The consensus amongst musicians seems to be unanimous: Led Zeppelin has written and performed some of the most high-intensity rock and roll music ever. Yet beneath the fuzzed out, thunderous madness of Valhalla and Middle Earth typically associated with rock’s golden gods, there is a wealth of musical ingenuity and innovation waiting to be uncovered by musicians of all types and levels. Every guitarist could learn a lot just by skimming through the pages of Jimmy Page’s book.
Page’s use of alternate tunings gave Zeppelin’s music a deep character that isn’t found amongst most heavy rock bands. He was the first guitarist who inspired me to explore alternate ways of tuning the guitar, and I hope he does the same for you. Today we will look at several of the tunings Page used throughout Zeppelin’s tenure as the biggest showstopper in rock. Try them out yourself and expand your musical vocabulary right now.
Oh, and did I mention that we just launched a free course on discovering alternate guitar tunings? Head over to the course to start your journey today!
Drop D (DADGBE)
Nowadays, Drop D tuning is associated mainly with heavy metal and hardcore bands. Page utilized this tuning on Zeppelin classics such as “Ten Years Gone” and “Moby Dick.” It wasn’t until later that bands like Soundgarden, The Melvins, and Pearl Jam made Drop D tuning a staple of alternative music in the 1990s.
Figure 1 – “Moby Dick” Main Riff
Double Drop D (DADGBD)
Double Drop D has us detune both the high and low E strings to D. If you’re already tuned to Drop D, just down tune the high E string to match. Double Drop D has exciting implications for open voicings using suspensions and color tones, and is especially suited to folk/acoustic music. Double Drop D tuning is also used on Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.”
Figure 2 – “Going to California” Intro
D Modal (DADGAD)
DADGAD is an “open tuning” that also features moveable voicings and open shapes. It is also known as D Modal or Celtic Tuning, and is used often in Irish folk music. It facilitates a number of moveable chord voicings which retain open strings, acting as a drone similar to that of a bagpipe. DADGAD tuning was first popularized by British folk/blues guitarist Davey Graham. It was carried on by several influential beat musicians such as Bert Jansch, who had a profound influence on Jimmy Page and inspired him to use this tuning for the band’s epic masterpiece, “Kashmir.” Again, if you’re moving through the lesson chronologically, just detune your B string to A and you’re ready to play.
Figure 3 – “Kashmir” Descending Riff (at 0:53)
This one is a bit different. Jimmy Page employs Gsus4 tuning on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song.” The song features an array of bright voicings and moveable shapes which create beautiful drones and textures, mainly due to the duplicate G and C strings. Gsus4 is very similar to Csus2 tuning (CGCGCD). The difference is in the temperament of the lowest string (D to C).
Figure 4 – “The Rain Song”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson on alternate tunings. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shapes. You can even try using some of the shapes you already know from standard tuning. By using familiar shapes that form chords in other tunings, we can often discover unique voicings in the new tuning.
Today we looked mainly at “D” tunings — tunings that have a low D string and facilitate playing in the key of D — but Led Zeppelin played around with many other tunings including Open A and C6. So get creative and see what new voicings and sounds you can get out of your guitar, simply by trying to replicate Led Zeppelin’s classics. Have fun!