I've been playing for a few years, and I've almost exclusively used light (.12) strings, but lately I've been experimenting with lower tunings. My strings seem to go out of tune rather easily, but I'm skeptical to try out medium gauges. I did once, but the owner of a local guitar store told me that my guitar is not braced for it.
I play a Takamine EF440SCGN. It has scalloped x bracing, though I don't know what wood (if that makes a difference).
Low tunings I use are DADGAD, CGDGBD, EG#BEae (sometimes the high A is a G# and others I'll tune the high E down to B), EAC#Eae, and a few others. I've been experimenting with many low E tunings.
However, I still often play in standard, and sometimes I'll tune up to FACGCE, so I'm skeptical of using heavier strings. I don't want to cause any irreparable damage.
What should I do?
Johnathan, When in doubt, I always ask the builder. I went to the Takamine web site and pulled this info...
Six string steel - D'Addario EXP16 light gauge
Twelve string - D'Addario EXP38 light gauge
Six string Nylon - D'Addario EXP45 Coated Normal tension
So, it looks to me that your shop guy was steering you right. I think some of those altered high tension tunings might cause that particular guitar some issues down the road, too. Personally, when I use altered tunings, I opt for ones that I can tune down from standard tuning rather than up. I do have a Gibson J-200 that is built a bit sturdier than my Martin HD-28, and I've use a modal E tuning on it, but I use just a Drop D on the Martin. My Seagull Grand Artist I can use Open G and Open D, but never go the higher tuning route. Just saying... Cheers
What sort of issues do you think could be caused by high-tension tunings?
First, I'm no luthier, just a guy that's played for a while. In my experience, I've had trouble with higher tunings from bridges pulling up, strings not staying in tune, strings breaking, and necks needing adjusting. Of course, I've had those issues with various guitars, which I may have been using the wrong gauge strings on in the first place, or the guitars were not properly setup. I didn't know too much about guitar maintenance back in my early days, so I just tried things out. Over time, I realized that some of my experiments and issues were really mostly caused by not understanding guitars structurally, or strings for that matter.
Now these days, I'm just more cautious, and rely on more qualified guitar techs to give me advice. Just keep listening to the sound of your guitar. If it doesn't sound quite right after a bit of changing from one tuning to the next, or doesn't seem to stay in tune, it may be related to having to get your neck adjusted. If your strings break a lot, it could be that the changing the tunings is weakening them. If you start to see your bridge pulling or top cracking, it could mean a trip to the guitar tech for help. Others may have more knowledge, including your local shop guy.
I try to play in standard tuning on my Martin, maybe tune to Drop-D once in a while, but mostly keep it in standard tuning. I use a capo to be able to play more open chord positions, too. On my J-200, it's seems to take the altered lower tunings better without issues. I have used Open-E and low C tunings, generally though I don't keep my guitars tuned in those for very long. If I was going to keep a guitar tuned in any altered tuning, I'd make sure my guitar tech checked the setup, and live with that guitar staying in that high or lower tuning.
So, I'm just saying what I've experienced, and the best advice I could give is to become great friends with your local shop guitar techs with experience, because these guys work with these kinds of issues every day.
I have a Tak GS 330, I use for jammin around, it's tuned DADF#AD, so as not to have 2 or 3 guitars doing the same sound, plus you can do slides, I use extra lights 11-50 strings, I leave it tuned this way 90% of the time, and it hardly ever goes out of tune, and gives a nice touch when playing with others, long ago someone told me the lighter strings let the top vibrate more, whether it's true or not I don't know, but I like the sound and tuning. Like Phil said Tak is supose to use lights, I wouldn't go heavier.
Almost all my guitars have medium strings on them and most are tuned to Open G (DGDGBD) and I have no problems whats so every with them. I do occasionally use Open E and tune up on a few strings and still really have no problems. I don't usually leave them tuned to Open E though. I have no problem leaving the ones with Open G tuning laying around. I started playing medium strings years ago, and light gauge just don't feel or sound right to me now, so I use mediums on all my guitars.
I will occasionally tune up to G on the low E string while in Open G to (GGDGBD) and still have no problems.
Would you play in standard with those medium strings, or would you feel uncomfortable about the tension?
I use Medium in standard tuning also on acoustics with no problems. I wouldn't suggest it on subpar guitars but on a good guitar there should be no problem. I don't see a problem with the guitar you have.
Sounds like you need to get yourself a new guitar. One to string with mediums for your drop tuning stuff and one to string with lights for the standard and up-tuned stuff. Maybe get a new one with unscalloped braces (will be stronger) or get a beater with a laminate top and string it with mediums.
FYI your guitar has a solid cedar top and likely cedar braces as well.
As to your tuning issues, how often do you change your strings? Old strings can be unstable and so can new ones if they aren't stretched a bit after installation. Search YouTube for tips, I'm sure you'll find lots.
Cheers and Good Luck!
Remember that to some degree this is about relative string tensions. When you tune down medium gauge strings you get closer to the string tension of a light gauge string tuned in standard tuning.
Medium gauge tuned to dadgad and dgdgbd is pretty close to light gauge tuned to eadgbe.
There is a similar forum thread you might look at that was started in April - alternate tuning - covering a similar question as yours...
Essentially, what you need is a guitar built to withstand all sorts of tunings. And that would be a Martin D-28, not the HD-28 where the strong bracing was moved back to a pre-war design. Of course, you will not get as much soundboard movement due to the stiffer bracing but they can take a huge amount of tension. And the stiffer sound board holds the tune better.
I have always found more complex tunings do not work in live situations--too much fiddling around as the guitar kind of trys to reach a happy medium with the changes.
Ernie Ball Super Slinky Acoustic strings seem to hold a tuning better and not as "crisp" as the D'Addarios.
I believe the new D-28 has a Pleked neck too--my Custom does and it makes a huge difference also in holding tune.
With the better neck, the D-28 will not be the bear it has been for everyone but flat pickers.
Changing the tension on any set of strings is likely to cause them to go flabby faster than tuning them one way and leaving it at that. Slack-key (Hawaiian tunings) players face this problem a lot. Tension (tuning) stresses the the metal. This is why a new set of strings needs some work/time to acclimate to being stretched and stay in tune. The change in tension from different tunings re-starts the acclimation process somewhat and the guitar seems to slip out of tune for a while.
As to the effect on the guitar of over-tension…? A guitar top that experiences excess stress (and this varies a lot by build) may eventually 'belly out' or bulge at the bridge. 'Eventually' can be measured in years sometimes, again depending on its construction. In extreme cases, the top may eventually develop a hairline crack or the bracing can separate. Proper humidity (45-50%) helps prevent problems. Dry guitars crack, wet ones separate, more often.
Eventually any string goes dull from tension (coated or not). Changing the tension constantly accelerates the timeframe. Some players like the duller end of the spectrum, some crave the crisp ring of new strings. The debate is endless. Some guitars are louder than others and age effects the sound. My short scale (less tension) Gibson L130 (Grand Concert size) benefitted from using Martin Studio strings (SP) with bronzed core wire (increased tension) when it was new (light gauge strings, then & now). Now at ten years old it matters less. It is, incidentally, a very loud guitar.
Your tuners may effect this as well. Tuners with higher ratios (18:1) hold pitch better. Locking tuners can also help as they work with fewer turnings around the post so they adjust to changes in tension better. Also have a tech check your nut for rough spots and make sure your saddle fits very tightly in the bridge.
Sorry this went long.