How to get "Drop D" to stay in tune

I'm sure anyone who's had to play a song in Drop D tuning has encountered an issue with the string not staying in tune to Drop D. If your Low E is normally tuned to E, and you only tune down to D occasionally for one song, it seems the note wants to creep back up in pitch while playing. 

Has anyone found any useful approaches to get through the song without the string going out of tune - and without having to constantly retune while playing? 

Also, does it wear out the string faster to keep retuning it? 

I'm sure many who know me will say, "Well, Steve, you seem to have plenty of guitars. Why don't you have one that is dedicated to Drop D tuning?" 

The fact is, I do, but when it comes to gigs, I would rather not have to take an extra guitar along just for one or two songs. 😉

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    • David Krupka
    • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
    • David_Krupka
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    It's easy, Steve! You just get your guitar tech to hand you the appropriately tuned instrument. (And you make sure the roadie packs it in the van, because obviously you don't want to be carrying anything except your rockstar persona 🤩 when you head out to the gig!) Okay, maybe not what you had in mind ... A couple of tricks I've used are: (i) tune the string below the D and let it sit for a moment - it should come up a little on its own; and (ii) give the string a bit of tug to stretch it slightly. Obviously, you need to check the tuning again before actually starting to play. Also, if possible, give the  string a little extra time to adjust by saying a few words to the audience. (This depends partly on the venue, of course, and is not possible in the case of multi-movement pieces.) Finally, if there's a break during the performance, program the dropped D pieces for immediately following the break. (Or make them the first pieces, if there is no break.)

    Like 2
    • David Krupka Very sound advice. I also find the 6th string creeps sharp for the first while after retuning.

      I try to study all my Drop D pieces together and keep the guitar in that tuning for a day or longer. It will be nice and stable after a while.

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      • Steve Pederson
      • The Journey is My Destination!
      • Steve_Pederson
      • 2 mths ago
      • Reported - view

      David Krupka Neil Macmillan

      Thanks for your input! Yes, the roadie, techie and catering crew are all in my future plans for world domination! 😂 Until then... my situation is when I will be playing for weddings. I guess I could just say, "No, I won't play [insert name of piece], on account of the fact that I have to retune for that song." That would be a shame, though, because I have put so much work into some of these pieces! I have seen people do the string stretching thing. I'll have to give that a try. 👍

      Like 1
  • I am going to D and back to E in every program I play.   In a program I'm doing currently with Rodrigo songs, I have to go to C# also.   with E-D-E tunings again in Garcia Lorca songs and the de Falla Siete Canciones.   

     

    The Monhegan Suite by John Kusiak for flute and guitar has nine movements including 4 E-D-E swaps.  I practiced tuning up and down like this: 

     

    1. start from a good E

    2. count how many 1/2 turns to go to just below D (for me it's 4)

    3. pull the string 4 times

    4. tune back up to D, reference pitch 4th string. 

     

    the goal was to make this work in 8 seconds, but it takes some practice.  going to E:

     

    1. start from the tuned D

    2. count how many turns to go OVER E (less to go up than down)

    3. pull string times, this should go just below E

    4. tune up to E, reference pitch E on 4th. 

     

    for my C# tuning, I turn down 5 times, pull 4-5. to return to E, turn 4 times, pull 3 or4, and use reference pitch E on 4th. 

     

    I got this practice tuning idea from John Dearman of the LAGQ where he's tuning 7th up and down all the time, and has to do it quickly and accurately WHILE THE OTHERS ARE PLAYING. 

     

    Some guitar/string combinations have issues with 2nd and 3rd strings going sharp after turning down to D. I've seen this on several guitars, but it does NOT happen with my guitar by Aaron Green (https://www.thespanishguitarworkshop.com/) using Hannabach 815 trebles.

    Like 2
  • I played a Velazquez with crudely made Landstorfer tuners for 50 years, then got a Cooper double top with Rodgers tuners 5 years ago. I always used Savarez B520 strings. The when changing from E to D or back, the tuning drifted like crazy for a while with the guitar with the Landstorfer tuners, but the guitar with the Rodgers tuners stays right where I set it within one CPS. Same strings-I think it is the tuners that make the difference.

    Like 2
  • I tune the E down to an A and then slowly back to D - works a treat. 

    Like 2
  • I tune a little below D and I play the D-pieces together because all the strings go higher to compensate, its funny how my guitar tries to stay in its comfortzone;-)

    Like 2
  • IMHO, the best way I found,  is tuning the E to A first, which is much lower then  D and then bringing it back up to D. This relaxes the tension in the string and stabilizes it before bringing it back D.  Search for Simon Powis "How to tune to Drop D perfectly. Every. Time." 

    Like 2
    • Steve Pederson
    • The Journey is My Destination!
    • Steve_Pederson
    • 2 mths ago
    • Reported - view

    Dave McLellan John Mardinly Phill Tadman Stefanie Mosburger-Dalz Michael Shirk
    Thank you for all your input! Very helpful. 

    Like 1
    • ors
    • ors
    • 1 mth ago
    • Reported - view

    Two, admittedly expensive, solutions of mine:

    . have two guitars, one with 6th-string in E, the other one with the 6th in D!

    . buy second hand or order a 7-string guitar with which you have a constant drop-D!!

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    • ors the seven string solution is one I suggested to John Kusiak (see above), but it does run into problems when you need to sweep a full 6-voice D chord, but need to avoid the 6th string (which happens in the Monhegan Suite).  I do play seven string and have experimented with this idea.   I wasn't completely happy with it.     

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      • ors
      • ors
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      Dave McLellan Hmmm, point well-made, that is a dimension I hadn't considered (I don't have a 7-string though I am considering to get one). But I do have "the two guitars solution" at home with one having the 6th string on drop-D. 

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      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      ors Dave McLellan Another (related) problem with the seven string 'solution' is that all left-hand fingerings on the sixth string will be shifted back by two frets. Some passages will almost certainly be rendered unplayable. (Of course, they will be playable on the seventh string if it is above the fretboard (not  always the case) but this will mean greater stretches for the left hand fingers which will now have to reach across the unused sixth string. I think a seventh string is very useful for playing arrangements of music originally written for lute or keyboard. (And of course, for music written for seven-string guitar, like much of Coste.) But I don't think it will be too useful as a substitute for drop-D tuning.

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    • David Krupka well yes, that's true if you choose to use the 7th,  If your 6th is an E, then why use 7th for that kind of passage?   on the other hand, it does open other interesting solutions involving interchange between 7th and 6th.   AND there are things that might be rendered easier by using 7th occaisionaly instead of the 6th.  

       

      We've gotten off the original topic of how to keep the 6th in tune when dropping to D.  but it's all way interesting.     

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      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      Dave McLellan I agree that in some cases the left-hand fingering would be facilitated by the option of using either the E or the D string. I'm not arguing against the use of a seventh-string in general; and indeed I wish seven-string guitars were more easily available. (If a manufacturer like Yamaha produced them, I would certainly own one!) My point is simply that I don't think the seven string guitar presents a practical means of avoiding drop-D tuning. Most guitar music requiring a low D was intended to be played on a guitar with six strings, and playing that music on a seven string instrument, simply to avoid to the inconvenience of retuning, doesn't make much sense to me. Btw, this issue also arises in the six-course lute repertoire, which at times calls for the lowest course to be dropped from 'G' to 'F'. Many lutenists do prefer to use an instrument with seven or more course for such pieces. Others (myself included) prefer to retune. I guess it's just a matter of personal taste.

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    • David Krupka I think you're right on there.  I mostly play 7-string for lute music for 7-course lute anyway! :-) I'm not SO much in favor of the E+D tuning *for the purpose of retuning avoidance* either.  It was a suggestion I made to John Kusiak since his Monhegan Suite required 5 changes in the space of 9 movements, but it was more theoretical.   retuning for his music just required figuring out the number of cranks and the number of pulls and then match with the correct reference pitch.  My goal was to get it done in 8 seconds or less. *mostly* it was fine. 

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      • ors
      • ors
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      Dave McLellan&David Krupka Thank you for your inputs. I hadn't properly considered all the ramifications of my suggestion to adopt a 7-string guitar as a solution for drop-D re-tuning issues: mea culpa. Your input helped me realize that there is more to having a 7-string guitar than I thought. This is very useful feedback.

      Based on which, given that I thought I might invest in a 7-string instrument, I searched suitable arrangements, of which there are a few, such as Michel Beauchamp's transcriptions of JS Bach's "Luth" suites, or Drew Henderson's BWV 1001 transcription. While I am sure that there is more (such as a whole library-full of 7-course lute music), this appears to be a whole new ball game for the old dog that I am, who should stick to the 6-string realm.

      Steve_Pederson My apologies for unintentionally having the discussion stray away from your original question.

      Like 1
    • ors no apology necessary!  it was a good discussion.   

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      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      ors You've engendered an interesting discussion here - I've certainly benefited from it! And I for one would encourage you not to altogether dismiss the idea of acquiring a seven string guitar. (I say this without actually owning one.) At least two well-known guitarists of the 19th century composed for an instrument with seven (or more) strings: Napoleon Coste and J.K. Mertz. (The latter sometimes requires nine strings - a low D, B, and A!) Today, when their music is played on a six-string guitar, the low basses are transposed up an octave, as the composers no doubt expected, since even in their day multi-string guitars were far from the norm. But this small (and for the most part difficult) repertoire is for most of us insufficient reason to acquire an expensive instrument. However, for those interested in playing arrangements of music not written for guitar, a seventh string makes good sense. You mentioned a few of these already, and I would add that almost anything composed for the baroque lute (i.e. the music of Sylvius Leopold Weiss) will work better on seven strings than six. (But it still won't work perfectly - baroque lutes typically had eleven or more courses!) I at one time gave serious consideration to purchasing a guitar with more than six strings; in the end, I decided that, for myself at least, it made more sense to acquire a lute. Had I not made the 'leap' into the world of 'early' music, I would certainly want to own a guitar with (at least) seven strings!

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      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      Dave McLellan I'm not familiar with the piece you mention, but I certainly agree that five tuning changes in a single work is too much!! As a matter of fact even two changes over the course of three movements (as we find, for example, in Torroba's 'Sonatina') is likely to result in at least one movement being a little out of tune! There are indeed occasions when a seventh string seems to be the best solution!

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      • David Krupka
      • Amateur guitarist/lutenist
      • David_Krupka
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      ors Dave McLellan Quite by chance, I noticed this upcoming discussion of the seven-string guitar (scheduled for this afternoon): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KooVV0x8Efg

      Like
    • David Krupka Hi ya.  I checked into it, which looks like a discussion of Russian 7-string which is a totally different beast (but I confess I don't know its repertoire!). 

      Like
      • ors
      • ors
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      Dave McLellan Marten Falk, who is a great classical guitarist, is a specialist of the Russian 7-string guitar's repertoire: 

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtCE70VDqks

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    • ors Golly.   I just listened to a little but he's wonderful. 

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      • ors
      • ors
      • 1 mth ago
      • Reported - view

      David Krupka I have listened a bit to Coste and Mertz (for ex., Drew Henderson and Alexandra Whittingham's renditions of these composers' music is really beautiful - then again, their videos are amazing whatever they choose to play!), and while I appreciate their importance as composers, I can't say I am in love with their music. But Weiss ... that's a different ball game: I would buy a 7-string if I knew I could play his music easier on it (conditional on related sheet music's availability)! Weiss's music is heavenly in my opinion - as lutenists know too well.

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