If you have played guitar for a while, you will know that playing guitar is much more than just playing chords, and plucking strings to bash out your favorite tunes. Playing guitar means you need to know how to tune it, and how to tune it in different ways too.
For the newer guitarists out there, not every song will be in the same key, and this is why you need to learn how to properly tune your guitar for the correct effect, and for the song to sound as it should.
Today, we are focusing on Drop C, a key tuning if you want to play some of the more hardcore tunes!
Let’s rock ‘n’ roll!
Introduction To Drop C
Drop C is one of the more popular tunings for heavier genres such as metal, hardcore, and some grunge. It is a tuning that will lower down the guitar’s range, two steps below standard E tuning.
There is another primary change, the top string, which is low C, will be lowered additionally to craft an extra octave between the 1st and the 3rd strings on your guitar.
Playing in Drop C makes playing hardcore so much easier, you can play full bar chords simply by placing your finger on a fret over several strings.
You may have tried out Drop D, which is easier and more common to get a typical EADGBE tuning from, but Drop C gives you a heavier sound and a much lower range. So, for metal and hardcore enthusiasts, Drop C is just the way to go.
However, you would not want to keep changing the tuning of your guitar from standard to Drop C, for several fairly obvious reasons.
Firstly, the strings just would not hold tension in both tunings, if they hold well to the standard tuning they will be unlikely to hold Drop C very well.
Of course, the major difference between these two tunings is just not good or healthy for the fretboard either.
Finally, you would probably also have to raise the action on your guitar. Strings tuned into Drop C need a lot more tension and will likely hit other frets, making it clangy and sound wrong and dirty.
Tuning To Drop C
The tuning for Drop C is CGCFAD, which is a different guitar tuning, in this the 6th string is tuned to 2 tones lower, tuned down to C. This makes it a major third from E to C, while the remainder of the strings are tuned just one tone lower.
This tuning is very popular with a lot of heavy metal bands as it produces a much heavier, and deeper sound. It can produce 5th chords faster, and with more ease than with typical tuning.
So, if you want to tune to Drop C, start with standard or Drop D. However, be aware you may need to change your guitar’s settings for it to adapt.
Of course, you could also purchase a seven string guitar, it will have all the strings of standard tuning as well as a lower B string, this allows you to get Major 3rd down and perhaps even 4th too!
Step-By-Step Guide: Standard To Drop C Tuning
So, if you currently have standard tuning, how do you tune down to Drop C? Here is a handy step-by-step guide to show you how!
To start, you should first make sure that you are in standard tuning, while you can start from Drop D, it’s not recommended as it can alter the tuning, and you could end up with broken strings. If you use thick strings it is best to tune them to standard tuning first.
Not dissimilar to when you tune to Drop D and use the open D (4th) string as a point of reference for turning your 6th string, with Drop C, the reference is the third fret on the A/5th string.
You need to find a C note on your guitar and the most accessible is this one.
Note that you are returning the sixth spring to the octave below the note of reference, not to the same C, make sure you do not do this, if you do, the string will probably break.
Press the 7th fret on the 6th string, and the now-tuned low C note will produce a gorgeous G when you pluck it with your finger on the 7th fret. Now you want to use this note as a way to reference for tuning your 5th string. This should be a total match, but not a different octave as is with the 6th string.
Press down on the 5th string and 5th fret, with the G string tuned G you can use this as reference for the 4th string.
Use the C note you use to find the same note on the 5th string at the 5th fret. However, you can also use the 6th string totally open as a point of reference.
For the 3rd string, seek out an F on the 5th fret of your 4th string, then tune the 3rd until it matches this.
Once you have the 3rd string at an F, use this to reference for the 2nd. Press on the 3rd string’s 4th fret and if you strum this, it will make an A.
Once your 2nd string is tuned, you can find D at the 5th fret of this, and you can un-tune your first string from high E to the ideal D.
With all this done, you have tuned to Drop C. Once you have finished tuning, strum on each string and pull them gently to force it as much as you can. All that is left is to make any adjustments to ensure they are in tune.
With this done, the only thing left is to make some changes to ensure your guitar will accommodate this tuning.
Making Your Guitar Play Drop C Properly
Be aware that the string caliber used with standard tuning does not probably stand Drop C, especially on the sixth string, as it goes down 2 steps. When you de-tune the guitar to a low pitch the strings will end up losing tension.
Lighter gauge strings also lose tone and slack sound, which is more prominent on the top end of the fretboard.
In order to avoid this issue, you will want strings that are somewhere in the range of 0.012 to around 0.062 inches. Ernie Ball has some awesome strings which are specifically made for Drop C, it would be wise to get these.
Should you find that a 0.012 gauge is a bit too heavy for your bottom strings you can get some string sets which will mix up the gauges, and you can still use a heavier one for your lower strings.
It just depends on your personal preferences, experiment until you find a sound you like.
You may also find that you will have to raise your bridge. The bridge could lose tension, or end up tilting down or up, this is not always the case, but it can happen. If you choose thicker strings, you will most likely need to do this.
A majority of electric guitar models will have a fixed bridge, however, and these are not impacted by de-tuning strings. However, if you have a Floyd Rose bridge, be sure to raise it before you tune to Drop C.
After this you will need to adjust the truss rod, as you will likely be using larger strings, they need extra space to vibrate. Therefore, adjusting the truss rod on your guitar gives more space between the fretboard and the strings.
This simply allows the strings more space to sound clean and clear.
You may be extra wary of this if you are a beginner, however, it is one of the most done changes for a guitar, it is normal so do not worry about it too much.
Just, be slow and do not turn too quickly, remember, you do not want to do damage to the neck of your guitar!
To do this adjustment, all you should need is a simple ¼ inch nut driver wrench. You can easily get these online, at a hardware store, or at a music shop.
Make sure that after you have replaced the strings and put them into Drop C, that you check over the neck of your guitar. If it does have a lesser or greater curvature than before, then adjust the truss rod until it is how it should be.
Make Sure To Adjust Guitar Saddles & Nuts
Consider that you may need to file the grooves that are in the guitar nut; this is found at the top of the fretboard, just above the 1st fret, and it has the slots in which it holds the strings.
These slots are always pre-made to fit standard strings, so if you use thicker gauge strings you might need to widen the slots.
This is likely something that will not affect the guitar when you go back to standard strings as well, so feel free to do this. Make sure you do not rush this, though, do it one at a time and slowly.
You could use sandpaper to do this, or very thin files, whatever is easiest. If you use sandpaper then wrap it around the string and slide it through the slot up and down until the slot is a perfect fit for your string.
If you do not feel comfortable doing this yourself, you can always take your guitar to a local store, and they can help or give you feedback.
This will also apply to saddles, much like with the nut, your bridge might have saddles that hold the strings at the bottom.
If you have to file the slots in the nut, you will probably have to do the same for the saddles to accommodate your thicker strings.
This might sound insane because it’s metal, but all this means if you cannot use sandpaper. Instead, you will need to use real polishers, as the saddles will be made from brass, steel, or aluminum, sandpaper won’t do anything.
If you don’t have polishers, your only other option may be to take it to a guitar repair shop and have them get this part of the process done.
However, it might be cheaper to just buy the files yourself, they are available online for a decent price, and most guitar shops will stock them too.
What Can You Play In Drop C?
There are plenty of bands which exclusively play in Drop C, but there are also some songs that only ever really hit right when played in Drop C.
Instead of just giving you some artists to play, we will give you some songs to enjoy playing as you find the fun of playing in Drop C.
These are our favorites:
Bullet For My Valentine – Tears Don’t Fall: This is an epic classic, and while BFMV are still going at it hard, there is nothing quite like how they were back in the 00s and early 2010’s. This song is a classic to play in Drop C.
BFMV mainly play in Drop C, it’s how they get that super deep bottom end C note that sings deep in a majority of their classics. It’s just a classic trademark of that era for any metal fans.
Breaking Benjamin – So Cold: We are not so sure why Breaking Benjamin went so unnoticed back when this song was released, but at this time they were at their absolute peak. Their vocals were a rival to Chester Bennington and their sound was killer.
Their progression was well spaced out, it never felt rushed, like with many others. Their ambiance is also legendary, so this song is a great one to try as you are having some fun with Drop C.
Killswitch Engage – My Curse: KIllswitch engage are also another classic band we all fell in love with back in the era of Drop C mania in metal music. If you ever played Guitar Hero, you are probably rather familiar with this classic.
The riffs on this song are actually pretty easy, and they sound epic too, with the vocals it all just blends together so well.
Drop C is a great way to get that heavy sound, and it is actually pretty easy to tune your guitar this way. It might be more of a challenge for beginners, but it can be really useful in heavier genre music.
Make sure you tune your strings right, choose the right strings, and prepare your guitar for playing in Drop C.
Frequently Asked Question
Is It Possible To Play Drop D Songs In Drop C?
For the most part, yes, any Drop tuning will provide the power chords you are after and give you that sound you hear from most rock and metal bands. The lower the tuning, the more ‘metal’ it is.