge if you are going to use thicker strings.
Most electric guitars have fixed bridges, which are not affected by string detuning. If your guitar has what is called a Floyd Rose bridge, make sure you raise the bridge before tuning the guitar to drop C.
The next thing is to adjust your guitar’s truss rod. Since you will be using larger strings, they will need more space to vibrate. Adjusting the guitar’s truss rod will create more space between the strings and the fretboard (the action) so that the strings have more space and sound clear and clean.
This might be something that you are wary of if you’re a
Check the guitar’s neck after you have replaced the strings and tuned them to drop C. If the neck has a greater (or lesser) curvature than before, you will need to adjust the truss rod.
Adjusting the Guitar Nut and Saddles
You might have to file the grooves in the guitar nut. The guitar nut will be located at the top of the fretboard, above the first fret, and have slots to hold the strings. These slots are pre-cut to fit regular guitar strings. If you choose to use a thicker gauge of strings, you may have to widen the slots to fit the strings.
This is something that won’t affect your guitar at all when going back to regular strings, so don’t worry. Do it slowly and file one at a time. You can use a set of very thin files, or you can simply use sandpaper. Wrap the sandpaper under the guitar string and slide it up and down the slot until the string fits smoothly. If you are unsure about this, take it to your nearest guitar store so they can give you some feedback or help you.
The same thing goes for the saddles. As with the nut, the bridge may have saddles to hold the fixed strings at the bottom. If you filed the slots in the guitar nut, you will probably also have to file the saddles to fit the thicker strings.
“But Taylor, how do I file this? It’s made from metal!” You will not be able to use sandpaper to file the saddles, as you did with the nut. You will have to use real polishers. Since the saddles will be made of brass, aluminum, or steel, sandpaper will not affect them.
If you don’t have a set of polishers, you may need to take the guitar to a guitar repair shop to get this job done. You could also buy a set of files and do it yourself. You can find them at most guitar stores or online.
Songs That You Can Play in Drop C
Although there are some bands that play exclusively in Drop C, here, I’ll mention various songs I enjoy and are played in this tuning.
Killswitch Engage – My Curse: This song first popped up on my radar thanks to one of the Guitar Hero games. The guitar riffs on this song aren’t that difficult and sound amazing, together with those vocals.
Bullet For My Valentine – Tears Don’t Fall: This epic band from my teens has most there songs tuned to Drop C, which is how they get that bottom end C sound deep and rich on most of their songs. This tuning is such a trademark for so many bands.
System Of A Down – Toxicity: SOAD is another one of those very successful metal bands of the ’90s and early 2000s. Their energetic riffs and opera-like singing talent of Serj Tankian, who would later go on solo (go check that out), imbued their music with a style that was not really comparable to other bands of the era. They really stood out.
Three Days Grace – Animal I Have Become: Three Days Grace has some very well-thought riffs and plenty of those fifth power chords. If you liked all the bands above, you also like this, for sure.
Breaking Benjamin – So Cold: Breaking Benjamin is a band that went quite unnoticed back then for reasons I can’t imagine. They were, for me, at the top of that metal hardcore game, with vocals that rivaled those of Chester Bennington and a good progressive spacing in their music that wasn’t as frenetic or rushed as others. They have a cool ambiance to their songs, mixed with phenomenal sounding guitar lines.
Question: Will Drop C Damage my Guitar?
Answer: Absolutely not. You can’t do irreparable damage to your guitar just by changing your string tension. Your strings may snap if you do it wrong, and you may have to make little adjustments so your guitar holds the tuning properly. It’s not an extreme tuning if that’s your wonder.
Question: Can you Play Drop D Songs in Drop C?
Question: Is it Wrong to Keep Retuning your Guitar to Alternate Tunings?
Question: Is Drop D Better than Drop C?
And that’s it! I hope the plethora of adjustments you might have to make to your guitar doesn’t put you off tuning your guitar in Drop C. It is a heavy, blunt-sounding tuning that sounds like a thick wall when you play it well and can give you that “oomph” that is so pleasing to play from time to time or to compose in if that’s your style.
I personally keep a different guitar for such a tuning, but I know that’s a luxury that not everybody can afford yet. The next thing you’ll need the first time you tune down to Drop C is some cool tunes to try it out. Keep on reading and see for yourself.
Learn more about guitars on the links below:
- How to Find the Best Acoustic Guitar: A Guide for Beginners
- How To Learn Guitar: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners
- How to Properly Ship a Guitar: Step by Step Instructions
- Comprehensive B Standard Guitar Tuning Guide
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