Acoustic guitar players are synonymous in using altered tunings and I have to say over the years I have come across many of them.
Of all the most well known tunings dadgad has to be the most popular one used and has been around for many years, in fact since the early 1960's. So why do most acoustic players use altered tunings? Well for me personally, I get much more creativity than I ever could using standard tuning.
Some very colourful chord voicings can be created, which in standard tuning might not be so reachable on the fretboard. Of course the secret is not to get too familiar with the technical aspects of the tuning you choose. Because we are all taught on standard tuning, we know all the intervals in the chords and all the scales down to the last note. In altered tunings I here Major, minor and Dominant. I don’t look past that.
I create a chord that is minor, but I don’t want to know every last interval in the chord. I am looking for something different. I don’t think an artist chooses all the colours before he starts to paint a picture, the picture finds the colours. Don’t analyse as most people do in standard tuning, just play what is in your head.
You can make up your own tunings. There are no rules and the only problems you may come up against are slack or over tight strings. Experiment with string gauges to find the right balance.
A tuning that I have used on and off for a few years now is C6/9 and I have to say the string gauges took a bit of finding when I first started using it. Keeping it in tune was another problem. I found Parlor Guitars with a slightly shorter scale better for this tuning. I could get away with a 54 gauge bottom string tuned down to C, where on some Guitars a 56 was slack. The intonation also has to be perfect when open strings are ringing against high fretted notes.
The track below was recorded in 2007 when I was still getting to grips with this tuning. It shows some of the problems to overcome when using altered tunings. Note the very slack bottom string and the ever so slight imperfect intonation. Over the years I have built on the tuning and now teach it to some of my students.
Remember, the only rules are that there are no rules. A good altered tuning, is any altered tuning that is played from the soul.