DADGAD doesn’t get the respect it deserves. If you ever went through anything resembling a Rock and Roll phase, you’re probably familiar with DADGAD tuning. But DADGAD is useful for way more than playing covers, and is definitely worth a second look…
If your guitar playing journey was anything like mine, you probably came across DADGAD tuning from one particular riff…
But DADGAD tuning has a long history and is useful for a lot more than just playing Zeppelin covers at your high school talent show and trying to impress everybody with not only your able guitar playing but also your nuance grasp on geopolitical tensions on the Indian subcontinent…
As you might’ve guessed by now DADGAD is tuned like it sounds low to high. It goes D, A, D, G, A, D. So basically you’re tuning your sixth string down from E to D and you’re tuning your first and second strings down to D and A respectively.
In modern music. DADGAD was popularized by 60s British folk guitarist, Davey Graham, who himself was a big influence upon Jimmy page as well as many others. You might know Graham from his acoustic folk instrumental Anji. If you don’t, you should definitely check that out.
Allegedly Graham had heard a musician playing the oud in Morocco, really liked the sound and basically just kind of played around with his guitar’s tuning until he got it to a place where he felt like it kind of evoked the same feeling as the oud did.
In the years since DADGAD has been employed by countless guitarists, including Rory Gallagher, Roy Harper, Jeff Tweedy, Russian Circles, and of course the great Jimmy Page.
Why It’s Great
So the thing that makes DADGAD so unique is its killer drone potential. If you’re playing in D you’ve got three octaves of D available to you at any time and you’ve got two octaves of your fifth (that’ll be A in this case) available to you at anytime as well so you can move chord voicings around while droning on the top or droning on the bottom as you see fit.
This is part of why I think this tuning sounds so Celtic to us is because those droning notes sort of emulate the droning notes that you get in bagpipe music.
What’s so nice about this tuning for people that are used to playing in standard tuning is that your third, fourth and fifth strings are still tuned the exact same as you would expect them to be on a normal guitar—and if you’re used to playing drop D as I know so many of you are, then your lowest four strings are going to be all the exact same as you are in drop D.
So basically you can focus on using strings three through five or three through six like we talked about, just like you normally would, but you’ve got sympathetic drones available to you both above and below. Additionally, because the open strings are so sympathetic to anything in D, as long as you’re playing in D or capoing and playing in a different scale as you see fit, then you can pretty much create lush and open soundscapes while just fretting single notes sometimes
What strings should you use?
So if you’re just going to be playing in DADGAD occasionally, maybe this article inspires you and you want to fiddle with it or maybe you’re playing in it for one song out of a set—maybe 10% of the time or something like that—you don’t necessarily have to go with a custom gauge set of strings in order to work perfectly for DADGAD. You’re only tuning a step down on a couple of strings, so a set that’s balanced for standard tuning will be able to handle that okay. You’re going to get a little bit of buzzing maybe here and there depending on how your guitar is set up, but again, nothing that’s going to be you know, treacherous for you in any way.
But if you’re expecting to keep a guitar in DADGAD full time, of course you’re going to want to have a specific set of strings that’s going to balance really well in this tuning. Now if you want to dial in something perfectly for your particular guitar, you’re welcome to use our free string tension calculator, but I’ve got a couple of rules of thumb that I think will help you to arrive there without putting in all that work if you just want some sort of simple things to keep in mind in order to dial in a set for DADGAD.
So since in DADGAD tuning you’re only tuning a full step down on the first, second and sixth strings, a nice easy rule of thumb to use is to take strings one, two and six from a set that’s a full gauge higher than whatever set you’re typically using and plug those into the set that you’re typically using.
So in this case, if we’re using a set of 10s in standard, we would take the first, second and the sixth strings from a set of 11s and then sub those in. So this way, even if you don’t want to customize a set of strength through us, if you just want to buy a cheapo strings from the store or whatever, if you get a set of 10s and a set of 11s, or a set of 9s and a set of 10s or whatever, you can combine them to make a set and it’s going to work really well for DADGAD.
So for electric, if you want it to feel similar to 10s, I’d recommend going .011 -- .014 -- .017 -- .026w -- .036 -- .050 -- GET IT HERE
Likewise for acoustic, if you want to feel it’s going to be pretty similar to 12s you’ll want to go .013 -- .017 -- .024w -- .032 -- .042 -- .056 -- GET IT HERE
But whatever gauge you want to use, again, just kind of use that rule of thumb to look at the gauges in your set, pull a couple of gauges from the set, the next full gauge higher, and you can kind of Frankenstein those into being a set that is going to work really well for DADGAD.
Give it a try on your own.
So I hope this video inspires you in some way to pick up DADGAD or a different alternate tuning and see if it inspires you to make different music than you would have before. One issue that I see a lot with guitarists is that I think certain tunings get locked into canon as a certain thing. So when people play in DADGAD they’re trying to play, you know, very Celtic music or if they’re trying to play certain Jimmy page tracks, but they don’t necessarily use it for other things.
But we think it can be used for much more than that—it can be used along with delay pedals and reverb to create really lush sort of droning soundscapes, as just one example.
So wherever you are in your playing journey, don’t be afraid to try different things and more than anything, don’t get locked into what you think something is supposed to be used for just because it’s been used for that in the past.