How to Tune Your Guitar to Low C

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CGDGAD Alternate Tuning

Boy playing guitar with grandfather
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Listen to an mp3 of a guitar tuned to low C.

Low C tuning is typically associated with Celtic music, although even amongst Celtic guitarsists, it's not a common tuning. Although this isn't a tuning you'll hear about very often, low C can provide some really interesting sounds for guitarists willing to explore. One of the particular benefits of the tuning is the small amount of tonal space between the open third string (G) and the open second string (A). Guitarists can use this to their advantage, creating ringing harp-like sounds by using a "clawhammer" technique.

The super-low sixth string tuned down to C provides a deep, full sound when used properly. Because of the big drop in pitch, your guitar may have a tendency to not hold pitch when you first tune to low C. After you've tuned each string once, double back and re-check the tuning of all six strings—chances are you'll need to fine-tune.

Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down two full tones to C. Check the open string with the third fret on the fifth string—the two notes should both be C one octave apart. Tweak tuning on sixth string until the notes sound the same.
  • Next, tune your fifth string down a tone to G. Check the tuning with the open third string—the two notes should sound one octave apart.
  • Your fourth string (D) is fine as-is.
  • Your third string (G) is fine as-is.
  • Now, tune your second string down a tone to A. Check with the second fret of the third string—the two notes should sound the same.
  • Lastly, tune your first string down a tone to D. Check with the open fourth string (D)—the two notes should sound the same an octave apart.

Tab of Songs in Low C Tuning

Chet Baker's Unsung Swan Song - This is a nice tune in low C tuning by David Wilcox.

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Other Low C Resources

Chords in Low C - This is a handy showcase of chord diagrams that can be played in low C tuning.

Low C Video Lesson - This YouTube lesson makes it all looks easy when you slow it down, but illustrates how to play some absolutely fierce acoustic guitar parts in low C tuning. Not for beginners (or maybe even intermediate players), but this one will sound great if you can get it up to speed.

Open C Guitar Lesson - This lesson on provides a good place to get started. Included are details on common chord shapes in open C tuning, as well as basic scale patterns.