Is Drop Tuning Bad for Your Guitar & Its Intonation? Myths Debunked!

Author: Sam Poole | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Many myths are floating around, which suggest that drop tuning will leave a lasting negative impact on your guitar. However, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus amongst guitarists on whether it really does pose a problem. Well, I’m here to set the record straight.

So, is drop tuning bad for your guitar in any way?

Drop tuning is not bad for your guitar or its intonation. Granted, you may experience a slight change in intonation if you keep your guitar in drop tuning for long periods of time. But adjusting your truss rod will fix this quickly. Storing the guitar in standard tuning will minimize this greatly, so will using heavier gauge strings.

The concern is that the neck of the guitar endures less tension when tuning down. But, when tuning back up, the tension on the neck increases again. It results in slight movements of the neck and, over time, it may warp the neck slightly. You can simply adjust the truss rod to get it back to how it was previously.

It may also have a minor effect on the guitar’s pitch. But a variance in pitch is in no way bad for your guitar, nor is it a problem.

Let’s delve into some of the common myths associated with drop tuning and its potential effect on your instrument.

Myth #1: Drop Tuning is Bad for the Intonation of Your Guitar

The truth is, it will take ages and loads of tuning changes before you experience any potential difference in intonation. And even if you do, it just means the tension in the neck of your guitar has altered a little.

This difference in pitch is not bad for your guitar, though. In fact, a slight variance in intonation over time is quite normal and easily rectified. To correct the intonation, all you need to do is adjust the truss rod.

Adjusting the Truss Rod

The truss rod is a metal rod inside the neck that runs from the headstock down to the guitar’s body. You should see some form of screw, bolt, nut, or adjustment socket at the top or bottom of the neck. The type and position of this will differ with each make and model.

You will, therefore, need a suitable Allen key, wrench, or an appropriate tool to adjust the truss rod. This truss rod adjustment set from MusicNomad is a pretty handy toolkit to have at your disposal.

Sit down with the guitar resting on your leg in the playing position. Place the proper tool in the truss rod adjustment socket and turn slightly. You’ll have to turn it clockwise to tighten the rod and anticlockwise to loosen the rod. Be careful not to turn it more than a quarter of a turn at a time to be safe.

After your first slight turn, leave it for a few minutes and then check the accuracy of your tuning. If the pitch is still off, make another minor adjustment and test the tuning again. Stop when you are happy that your intonation is back where it should be.

I do not recommend adjusting the truss rod while the instrument is lying down or standing upright. The tension on the neck will change marginally when the guitar is in different positions. This will alter the pitch somewhat. Therefore, to get the correct intonation for playing, adjust the truss rod in the playing position.

Myth #2: Drop Tuning Will Cause Your Strings to Break Easily

Guitar strings need to be replaced every few months due to wear and tear. Especially if you play your instrument regularly. However, changing to a dropped tuning frequently can shorten the lifespan of your strings. But only slightly.

Choose Heavier Gauge Strings

If you consistently change tunings on your instrument, I recommend that you consider using heavier gauge strings that are more suitable for drop tuning. Companies like DR strings make specialized sets of strings specifically for the purpose of drop tuning, such as this one.

A set of strings with a heavier gauge will last a little longer with regular changes in tension. They will also reduce the variance in tension on the neck of the guitar when drop tuning.

It’s best to increase the gauge of the strings by one size (example: from 10-46’s to 11-56’s) for each whole step down when dropped tuning.

Myth #3: Drop Tuning Will Damage the Neck of Your Guitar

Drop tuning will not cause any severe damage to the neck of the guitar. In fact, the primary culprit when it comes to guitar neck damage is usually the environment. Humidity and drastic temperature changes are the main offenders.

Of course, using one guitar to play in both standard and drop tunings will vary the tension on the neck. And, while there will be a bit of harmless movement over time, the effect can be minimized by using thicker gauge strings and not storing the guitar in drop tuning for long durations.

Store in Standard Tuning

After playing in a dropped tuning, tune your guitar back up to the standard E tuning before storing it. Doing this will reduce the amount of time the neck is under a different tension. Therefore, the neck of your guitar will be in its ‘natural state’ most of the time.

It’s not as big of a hassle to change tunings frequently as you probably think. I personally don’t find it that time-consuming as my handy little Snark clip-on tuner comes to the rescue when I need to change the tuning quickly.

Continue to Enjoy Your Drop Tuning

There’s no need to worry about drop tuning, as it won’t harm your guitar in any way. The most annoying thing will be having to switch from standard to drop tuning and back, as needed.

My only other advice would be to purchase a second guitar, if possible, for the drop tuning you most frequently play in. If you find you most often change to drop C, get a second guitar, and leave it in drop C tuning. Then, when you need to go from standard E to drop C tuning, you simply change guitars.

However, if that doesn’t suit your pocket and you only have one guitar to work with right now, don’t worry. Following the above advice will see you adjusting your instrument less often. And for one final time, drop tuning will not damage your guitar or have any lasting effect on your intonation.

About Sam Poole

Sam is an experienced writer and a keen musician. She loves listening to everything from The Beatles to Tool, although the former is her favorite band. Sam started with the piano, and has also played guitar extensively. More recently she's picked up the bass guitar, and is currently exploring the instrument in her free time.

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