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Open G Tuning: The Ultimate Guide

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If you find yourself playing the same old licks all the time and can’t get inspired, it might be time to try something new. One of the best ways to shake things up and bring something new to your playing is by exploring the world of open tunings. 

We’ve already talked about open E tuning in our past guide, so let’s talk about open G tuning. Open G is one of the most popular and well-known alternate tunings, used by Robert Johnson, Joni Mitchell, the Rolling Stones and more. It’s pretty simple to use and has a great, distinctive sound. 

Whether you’ve been playing in open G before or are a total beginner, this guide will cover everything you need to know about open G. So grab your favorite guitar and tuner and get ready to have some fun with open G. 

How to Tune to Open G

First, you need to tune your guitar to open G. When you tune to open G, you’re tuning the strings so they make a G major chord when strummed. Open G only requires you to re-tune three strings—E, A, and E. Your D, G, and B strings will stay the same. 

The notes for open G tuning are: D-G-D-G-B-D.

Since you’re only adjusting three strings and tuning them down, you can get away with tuning to open G without re-adjusting your guitar. A guitar set-up for standard should be able to handle open G just fine. That said, you’ll get a better experience if you set-up for open G. 

A slightly heavier set of strings can help a bit with the string tension on the down tuned strings. However, keep in mind that three of your strings are still in standard, so those three would be harder to play with heavier strings. We recommend getting a custom set for acoustic or electric, giving you the ability to choose the best gauges for each string.

Another important note here is that many open G players get rid of the lowest string, leaving only five strings. This might sound odd, but it actually makes a lot of sense. When playing major chords in open G, the fifth string (A string in standard and G in open G) will be the root note. This means you are constantly avoiding the low string. Removing it can make it easier to play, which is why greats like Keith Richards only use five strings in open G. 

Credit: Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty

Playing in Open G Tuning

With your guitar tuned up and ready to go, let’s move on to actually playing in open G. As with all alternate tunings, your old patterns and shapes won’t fully apply here. However, you still have three strings tuned the same as standard, so those notes won’t change. Open G doesn’t change the fretboard as much as other alternate tunings, but you’ll still have a lot to learn. 

There are pros and cons to open G, just like all other tunings. It can make certain chords, movements, and sounds very easily accessible, while making others harder to play. As you get familiar with open G, you’ll get a better understanding of what the tuning is best for and what doesn’t quite work. 

Chords in Open G

Chords can be one of open G’s strong points. Major chords are incredibly easy to play in open G, being just a barre chord across frets. A G major would be X-0-0-0-0-0. An A major chord would be X-2-2-2-2-2. You can move this barre anywhere on the fretboard to get a major chord. 

The minor chord shape for open G is a bit more tricky, but it’s very similar to the standard Am chord shape. An A minor in open G is X-2-2-2-1-X. Again, you can slide this shape up and down the fretboard to get any minor chord. 

Adding a seventh to get a seventh chord is also pretty simple with open G. A G7 in open G is just X-0-0-0-0-3. Shifting that one note up is all you need to do to get a seventh chord. 

What really makes open G shine though are the hammer-ons and pull-offs you can add to your chords. Since the major shape is just a barre, you have fingers open to add other notes to your chords and create interesting patterns. This exact technique was used to create countless Rolling Stones classics, so don’t be afraid to try doing some hammer-ons and pull-offs from major chords. 

Scales in Open G

Scales are often the most difficult part of open tunings since the layout of the fretboard changes. While that does pose a challenge, it’s not too hard to figure out the scales you need in open G. One advantage of open G is that your D, G, and B strings stay the same, so half of your fretboard is still the same as standard. 

The other thing that stays the same is the formula for scales. A major scale will always be 1-2-3-4-5-6-7, and a minor scale will always be 1-2-b3-4-5-b6-b7. The scale patterns will always stay the same no matter what tuning you’re in, so you just have to figure out where those notes are on the fretboard. 

For those who already know the notes well and have a good grasp of theory, this part should be fairly simple. If not, you can always look up scale patterns for open G. However, figuring it out yourself is a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the fretboard. An online tool like Guitar Scientist can be used to create your own charts and diagrams, letting you make reference materials for future use.

What to Play in Open G Tuning

So what can you play in open G tuning? Well, you’ve got a lot of options. You can obviously play anything you want in open G, but certain things just work better. One of those things is the blues. Blues legend Robert Johnson used open G on many famous tracks using slide or fingerstyle. Walkin’ Blues is a great example of why open G works great for blues. 

Speaking of blues, open G is also great for rock music. No artist illustrates that better than the Rolling Stones. Keith Richards’ five string Tele tuned to open G has been responsible for countless rock classics like Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Just listen to the iconic Honky Tonk Women to see what open G rock music is all about. 

Though open G is best known for blues and rock, it can also be a great choice for folk music and singer songwriters. Joni Mitchell is best known for her adventurous alternate tunings, but she also used more traditional alternate tunings like open G. The Circle Game is a beautiful song that highlights open G’s softer side. 

Start Strumming

Open G is a great alternate tuning if you want to play blues, rock, or even folk music. It makes major chords simple and opens your fingers up to do all sorts of interesting hammer-ons and pull-offs. So put on some Stringjoy strings, tune-up, and have some fun paying in open G tuning. 

4 Responses

  1. Great article, as usual. Also enjoyed the EVH info. Fascinating that he used 9’s. He is greatly missed!

  2. Great introduction to open g tuning. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now on a yard sale resonater that I rebuilt with titanium cone. I’ve never been happy with the strings though. Right now running jazz flats on it. With a old school coil pick up at the neck I can’t use regular acoustic strings ie phospher bronze. What would you suggest? I’m a customer from a few years back when you were first getting your company going. Thanks

  3. Great introduction to open g tuning. I’ve been using it for a couple of years now on a yard sale resonater that I rebuilt with titanium cone. I’ve never been happy with the strings though. Right now running jazz flats on it. With a old school coil pick up at the neck I can’t use regular acoustic strings ie phospher bronze. What would you suggest? I’m a customer from a few years back when you were first getting your company going. Chris

  4. Very good information, I use open c and c#
    quite a bit.
    Do you have acoustic custom set of strings for open c / c#
    I ordered a custom set for open c and selected gauges as follows:
    .013, .017 .025w .034. .044. .056.
    I went with heavier strings because most strings are tuned down.

    Thank you.

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