If you'd like to add some new creative possibilities to your guitar performance, consider open G tuning. Like other alternate guitar tunings, open G gives guitar players a fresh approach to playing chords and crafting songs.
How to Tune to Open G
Typically, guitar players tune the six strings of the guitar to what is known as standard tuning, which is as follows:
- 6th string (lowest sounding string): Tuned to low E
- 5th string: Tuned to A
- 4th string: Tuned to D
- 3rd string: Tuned to G
- 2nd string: Tuned to B
- 1st string (highest sounding string): Tuned to high E
The open G tuning is only a slight modification of standard tuning, and it is easy to do, especially if you have a tuner.
Tuning to Open G With a Tuner
There are three steps to tuning your guitar to open G using a tuner. Instead of standard tuning, the guitar should be set to the following tuning:
- 6th string (lowest sounding string): Tune one whole step down to D the note below the low E of standard tuning. As you're playing the low E into the tuner, turn the tuning peg down to lower the string's pitch until the tuner says "D."
- 5th string: Tune to G, a whole step below the A of standard tuning. As you're playing the open A string into the tuner, turn the tuning peg down to lower the string's pitch until the tuner says "G."
- 1st string (highest sounding string): Tune to D, a whole step below the high E of standard tuning. As you're playing the open E string into the tuner, turn the tuning peg down to lower the string's pitch until the tuner says "D."
After you tune it, make sure you play the guitar in its new tuning for several minutes, and then tune it again. When you switch to an alternate tuning, sometimes the strings will go out of tune more easily, and you will need to recheck its intonation.
See this video for an example of open G tuning:
Tuning to Open G Without a Tuner
If you don't have a tuner and you're not able to play along to the video above, there is a way to tune to open G without an aid.
- When in standard tuning, play the open 4th string, the D string. Tune the 6th string, the low E string, to match this note down until it is a low D an octave below.
- Once you have tuned the 6th string to low D, place your finger on the seventh fret of that string, a G note, and play it. Now, tune the 5th string to match this note you are playing.
- The last step is to lower the high E string down a whole step to D. Simply pluck the newly tuned low D string (6th string), and tune the first string until it matches the low D in its higher octave.
Once you have completed these steps, your guitar will be in open G. See the video for an example of tuning without a tuner.
(Note: The guitarist in this video adjusts the strings in a slightly different order. The order of strings does not matter as long as you get the same final result.)
Playing Tips for Open G Tuning
As you're experimenting with this new tuning, you can keep in mind the following:
- Take advantage of the new pedal notes that open G provides. A pedal tone is a low note that is played continuously, like a droning sound or sustained tone, while you play a solo melody in a higher register. Open G allows you to strum the low open strings continuously, which creates a beautiful G major, while you play a higher melody. This is a great tool for solos.
- Experiment with polychords by playing smaller chord shapes over the open G on higher frets. This is another use of pedal notes. As you continuously strum the low open strings, which create a G major, experiment with other chord shapes in higher registers. This will create polychords over the G major, which in turn create interesting new sounds for your songwriting.
- Try playing old songs in the new tuning. A fun exercise to do with any alternate tuning is to see how old songs sound on the new tuning. Without changing any of the fingering, play songs you learned in standard tuning on the open G. The results are sometimes comical, but sometimes they create rich, unexpected new sounds you can use in other contexts.
Open G can be very addicting to play because it has such a rich, warm sound. This explains why so many legendary artists have made use of it.
Famous Songs That Use Open G Tuning
This partial list of songs that use open G shows how the tuning has influenced genres ranging from rock to traditional gospel.
- Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones shows how you can get a low rumbling but bright sounding G major tonality in the guitar in an uptempo electric rock context.
- The Rain Song by Led Zeppelin demonstrates how it sounds to use open G as a pedal tone as you play exotic sounding chords all over the fretboard above the open strings.
- Amazing Grace shows how open G's full-bodied warmth can be used to beautiful effect in traditional spirituals.
Finding Ways to Re-invent Your Guitar Sound
This is the ongoing struggle for guitarists and songwriters. How do you create a new sound? How do you take the same instrument you've been playing for years and re-invent it? Alternate tunings, such as the open G, are often the perfect answers to such questions.