Playing in an open G tuning has been a common practice among guitar players in rock n roll, blues, country, and folk music. Keith Richards made it popular with several Rolling Stones hits, including “Honky Tonk Woman”, “Brown Sugar”, and “Tumbling Dice.” Most commonly used as a rhythm approach to compliment a second guitar player, open G tuning can also be used in a variety of other ways, including slide playing.

Tuning and Things to Remember

Open G tuning can be approached in one of two ways. Some players only use five strings and remove the low “E string” like the aforementioned Keith Richards would do, which would leave the remaining five strings tuned from low to high G-D-G-B-D. Otherwise, the lowest string would be tuned to D. The G major chord should be heard when strumming all the strings without using the fretting hand. For the remainder of the blog, I will refer to detuned A string as the low G string and the standard tuned G string as the high G string.

Forming Chords In an Open G Tuning

One great thing about this tuning is that only one finger of the fretting hand is necessary when forming all the major chords. If you barre the pointer finger of your fretting hand across any of the frets starting on the low G string, you will have a full major chord over whatever note you start with on that string. When playing a 1/4/5 progression, remember to follow the rules of your scale patterns ad to play the pattern of your chords accordingly. For example, if you want to play G/C/D, you can start by playing an open G chord without using your fretting hand, then barre your 5th fret for your C chord, and finally your 7th fret for your D chord.

Chord Variations In Open G Tuning

One of the most common chord phrasings in this tuning comes, once again, from Keith Richards, where the pointer finger is barred across the neck on all of the frets and the middle finger plays the 4th a half step over on the B string, and the ring finger plays the 2 a whole step over on the high G string. This turns the fretted major chord into a suspended chord that can be played in various rhythm patterns. For example, on the intro of “Brown Sugar”, this phrase is played on the 12th fret for a G chord with the 4th (C) played on the 13th fret and on the 5th fret for a C chord with the 4th (F) played on the 6th fret. A capo and also be used for open chords when used for songwriting. For example, on the Dire Straits song “Romeo & Juliet” guitarist Mark Knopfler plays the open G as the subdominant (IV) with the capo placed on the third fret.

Other Tricks For Open G Tuning

On the Rolling Stones’s “Honky Tonk Women”, the lick that is played around the tonic chord (G) involves a quick slide from the second fret to the 4th fret on the low G string and playing the high open G string immediately afterwards. This slide move can be just as affective with the low open G string being played on the tail end of the lick as well. Other examples of this include “Jealous Again” by The Black Crowes and “In My Time of Dying” by Led Zeppelin. The same rules for slide playing from my previous blogs can also be utilised for open G tunings, and feel free to reference my archives to have fun with this bizarre tuning.