Quick Hit: The string sets and process I use for mimicking a 7-string and/or baritone guitar in low A, drop B and drop C electric guitar tunings.
One weird thing about growing up in the '90s in rural West Virginia, is that us fellas - during our teenage years - didn't listen to much country.
Me and most of my buddies were really into nu-metal. All the good ol' boys listened to stuff like Korn, Taproot and the early Staind albums. When I first bought an electric guitar, all that music stuck with me. I loved the low tunings and the heavy guitar playing.
To this day I'm still a big Korn fan which, heading into my early 30s at the time of writing this, starts to severely expose my age.
Staind's Mike Mushok and his baritone guitars.
All that aside:
I still love low tunings and the sounds of a seven-string and/or baritone guitar. The only problem is that I've never owned either.
Sure, I've played baritones and seven-string models, but it was never worth it to me to buy a completely new guitar, just so I could experiment with lower tunings.
Tuning Down a Standard Set of Strings
Instead, I would just tune down on whatever guitar I had. That sorta worked, but also caused a lot of problems. Mechanically, it was just haphazard. Low tunings were notoriously hard to keep in tune, while playing the strings just felt loose and too thin. They felt like flimsy rubber bands.
It also created tonal problems, where those deeper power chords sounded low, in terms of pitch, but weren't thick or powerful.
Since then, I've come up with a few low-cost methods of solving this problem without buying a seven-string or baritone guitar.
First, let's talk about the tunings I'm working with.
They are several lower tunings that most guitar-playing nu-metal fans should be somewhat familiar with. We could even broaden it to include any fan of modern hard rock.
For my examples, I'll stick with natural notes and avoid any sharps or flats.
They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Drop C (six-string): C, G, C, F, A, D
- Drop A (seven-string): A, D, G, C, F, A, D
- Drop B: (six-string): B, A, D, G, B, E
- Drop D: (six-string): D, A, D, G, B, E
Yes, drop D can easily be handled by a traditional six-string setup, but I would maintain that it's better served by a thicker set of strings, the likes of which I'll cover next.
These are my string-only solutions for playing each of the tunings mentioned in the above list.
String-Based Solutions for Low Tunings
The conventional wisdom I would refute is that you need a baritone or seven-string guitar to simply use their respective string sets.
But aren't there differences between a traditional electric and baritone or seven-string designs?
The primary difference between a traditional guitar and the baritone or seven-string models is in the size of the fretboard. Particularly for baritone guitars, the frets are a bit larger, which helps to accommodate the thicker strings.
However, this does not mean that you can't use those same strings with a "regular" electric guitar's fretboard.
In that case you've got three options:
Option 1: Simply buy a "heavy" set of six-string strings
This is the most obvious fix, and one that I still use most of the time. Since I like the lower tunings, I routinely buy strings that are in the "heavy" category, where the low E is often around .052. Here are a couple sets I've used in the past:
The thicker bottom allows me to get to some of those deeper tunings and handles pretty well down to drop C. Anything past drop C required one of the following two solutions.
Option 2: Buy a baritone string set for a "regular" guitar
Remember, a baritone guitar - like the kind Mike Mushok (Staind's guitar player) always uses - is a six-string setup. Baritone refers to tuning more so than a particular guitar model. This means you can easily swap out a standard set of strings for a baritone six-string set.
I've only ever used the Ernie Ball baritones:
- Ernie Ball Baritone Nickel Wound - .013 to .072
That .072 is your "low E" string, which gives you a lot more room to get down to drop B and even drop A tunings, perfect for Korn tracks. I'm using that Ernie Ball baritone set in this cover of "Thoughtless" from a few years ago:
Notice the guitar I'm using is one of the old PRS Santana SE models. It's not exactly a world beater in the metal and hard rock realm. The strings made a massive difference in terms of how this cover sounded.
It sounded strong, heavy and the chords felt tight, like you would image the cables on a well-built suspended bridge.
This combination of baritone strings and Seymour Duncan pickups (I installed them in both my PRS guitars) is my go-to for all things heavy metal.
My third option involved a little less creative thought, but is still a viable choice for those not sold on the first two.
Option 3: Buy a 7-String Set of Strings & Don't Use the High E
For those who may not know, seven string guitars add a low string to the set. That means if you buy a seven-string set, you can use what you need for a six string guitar and simply discard the high E.
Here are a couple options I'd recommend if you want to go this route:
As you can see, the 7-string sets are a little lighter than the baritone strings, which might be preferable to you depending on how heavy you want the strings to feel. Again, I've used both and the baritone sets feel really heavy.
The 7-string sets, especially the Elixirs, will be lighter and might feel more like a regular guitar and less like the baritone design.
Either set can handle the low A tunings.
My Preference for Each Tuning
The pros have a different guitar and string set for each tuning they use. If I could afford five or six guitars (I only keep two electrics at a time), I'd have a unique set of strings for each tuning I like to play in.
Here's how I would set it up:
- Standard (E, A, D, G, B, E): Elixir 11 - 49
- Drop D (D, A, D, G, B, E): Elixir 10-52
- Drop C (six-string): C, G, C, F, A, D: Ernie Ball 7-String Cobalt: 10 - 62
- Drop A (seven-string): A, D, G, C, F, A (omit the high E): Ernie Ball Baritone: 13 - 72
- Drop B: (six-string): B, A, D, G, B, E: Ernie Ball Baritone: 13 - 72
Since I don't have five guitars, I have to pick two of these to roll with. Most of the time I use a 10 - 52 Elixir set tuned to drop D and a 13 - 72 Ernie Ball baritone set tuned to A, D, G, C, F, A.
With this setup I have my main guitar jumping back and forth between standard and drop D, with a secondary electric that's responsible for anything lower than that.
If you can afford to add an actual seven-string or baritone guitar to your collection, than I certainly wouldn't discourage you from doing so. However, I think it's worth considering whether a $299 seven-string would be better than $2000 PRS with a set of baritone strings.
To be honest, I'd rather have the PRS configuration and get the tuning I want for an additional eight bucks, assuming I already have the guitar on hand.
If that's your situation, just experiment with the string gauges.
My bet is that you'll be able to find the tone and feel for a pretty low price tag. It kinda feels like getting a new guitar.
Your Thoughts & Questions
Do you have questions about the tunings or strings I've mentioned here? If so, leave it in the comments section below, and I'll respond there.
This is preferable to email so future readers can benefit from the additional information and conversion.
Flickr Commons image courtesy of mzagerp