Guitar Open Bb Tuning
by Richard Wahiduddin Shelquist, December 2002
The idea is to keep the same overall tension on the neck the same, while using string sizes that suit the desired pitch.
I tried open B-flat tuning for a few months, but have now gone back to open G... because with a 12-string in open B-flat, the third string ends up with a lower pitch than the fourth string. (with the first string defined as being the highest pitch)
I am accustomed to playing melodies on the third and fourth strings, with the melody progressing higher from the fourth string up to the third string. So, the B-flat tuning, with a shift down in pitch when going up to the third string was just too confusing for my little brain.
My tests were all on my 12 string, based on the string sizes that Narayan [Eric Waldman] uses. But you can basically just remove every other string from the 12 string and make it be a 6 string. I used anExcel spreadsheet to do the calculations and tweak the final string sizes for the overall tension to avoid neck or bridge problems due to excessive tension.
Also, you will need probably some nut files (or very skillful exacto saw work) to cut the slots in the nut wider to accommodate these huge strings of the B-flat tuning.
The sixth string is really huge and you may have buzzing problems unless you raise its height or just hit it softly.
So, with all those caveats....here are the string gauges for a 6 string in open B-flat (based on Narayan's 12 string sizes... I have not tried these on a 6 string).
A standard set of light gauge strings in normal tuning has an overall tension of about 163 pounds. This custom set for open B-flat has an overall tension of 130 pounds.
string note pitch string size
1 F 349.2 Hz .011 plain
2 Bb 233.1 Hz .017 plain
3 Bb 116.5 Hz .034 plain
4 F 174.6 Hz .024 wound
5 Bb 116.5 Hz .034 wound
6 Bb 58.3 Hz .058 wound
Note... the 6th string is kinda loose, it should be about .068, but they are not generally available... use the largest diameter you can find.
You could use .034 wound on the 3rd string, but the .034 plain string will have a brighter sound.
Any of the strings can be changed two or three thousandths either way without any damage. Making them larger will make them stronger and brighter. Making them smaller will make them softer and duller.
With a six string, you might want to swap the second and third strings to get the increasing pitch when going from the fourth to the third string, or you could try using the .017 for both the second and third strings.
It's all a big experiment to find what you enjoy.
When tuning the new strings up to pitch, be sure to get the right octave... if you try to tune that sixth string an octave too high, you may pull the bridge right off of your guitar.
For comparison, here are the strings and pitches for a normal set of D'Addario EJ-16 Light strings:
string note pitch string size
1 E 329.6 Hz .012 plain
2 B 247 Hz .016 plain
3 G 196 Hz .024 wound
4 D 146.8 Hz .032 wound
5 A 110 Hz .042 wound
6 E 82.4 Hz .053 wound
You can get pretty close to the right pitch just by learning to feel the tension by pressing on a string... strings with less that 20 pounds feel very loose. Normally, each guitar string has about 20 to 25 pounds of tension.
good luck.... it's kinda scary....