38. Open Tunings

 Unlike many other instruments, the guitar can be tuned at will to an endless variety of combinations. The best known are ‘open tunings’, which involves tuning the 6 strings so that a chord is sounded when played ‘open’, that is, with no frets depressed. This is a favorite tool of slide guitarists, but open tunings are popular for other uses as well. Let’s look at a typical open tuning, open G.

6   5  4   3   2  1

Tuning:  D  G  D  G  B  D

In this tuning, a G chord will sound if played with the 5th string G as its root:


Placing a finger across all 6 strings at any fret will produce a different major chord:


Choosing single notes and creating other chord shapes takes time and is usually a matter of experimenting, rather than actually analyzing the chord construction:

Finally, using the slide:



Trial and error is often the best way to find sounds you like in open tuning. There are at least a half dozen different open tunings that have been used in countless songs.  (For more about slide playing, see 37. Slide Guitar.)

©2012 Jim Greenfield