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

by | November 30, 2014 | 0 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.

What 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 to match string 4
  • Tune string 5 down to G, to match string 3.
  • Then tune string 1 down to D, an octave above string 4 or 6.

I became interested in the Open G tuning last spring, through reading John Sieger‘s excellent Urban Milwaukee Dial article, Street Fighting Man.” You should really read it yourself — but for one thing, John’s piece recalls how guitar legend Ry Cooder introduced Keith Richards to the Open G tuning.

To simplify fingering, Keith Richards uses only the top five strings for his Open G guitar work — as he demonstrates by removing string 6 at 12:06 into 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.

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

Open G tuning = “Taro Patch”

Another startling revelation about Open G tuning is that in the world of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, the Open G tuning is known as “Taro Patch,” 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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