9 String Guitar Tuning: The Ultimate Guide

With the rise in modern extended range guitars, the need for 9 string guitar tuning has become more apparent in the music industry. Unlike tuning a regular guitar, this standard guitar tuning involves adding an additional 3 lower strings to a traditional 6-string guitar for a total of nine strings. These additional lower strings allow for a powerful & deep sound that favored by many of the heavy genres.

Furthermore, one of the main advantages of the 9 string guitar tuning is the increased range of notes that can be played. This makes it a popular choice for musicians who want to experiment with new sounds & styles.

Finally, the extra strings allow for more complex chord progressions and fingerpicking patterns, making it a versatile instrument across many genres of music.

Despite its benefits, learning to play the 9 string guitar can be challenging for beginners and it all starts with learning how to tune it properly. In this article we cover the first step towards mastery of your instrument as well as tips & tricks to keep you in tune longer.

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9 String Guitar Overview

The 9 string guitar is a niche instrument & relatively new addition to the world of guitars.

It’s essentially a 6 string guitar with an additional three bass strings, which are typically tuned to lower notes. Its open tuning notes are: C# F# B E A D G B E

Notice how the top 6 notes are the same standard tuning notes that a 6 string guitar has.

This unique configuration allows for a greater range of chords, harmonies, as well as a heavier & punchier bottom end. As such, the 9 string guitar has become an increasingly popular instrument among musicians of all genres, particularly in heavy metal and progressive rock music.

How To Tune a 9 String Guitar to Standard Tuning

Below are the open notes for reference when tuning your 9 string guitar. We recommend always starting with the lower string since it provides more tuning stability.

5 Common Tuning Problems

Here are some common tuning problems for a 9 string guitar and how they can be solved:

String slippage:

This is when the tension of a string causes it to slip out of tune. To solve this problem, make sure that the string is properly wound around the tuning peg a couple of times before inserting it through the hole.

Additionally, make sure that the peg is tightened properly as they can sometimes come loose.

Intonation issues:

Intonation issues on a guitar can lead to tuning inconsistencies across the fretboard. These problems often result in chords or notes sounding out of tune even when the open strings are correctly tuned. Intonation problems typically occur when the guitar’s scale length and string length do not align precisely, causing differences in pitch between fretted and open notes.

To solve intonation issues, adjustments can be made at the saddle or bridge of the guitar. If you don’t know how to do this yourself, then a professional setup that includes this service might be something to look into.

Temperature changes:

Temperature changes can cause a guitar’s tuning to fluctuate due to the expansion and contraction of its materials. As temperatures rise, the guitar’s neck and strings may expand, increasing string tension and causing the pitch to go sharp. Conversely, in colder conditions, contraction can lead to a drop in pitch.

To mitigate these effects, it’s crucial to keep your guitar in a stable environment with consistent temperature and humidity levels. Regular tuning checks and adjustments, using a good case for transport, and considering humidity control devices can help maintain proper tuning stability in varying conditions.

Old or worn strings:

As strings age & accumulate dirt and grime, they can lose tension and elasticity, causing them to detune more easily. This leads to pitch inconsistencies and can make playing the guitar frustrating.

To solve this issue, regularly changing your guitar strings is essential. Fresh strings provide better tension & intonation, allowing for more accurate tuning and a brighter, clearer tone. Additionally, cleaning your strings after each use and using string lubricants can prolong their lifespan & help maintain tuning stability between changes.

Improper fretting technique:

When a guitarist presses too hard on the strings or fails to press them down evenly against the frets, it can cause the strings to stretch and go sharp. This results in tune inconsistencies, making chords and notes sound out of tune.

To solve this issue, it’s essential to practice proper fretting technique. This involves applying just enough pressure to sound good & get a clean note without over-pressing. Regularly practicing scales and exercises can help improve finger strength and precision, leading to better fretting technique and improved stability. Additionally, using lighter gauge strings or adjusting the guitar’s setup can make it easier to fret notes accurately with less effort.

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Tips & Tricks For Tuning Stability

Maintaining stability on a 9-string guitar can be a bit more challenging than on a standard 6-string guitar due to the increased tension and number of strings. Here are some tips and tricks to help you keep your 9-string guitar in tune:

Proper String Stretching: When you change strings, make sure to stretch them properly to settle the initial stretch. Tune up, pull gently on each string to stretch it, and then retune. Repeat this process until the strings stabilize.

Nut Lubrication: Lubricate the nut with a suitable lubricant (graphite or specialized nut lubricant) to reduce friction at the contact point, allowing the strings to move more freely during tuning.

Nut and Bridge Saddle Care: Ensure that the nut slots and bridge saddles are properly cut and smooth. Poorly cut slots can cause binding and lead to tune instability.

String Gauge and Type: Experiment with different string gauges and types. Some strings may be more stable than others on your specific guitar. Heavier gauge strings can help with tune stability but may require a more precise setup.

Proper String Winding: Wind the strings neatly around the tuning pegs, ensuring there are no overlapping winds and no excessive slack. This prevents slippage.

Stable Temperature and Humidity: Keep your guitar in an environment with stable temperature and humidity levels. Extreme changes in these conditions can cause the neck and strings to expand or contract, affecting tune stability.

Regular Maintenance: Keep your guitar well-maintained. Regular setups and adjustments by a professional luthier can make a big difference in tuning stability.

Stretch Your Strings: Be sure to stretch your strings when they are new but also before tuning to get rid of any slack that may have loosened up when you do go to tighten the strings.

Regularly Check Intonation: Ensure that your guitar’s intonation is properly set. An incorrect intonation can cause issues, especially on extended-range guitars like an 8 or 9 string.

Related Extended Range Guitar Tunings

How To Tune a 7 String

How To Tune an 8 String

How To Tune a 12 String

Frequently Asked Question

What bands use 9 string guitars?

Several bands and artists have embraced 9-string guitars to push the boundaries of heavy music. Notable examples include Animals as Leaders, where Tosin Abasi’s virtuosic playing on a 9-string guitar has become iconic in the progressive metal genre.

Periphery, another influential act in the progressive metal and djent scene, features Misha Mansoor using 9-string guitars to create complex and heavy compositions.

Meshuggah, known for their innovative take on extreme metal, occasionally incorporates 9-string guitars to achieve their distinctive, polyrhythmic sound.

Does Deftones use 9 strings?

Yes after about 2020, the Deftones have started using 9 string guitars for some of their songwriting, particularly with their album “Ohms”.

What is an 8 string guitar tuned to?

The open notes for a standard tuned 8 string guitar are: F# B E A D G B E

You can learn more about 8 string tuning here.

How is a 10 string guitar tuned?

One common tuning for a 10-string guitar is based on the harp guitar tradition and is known as the “Stanley Jordan tuning” or “harp guitar tuning.” This tuning is often used by musicians like Stanley Jordan and Michael Hedges, who incorporate tapping and fingerstyle techniques:

Stanley Jordan Tuning (Harp Guitar Tuning): Starting from the lowest-pitched string (the 10th string) to the highest, the tuning is C, G, D, A, E, G, D, A, E, B

This tuning provides a wide range of notes and allows for intricate fingerstyle playing and tapping techniques, making it well-suited for players who want to explore complex harmonies & textures

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