Drop D Tuning for Bass: The Ultimate Guide [2021]

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro bassist, alternate tuning is always fascinating. If you want to play your favorite rock and metal songs in drop D, this is the article for you!

So, What is Drop D Tuning for Bass?

The tuning of D-A-D-G is considered as a Drop D tuning for a 4-string bass guitar. It is done by lowering the E string a whole step down to the D note. Drop D tuning expands the tonal range of the standard bass, allows for faster fingering, and makes power chords easier to play.

How to Tune your Bass to Drop D?

There are two ways to tune your bass in Drop D Tuning:

1. Using a Drop Tuning Machine Head:

The easiest way to tune a bass guitar to drop d is by using a drop D machine head. It replaces the existing low E machine head on your bass guitar and allows you to drop down from standard E note to D note instantly during the performance using a lever.

Hipshot is one of the most popular and wildly used brands that provide such drop tuning machine heads. Personally, I suggest you to go with this Hipshot BT7 Bass Xtender machine head, because of its sturdy design and simplicity.

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The installation itself is really simple. All you need to do is, first loosen the E string and remove the original machine head. Then simply disassemble and install the drop d tuning machine head there.

This is a very common technique for both guitars and basses in many genres. If you are often required to drop your tuning in between the songs or live performances, you must add this drop tuning head to your accessories.

Here’s the video tutorial you can follow:

2. Without Using a Tuner:

As a general rule, you need to match the sound of low E string on the 7th fret to the sound of open A string to tune your bass guitar in drop d tuning. If you’re using a tuner or pedal, you can simply tune the low E string to D note and keep the other three strings in standard tuning.

Note: If you’re a complete beginner bassist, I strongly recommend you to stick with this 2nd method. the first method I listed is for intermediate and advanced bass players, who own more than single basses.

Will Drop D Tuning Bad for your Bass?

Drop D tuning won’t damage your bass guitar in any way, because it decreases the string tension significantly by lowering the pitch of the low E string. Drop tuning may affect the intonation of the bass, but it can be fixed easily, by using a proper set of bass strings.

Particularly for Drop D bass tuning, you don’t require a professional bass setup. Still, If your bass isn’t staying in tune or the strings start to feel very loose, I suggest you to consider a proper setup to avoid any unwanted harm.

What is Drop D Tuning Used For?

Aside from extending the tonal range of the bass, drop d tuning provides heavier sound with low-frequency vibrations. It makes it easy to play certain riffs and power chords while allowing you to reach some tones which are difficult to play in the standard bass tuning.

If you don’t want to switch from 4-string bass to 5-string bass, Drop D tuning enables you to reach those lower notes (Up to low D) without much difficulty.

Best Bass Strings for Drop D Tuning?

If you want to tune your bass to drop d tuning, you might be happier with thicker and heavy gauge strings. Although heavy bass strings make it difficult to fret the note but standard gauge strings feel and sound little floppy in drop d.

for D-A-D-G tuning, the recommended gauge is:

  • D (.110 to .015) – Anything more than .110 will be too thick and also reduces the volume
  • A (.080 to .090) – Anything less than .080 seems to be flop and doesn’t provide you nice tone in Drop D
  • D (.060 to 0.65) – I find this range works perfectly for me!
  • G (.045 to .055) – Anything more than this makes strings too tight and difficult for plucking.

Personally, I prefer these D’Addario Light Strings for Drop D on my Ibanez GSR200, cause it works great in terms of stiffness and intonation. But, if you want to go a little heavier, I suggest you go with DR DDT-55 Bass Strings, which also perform quite well in drop d bass tuning.

Can you Tune a 5-String Bass to Drop D?

You can’t tune a 5-string bass to drop d, because tuning low B string up to D note will put a lot of uneven tension on the neck. Although 5-string bass can play low D without retuning, but if transposing the bass part from drop d tuning to standard 5-string tuning is difficult, you can tune E string to D note and play it like a 4-string bass.

Note: Even if you feel it’s hard to transpose the bass part from 4-string drop d tuning to 5-string standard tuning, I recommend you to try it anyway. because it will teach you where exactly the notes are on your bass guitar.

And, once you have a great idea about the notes on your 5-string bass, you just need to change the fingering patterns to play in Drop D tuning without retuning your bass.

Is Drop D Tuning Cheating?

Drop D tuning is not cheating, because it helps you to extend the tonal range of the bass on the downside and increases your playability. It allows you to reach some notes which are either difficult or impossible to reach on a standard bass tuning and provide a heavier sounding tone.

If you don’t want to get a 5-string bass and want to play low notes on your traditional 4-string bass, you should definitely try this drop d tuning.

Best Drop D Tuning Bass Songs

  1. Killing in the Name (Rage Against the Machine)
  2. By the Way (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
  3. Beautiful People (Marilyn Manson)
  4. Spoonman (Soundgarden)
  5. The Pot (Tool)
  6. Forever Man (Eric Clapton)
  7. Them Bones (Alice in Chains)
  8. King (King’s X)
  9. Going Crazy (David Lee Roth)

Final Thoughts on Drop D Bass Tuning

I hope you get the complete idea about drop d tuning for bass guitar and are ready to bang your favorite metal and rock songs.

If you have any doubt or want to add anything to this resource, feel free to contact me here or you can drop a comment right below.

Also, don’t forget to share this amazing alternate tuning technique with your bassist friends, who are always ready to explore more on bass guitar.

Happy Music!

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