Even though I never use open tunings on a gig, I spend a lot of time songwriting and trying out arrangements with them.
Guitar in Open G tuning
In this article I'll be looking at some ways that you can use the Open G tuning to maximum effect, for playing and also songwriting. It's a great tuning for guitar chords and also slide guitar, which are explained in some of my other hubs. If you can, it's good to dedicate a guitar to this tuning, or at least to have one guitar just ready for open tunings.
Open G is d g d g b d (low to high)
From standard tuning you need to lower strings 1,5 and 6 two semitones or 2 frets. Release the string slowly so it doesn't break - but don't worry, this almost never happens, even with strings that are past their sell-by date. I might break a string once in a year, usually not even that! Here are the strings in standard tuning:
E A D G B E
↓ ↓ ↓
D G D G B D
Fret numbers are given on the left of the grids - watch out for them!
This will really help to keep the guitar in tune: lower the string to below the pitch desired, then bring it up to pitch. The chord pictures work as follows:
The 6 vertical lines are the strings, the horizontal lines are the frets. The headstock would be directly above the chord diagram.
Open G chord pictures
This is using some Paul McCartney ideas, heavily influenced by a Mr J.S.Bach, a non-Liverpudlian. Recorded with birdsong from George Harrison's garden, it's an essential guitar piece. You can play this song in normal tuning, but really it sounds best played in open G tuning. There's not a huge difference though.
This is Joni Mitchell territory, one of the great songwriters in my opinion. A few of her best songs lend themselves to this tuning. For more info on her extensive use of different tunings see the excellent Joni Mitchell Complete So Far songbook.
The loop symbol at frets 5 and 7 means it's a barre chord where you flatten your first finger over the strings that are marked.
In this key (G) frets 5 and 7 will be a C chord and a D chord, frets 0 and 12 will be a G chord. So a 12-bar blues would be played with these three chords, either with your finger or with a bottleneck or slide.
Fret 0 and 12: G
Fret 5: C
Fret 7: D
A descending scale with harmony idea, best finger-picked for full effect. You can also play great songs like Wild Horses by The Stones in this tuning, and 12 -bar blues, especially Delta Blues like Robert Johnson tunes.
Here's a list of the great songs you can play in this tuning - either used on the original recording, or just works well:
Little Green, Big Yellow Taxi ( original in open D I think) and Morning Morgantown (Joni Mitchell)
Honky Tonk Women
She Belongs to me
If it makes You Happy
Open G blues
Blues is great in open G, and you can use a slide on fret 12, fret 5 and fret 7 to play the basic blues changes - as well as blues notes at fret 3. All the strings work, and it's also good to keep a drone G (open string 5) going underneath the slide action. Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Brozman are all masters of this style of playing.