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Guitar Guide: Open G Tuning

Even though I never use open tunings on a gig, I spend a lot of time songwriting and trying out arrangements with them.

Open G tuning is great for chords and slide guitar, so learn the basics in this article.

Open G tuning is great for chords and slide guitar, so learn the basics in this article.

Guitar in Open G tuning

In this article I'll be looking at ways you can use Open G tuning for maximum effect in your playing and also your songwriting. It's a great tuning for chords or slide guitar. If you can, it's good to dedicate a guitar to this tuning, or at least have one guitar 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 two 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:


↓ ↓ ↓


Fret numbers are given on the left of the grids—watch out for them!

What we are looking at here is not a complete song transcription, rather it's the raw materials of harmony that you can use to play or write songs.

Just experiment with the sounds.

Open G Chord Diagrams


Example 1: "Blackbird"

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 it sounds best played in open G. Only the first part is shown, don't want to breach copyright in any way, and there are versions all over YouTube.

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Example 2: Morning Morgantown ideas

This is Joni Mitchell territory, one of the great songwriters. A few of her best songs lend themselves to this tuning. For more info on her extensive use of different tunings see the Joni Mitchell Complete So Far songbook. Little Green is an excellent song to study.

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.

Example 3: using the top strings to play descending harmony. The first shape (fret 8) is a G chord, then F sharp mb5, Em, D, C. Just chords from the harmonised scale in G, which is discussed in my other hubs. Every key has a set of 7 different chords, make sure you understand this as it will save you a lot of time and effort!

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

More Song Ideas

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.

Open G Classics

Joni Mitchell: "Little Green," "Big Yellow Taxi" (the original is in open D, I think) and "Morning Morgantown"

Rolling Stones: "Honky Tonk Women," "Brown Sugar" and "Wild Horses"

Bob Dylan: "She Belongs to Me"

Sheryl Crow: "If it Makes You Happy"

Beatles: "Blackbird"

Blues in Open G

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 Playing Slide Guitar In Open G Tuning.

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