Tuning guitar strings upward

I’ve been playing guitar (a Standard Strat) for a few years and I’m thinking of playing around with alternate tunings. My question concerns tuning strings upward. I assume the guitar is designed for the strings to be tuned to the “standard” tuning, but that it has a certain tolerance for tighter tuning. How much tighter can the strings be before it starts to become bad for the guitar? If I tuned an E string up to an A, for example, would that be a problem at all on a solid body guitar with a vintage-style tremolo bridge?

Speaking purely from experience, I’d say avoid doing this as much as a possible. The higher strings will break, and the lower ones can put undue pressure on the neck of the guitar (I’ve had a wooden classical guitar snap on me before, when I’d inadvertantly tuned the whole thing up a third and left it for a few days). Most alternate tunings I know tend to go downwards anyway, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem to avoid.

Yeah, at best I’d be comfortable with a half step upwards. I do this whenever I change strings anyway to stretch 'em out a bit.

But all the most common altered tunings go down. Try:

Drop D
DADGAD (double drop D)
Open G
Open D
Open A
Open E

Alternately, try a Third Hand Capo. They’re fantastic.


What they said.

I’ve heard about a lot of alternate tunings over the years, but in every case, involved tuning down. If you want to go up - use a capo.

I don’t know how much additional tension (beyond the factory-recommended strings at standard pitch) that type of guitar can stand. I think it’s safe to say, though, that the increase in pitch you’re asking about, especially if applied to most or all of the strings, would be enough to affect the relief of the neck, which would require a truss rod adjustment to rectify - if the neck didn’t break first. And I think it’s questionable that the strings themselves wouldn’t snap in trying to tighten them that much.

If you really want that sort of tuning, you might be able to achieve it without extreme additional tension by using lighter gauge strings.

You can Google on guitar string tension, guitar string tension chart, or guitar string tension calculator to get info about the tension with your current strings and with your intended alterations. I’d be leery of a tension increase of over 10%, and I’m not even sure that’s safe.

I’d approach this with great caution.

There’s no reason to tune upward.

This is what second guitars are for. It’s kind of like women; you have a real nice one that you take good care of and take out in public, then you have a hootchie mama that you booty call and do all the kinky stuff with. You need to do all that alternate tuning/weird paintjob /setting on fire stuff with your hootchie mama guitar.


I don’t see how tuning upwards would be any different from using heavier strings. I think with 009s you could tune up a tone before you even needed to adjust the truss rod. 008s even higher. With 007s I doubt you could put any damaging tension on the neck before the strings all snapped. (Does *anyone *play with those fuse-wires?)

Johnny Marr sometimes tuned his guitars up to F# in the Smiths and I’m guessing he wasn’t using wussy light gauge strings.

.009 tuned to E: 12.28 lbs tension
.009, F#: 15.47
.009, A: 21.87
.011, E: 19.62
.012, E: 23.32

With a 9 gauge string, tuning up to A increases tension by 78%.

ETA: Tuning the 9 up to F# gives a 26% increase. Going up to A gives three times the increase - pretty damn significant.

Thanks to everyone who replied – I’m certainly glad I checked in here before I tried this!

By the way, the reason I wanted to do this is that I’m a primitive guitar player; I basically play everything in G and use a capo when I need to put a song into a key that fits my limited vocal range. But this, of course, works only to a certain extent – if I capo above the fifth fret, the chords get too scrunchy for my fingers. And there are some songs I really love that I just can’t get into my vocal range without capo’ing higher. I guess I could tune down to get to the next octave… or just learn how to play in other keys (or use barre chords) already, sigh. (I just want to have a good time, babe; I don’t want to get serious!)

If you learn how do to stuff in C/Am and D as well, then you can keep the capo down lower to suit your voice for any given song. That’s what I do (but don’t tell anyone).

I tune B to C for open C. Or if I’m feeling lazy I’ll tune my low E up to F for a couple of simple fiddle tunes. That way I can just vary between open string and thumbing at the 2nd fret as opposed to having to fret the 3rd and 1st frets, which is terribly inconvenient :D.

Then there’s Robert Fripp’s NST or New Standard Tuning - CGDAEG - but I don’t know what guage strings the players of that tuning employ.

Learn other keys. You’ll be glad you did, trust me. The limitations of being stuck in a handful of keys can be very frustrating.

The next keys to learn would be C and/or D. If you’re just playing chords for common 3-chord songs, you’re already at least halfway there. In the key of G, those chords are G, C, & D or D7. In the key of C, they’re C, F, & G (or G7); in D they’re D, G, & A (or A7). Learn one or two more chords, and you’ve got what you need for the next key, and it keeps going that way. If you’re picking leads/melody it may be more complicated, but still there are patterns that transfer to where learning each additional key can be less work than learning the first few.

The minor chords associated with each key are shared among keys as well. In G those are Em, Am, & Bm. In C they’re Am, Dm, & Em; in D they’re Bm, Em, & F#m. So while you need three minor chords to cover one key, you only need five to cover three keys. And six to cover four keys, etc., etc.

Barre chords increase your flexibility further, but are significantly harder to master. That can come later.

ETA: Knowing additional chords also increases the number of songs you can play in just one key. Not every song has just the basic three I mentioned above.

I overlooked this. It won’t work very well. You can get by with going down a few half-steps, but at increasing tendency to buzz the farther you go. That, coupled with the pain in the butt of retuning every string as you change songs, makes it a largely unsatisfactory approach. Constant significant retuning of the strings also tends to make them break sooner.

I do a couple of songs that require drop tuning. Thank you very much for the lead on the Third Hand capo. I just ordered one.

Yeah they work really well and I use them all the time. The owner of the company is a musical aquaintance of mine and he turned me onto it a couple years back at a gig. I still use dunlop and shubbs also but this definitely has some use, especially in dealing with drone based stuff and especially Celtic stuff