New Standard Tuning (Guitar/Fripp)

I’ve been mostly playing in NST the past year or so. And I’ve spent more time playing my guitar in NST than regular tuning and I’m curious if I’m limiting myself by sticking with it.

For example I hardly ever use the top string because it’s so low.

I’m curious if there’s any styles of music or even certain chords or notes that I wouldn’t be able to play in NST.

Honestly don’t know a lick of theory especially on guitar and typically have no idea what I’m playing I’ve found I’ve been mic more comfortable in NST than standard tuning and would like to keep exploring it but have been thinking lately have I been missin out on anything by sticking with it.


To save others the trouble of googling; from Wikipedia:

New standard tuning is an alternative tuning for the guitar that approximates all-fifths tuning. The guitar’s strings are assigned the notes C2-G2-D3-A3-E4-G4; the five lowest open strings are each tuned to an interval of a perfect fifth {, }; the two highest strings are a minor third apart.

Sounds interesting, I learned only this year that the violin’s strings eadg were actually gdae (tuned to 5ths not 4ths)…


I play a relative of NST on touch guitar. You can play anything but the voicing will be different. 5ths tunings are more “open” in the sense that you can cover a wider distance of intervals at one hand position.

The downside is simply that most guitar music was written for other tunings, and some things like “close” voicings are harder to do.


I’m yet to try New Standard Tuning. The only alternate tuning I play in regularly is open C and open B. Unless you count C standard and B standard as alternate tunings. Will be nice to try something new.

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I like the idea of NST in the sense that interval relationships across strings become super consistent. I can see the appeal of that.
But, close intervals (even minors) become more difficult, and by gum I like major seconds and so on. So I don’t think it would work for me.
Maybe what I need is to tune the string pairs in major thirds…

I didn’t know about it but as a violinist I’ve always been tuning my guitars CGDAE in fifth. (Removing the top one)
I try to find guitars with a relatively short scale.

When I used to play Chapman Stick, I jammed a few times with a really good guitar player who used NST almost exclusively. He was an advanced player, who knew really well his instrument and harmony. I’d suggest to stick to regular tuning and learn as much music/songs/licks as you can, if at the moment you don’t know what you’re doing on guitar.

BTW, my Grand Stick was tuned all 5ths across the “bass” side, and 4ths on the melody side. It made perfectly sense to me.

Wait, you can tune guitars to something other than open g?

For me, learning to navigate the fretboard for real (not with some thing like the CAGED system, but ACTUALLY know where what note is, interval shapes etc) is something that is changing my relationship to the guitar. Before I was flying blind, now I‘m increasingly starting to see what the hell I’m doing on it, which allows me more and more to genuinely PLAY the guitar (instead of just reproducing what others have played or memorise stuff).

Obviously this absolute navigation on the guitar is relative to the tuning one uses. As such, I‘ve comitted to standard tuning and will stay there until my mental map of and orientation on the fretboard has become rock solid. After that, I‘ll be ok with retuning occasionally, as I‘ll be able to navigate that tuning in relation to my base (in my case, standard tuning).

I guess what I‘m saying is: whatever tuning you go for, stay there and learn it well.

In terms of limiting yourself with a particular tuning, unless you‘re not in the register needed to play the music you want to play, you should be fine. It‘s the same notes on your fretboard still, organised in half steps, just shifted around. Anything you could play in standard tuning you should be able to play in NST, only the relationships between notes will change, so your interval patterns will look different. This means that some stuff will be easier and some stuff will be a little harder to pull off. But you can pull it all off.

In a way, tuning in 5ths makes sense, as the most important harmonic interval in the harmonic series is the 5th, hands down.

For me, I want to benefit from the study materials and transcribed guitar music that is out there and overwhelmingly based on standard tuning. Hence I play and study in standard tuning (for now).


I’ll note that Robert Fripp has been playing eadgbe in recent stuff I’ve seen. I played around with new standard tuning years ago, but found the low C and high G too compromised.

That said, if you like it, stick with it. Plenty of players have adopted it to great effect. Ultimately, the music that comes out is what matters.

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I had one tuned in fourths which I liked better than fifths and the high and low strings weren’t at extreme pitches for those strings. I’ve also played a lot in alternate tunings which I like for improvised compositions. But always had my classical in standard with the G occasionally sharp for a Spanish / Arabic scale I like. Haven’t tried NST but like fripps stuff with brian Eno. I’m leaning back to standard as it is good for mixing tonal and atonal stuff, it can get good and weird. Whole tone scale is also interesting.


I’ve played with NST and I have an electric Tenor guitar tuned in 5ths (GDAE).

I like how it stops me auto-piloting into pentatonic shapes and I like the lateral movement of 5ths across a fretboard.
I also like how the voicings take me into octave gaps, so major/minor 3rds are usually an octave above the root (maj/min 10ths), and 2nd’s become 9th’s, etc.


I play in a particular tuning and have done so for years. I found it and consider it mine, basically. Songs I write, I write in this tuning. I resonate with it in deep way, but it’s definitely limited. Or at least, I have to dig around in there to find certain voicings or what have you. But that’s a big part of the appeal, I think. I have no idea what I’m working with.

Of course, I can’t play other stuff in this tuning. I think Sonic Youth did a lot of stuff in alternate tunings also. To me, standard tuning has been done to death, and I see no reason to hang out in it. I just wind up doing power and barre chords and all the usual stuff.

Alternative tunings - I’m all for it. To me, finding a tuning you love and write in is a way to create a new sound. I stay as far away from Drop D as possible, even though that was what I grew up on.

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I don’t think there is necessarily a “right way” of approaching this kinda question (at least not in a universal sense). However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a correct answer for you. I think it ultimately all depends on what you want to get out of the instrument, and how that desire ties into your overall creative approach. More specifically, how much work do you want to do to get a specific sound vs how much do you want the instrument to be doing for you?

For some background

My principal instrument is the six string bass, and I have never changed the tuning from perfect fourths tuning (BEADGC) except on the rare occasion that I’ll tune the B to an A for very specific genres of music. I’ve found this approach has led to far more intimacy with the specific notes on the fretboard, which, in turn, has granted me a lot more freedom to approach familiar structures in new ways. But it can absolutely feel limiting sometimes. For instance (I’m about to talk about a taboo subject) voicing chords on the bass can be a bit of a struggle since the tuning I use isn’t well suited for chords in general. All fourths and all fifths tunings (at least in my experience) are better served for monophonic playing styles.

My approach to the guitar has been almost exactly the opposite. I have never learned to “properly” play in standard tuning, and have tended towards alternate tunings for as long as I’ve played guitar. Due to my familiarity with six string bass, my first tuning was a similar all fourths tuning (EADGCF), but I quickly strayed from that path towards more chordal tunings, as I found the same problems with voicing chords on the guitar that I did on the bass (albeit with much less finger stretching involved). Because of this, I started to learn more about open tunings. The first one I tried (DADGAD) really unlocked a new way of thinking about the instrument as a whole instead of as merely intervals and single notes, and hearing all of those sympathetic resonances opens up a completely new kind of sound that you don’t get (at least not easily) from playing in a constant interval tuning.

All of this is to say that there is no correct way to learn the guitar, but rather there are different paths that will make different concepts easier at the expense of others. There are pros and cons to any approach, so what matters most is understanding what you personally want to get out of learning the instrument. Are you a lead player who mostly takes solos and plays riffs? then NST is probably perfect for you! Or are you someone who wants to comp and play more harmonies? then standard tuning could be worth learning (especially with the plethora of teachers using standard on YouTube), or you could opt for an open tuning to make chords easier to play but more limited in their applications (this approach is far better for a singer-songwriter imo).

But, then again, what do I know? I barely even consider myself a guitarist, so all of this could be a long way of saying nothing helpful at all! Ultimately, it’s never a waste to try something and find it’s not for you, since you’ll still learn a lot about what it is you are actually looking for.

For anyone interested in alternate tunings, I’d highly recommend checking out the World of Tunings. A few of my favorites are DADGAD, DGDGCD, and DADF#AE.


Man I LOVE that website. Thanks for sharing!

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I play Carnatic tuning, BEBEBE. On an archtop. With a slide.


I tried playing guitar once, with very poor results. The tuning was CACACA.

(Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Didn’t McCartney write Blackbird in that tuning?

This statement represents a paradox to me.

If you don’t understand what you’re doing on a fundamental level, you can’t possibly have a reason. And if you don’t have a reason, why choose an alternate tuning?

Serious question… Is standard tuning holding you back?

It isn’t holding Steve Vai or Joe Satriani back. It didn’t hold Stevie Ray Vaughan or Eddie Van Halen back. It might, however, potentially hold Derek Trucks back.

And Fripp’s aspirations as a player are, well… Esoteric by design.

See, alternate tunings are arrived at when proficient players run up against very specific limitations: i.e. notes that are out of reach for a particular arrangement, or the logistics of playing with a slide, for instance.

Beyond that, tuning schemes are completely arbitrary. Piano, guitar, violin, saxophone… Each with the notes arranged differently, yet countless great players have demonstrated virtuosity on each of those instruments, to equally lofty degrees.

Someone upthread suggested subscribing to a single tuning scheme and learning it inside out… I concur. No better advice could be offered. The bottom line is, if you’re a beginner, or don’t otherwise have total command over your instrument, you’ve got work to do.

To that end, in my opinion, it’s probably best to stick with standard tuning, if only because there is a wealth of learning material out there already, and a longstanding precedent of what can be achieved, nowhere near exhausted.



I’ve been playing regular tuning ever since I’ve started with guitar 20+ years ago. I rarely play songs written by other people nowadays. I don’t even play my own songs very much after I’m finished with recording them. As it happens, I just wrapped up tracking guitar for an album and wanted to switch things up with my guitar, so I just dialled in the new standard tuning for the first time. An hour passed and felt like a minute. Feels like a whole new world of surprises and happy accidents. I think I’ll stick with NST for a while a see what happens.
The low C string feels very loose though. I checked the string gauges listed on Wikipedia but couldn’t find an Ernie Ball (my preferred brand for strings) set that matches Fripp’s set. The skinny top heavy bottom string set comes pretty close. Any recommendations for electric guitar strings you guys prefer for NST?

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