Open G guitar tuning: Keith Richards to Hawaiian Slack Key guitar

by November 30, 20140 comments

Above is a YouTube video Marty Schwartz did for Next Level Guitar demonstrating the Open G guitar tuning. Marty explains how to tune your guitar to Open G, and then shows off some of Open G’s advantages. It’s an easygoing, relaxed guitar lesson, and he takes his time getting to the point — which comes at 6:30 into the video, when Marty magically transforms into Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

Well, sort of.

hat makes Open G tuning different from standard guitar tuning is that strings 6, 5, and 1 are each tuned two half-steps lower.

Open G guitar tuning
As Marty demonstrates, you can:

  • Tune the lowest string, 6, down to D, an octave below string 4
  • Tune string 5 down to G, an octave below string 3.
  • Then tune string 1 down to D, an octave above string 4, or two octaves above 6.
To simplify fingering, Keith Richards uses only the top five strings for his Open G guitar work — as he demonstrates by removing string 6 in the video interview with Matt Sweeney above.

Whether played on six strings or five, the magical six-four chord became a key feature of Rolling Stones songs from that point on.

Among the musically educated (which is not me), six-four chords are also known as “second inversion triads,” and the above song by David Newman demonstrates several different types of second inversions on the piano to give you an idea of how they actually sound.
Getting back to the Open G tuning and the Rolling Stones, we next have Aussie guitarist Ringo Rawson tuned to Open G as he plays a fairly hot rendition of “Honky Tonk Women.” Like many guitarists, it took him a long time to realize that Keith Richards plays the song in Open G. Especially notable here is Ringo’s soloing, since Open G of course also changes the pentatonic scale shapes that guitarists depend on for solos.

Blues guitar in Open G tuning

Using Open G tuning for blues guitar goes all the way back. Blues legend Robert Johnson, for example, tuned to open G for “Crossroad Blues,” “Walkin’ Blues” and “Come on in My Kitchen.” 

This video by deltabluestips shows how to use Open G for picking and soloing — in this case, to play some typical Delta Blues licks.

Open G tuning for slide guitar

Because it’s an “open” tuning — meaning the guitar is tuned to a chord with the strings played “open,” without any fingering — Open G is useful for playing slide guitar, which uses a glass or metal slide across all or some strings sliding up or down the neck to produce chord changes and melody.

Here, Guitar World magazine editor Andy Aledort demonstrates some slide guitar in Open G, imitating techniques used by Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters.

Taro Patch Tuning = Open G

Another startling revelation about Open G tuning is that in the world of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, this exact same Open G tuning is known as “Taro Patch Tuning,” the most common tuning used in Slack Key guitar.

I believe this is David Van Vranken playing Patrick Landeza’s “Pilipuka” in Taro Patch Tuning.

Anyway, having talked with several guitarists over the past few months who, like me, were previously unfamiliar with Open G, I thought it might be helpful to post these few things I have learned about it. It’s fun to change things up now and then, and a secret that spans everything from Keith Richards to Hawaiian Slack Key guitar clearly has some useful versatility.

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