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Playing Slide Guitar In Open G Tuning

Open tunings like Open G and open D are strongly related, and are a great way to expand your guitar playing at little or no expense!

Open G tuning enables you to play nice chord voicings with open strings and harmonics, as well as slide guitar sounds.

Open G tuning enables you to play nice chord voicings with open strings and harmonics, as well as slide guitar sounds.

Why Open G Tuning?

Why use Open G tuning? It sounds great and is very versatile. It also enables you to play nice chord voicings with open strings and harmonics, and use slide guitar sounds.

  • Normal or Standard Tuning: E A D G B E changes to D G D G B D (Open G)

Strings 1, 6 are taken down 2 frets, to D - string 5 down 2 frets., to G. While tuning down release the string slowly, to avoid string breakage. If you play strings 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 you have a G chord—miss out string 6. It should have a great sustain, and generally sound fuller than a normal tuning G chord. Barre chords at frets 5 and 7 produce C and D chords.

  • Barre chords: Flatten first finger across all the strings, or at least across strings 1-5. Missing out string 6 (thickest string) makes it much easier to get a clean chord, so generally I'd recommend that.

Celtic Tuning

Another alternative tuning that is widely used and I find useful is DADGAD. This is sometimes called Celtic tuning because it's ideal for Irish and Celtic styles of music.

Open G is more useful for blues, slide guitar, and Keith Richards-style songs. But, you should try both tunings for yourself. They can be really inspiring as a songwriter, and for multitrack recording, layering an open tuning guitar part can improve the overall sound.

What Guitar is Best for Slide?

Bonnie Raitt, Sonny Landreth, and Ry Cooder all use Fender Stratocasters. Keith Richards uses a Telecaster in open G (and the low E string removed). National steel guitars are great for open G slide playing, though they may be modified with different pickups etc. Generally, you want the action to be as high as possible, the reverse of what you'd usually want. You can even buy a kit that uses a raised nut to bring the action higher.

Lap steel guitars are a different instrument, but closely related. David Lindley is a master lap steel player. Jerry Douglas is the best on dobro in a more country/folk style. These guys are amazing musicians and their list of session credits speaks to the respect they have within the music industry.

Slide Guitar Basics

Using a slide on your little finger (pinky) play anything you like on frets 5, 7, 12 and importantly, 3. Although full chords work, also try alternating picking on strings 1, 2, 3. Using fret 3 will produce a blues scale so this will work well with 12-bar blues.

Different players have other preferences, using the slide on your third finger is also quite common.

Benefits of a Glass Slide

If you are not familiar with slide, use a glass slide, as heavy as possible, directly over the fret and with vibrato. Move forward and back around the fret position while thinking about jelly on a plate (!) The slide should rest gently on the strings, following the line of the fret, but not pushing down at all, just making contact and kind of floating above the neck.

There are plenty of examples on YouTube. Bob Brozman, for instance, is a total expert on slide, as are Ry Cooder, Bonnie Raitt, and Sonny Landreth. Watch them play, and the fundamentals of slide guitar will make more sense. I actually think a complete beginner can make very fast progress by just learning open G slide.

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Read More From Spinditty

Minor chords

Try an Am7 shape chord, adding second fret on string 5. So string 5 is fret 2, string 4 is fret 2, string 2 is fret 1. One of these days I'll work out how to import graphics! Then move the entire shape up 2 frets. You should now have Am and Bm shapes. Then do C and D as described above. To play chords with harmonics or with a slide rest barre finger above frets 5, 7, 12.

Try these chords out in any order - because they are all part of the harmonised scale they will all fit together. Harmonised scale - see my other hubs for explanation. Briefly, every key contains 7 chords, built on the 7 different notes of the major scale - in the real world of songs these are constantly used together.

String Gauge

As the string tension goes down with the tuning, you might consider slightly thicker string gauges to compensate. This, combined with a high action, will give you a better tone. Amp distortion and a compressor pedal may help with sustain, but this tuning already gives you quite a lot of that. Lastly, it's a lot of fun, and quite easy to pick up. Listen to some Ry Cooder and Bonnie Raitt material for inspiration.

A Brief History of Open G

The tuning came from Hawaii and was adopted by early Delta bluesmen, like Son House and Robert Johnson. From there, it was picked up British rockers like Keith Richards and The Rolling Stones, and folkies like Joni Mitchell and Ry Cooder.

Open G is used in "Brown Sugar," "Wild Horses," and many other guitar-based songs. As I noted earlier, Bob Brozman is a slide guitar expert and you can find his tutorials on YouTube. And if he doesn't work for you, keep searching.

Joni Mitchell uses open G for "Little Green," probably one of her best songs (from Blue, 1971). It's hard to call, because there are so many of them!


Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 12, 2011:

Well, that low D is a bit pointless - might give it a try.

Tbone on September 12, 2011:

Why not take Keith's advice? So I ripped off my 6th string altogether - it makes Open G even more enjoyable. Of all the slides, try solid brass. It drags nicely and helps me find the my target. Open G has renewed my interest in playing guitar - and it is killer to play with someone who is in standard tuning - it's livin' large!

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on May 04, 2011:

Hi Brian - Lowell George of Little Feat used that for slide - and he was one of the greats. Heavy strings also help.

brianGuitarGuy on May 04, 2011:

Thanks for the great info. Just got a new dobro yesterday so I thought I'd check out your hub.

My favorite slide is a deep-set spark plug socket. I love the heavy feel.

kenny thomas from Australia on January 31, 2011:

Great idea thanks :)

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on January 31, 2011:

Hi Kenny - if you want to stay in standard tuning, you could just tune string 1 down to d (for key of G) or just take string 3 up a semitone to G sharp (key of E)Then you can do slide parts on strings 1,2,3 and keep the chords the same.It really will make it easier.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 07, 2010:

Thanks Uncle Buck. The tunings I use now are: Open G Open D DADGAD, Drop-D, all of which are useful in different ways. I try to stop confusing myself by dedicating a different guitar to each tuning!

UncleBuck on August 04, 2010:

The classic song "Romeo and Juliet", composed by Mark Knopfler / performed by Dire Straits, is also played on a guitar tuned to Open G (but with a capo on the third fret). A beautiful song - one of my favourites!

Incidentally, I find open G to be a pleasure to play in, although I was somewhat bemused at first when attempting to do so, being a far-from-advanced guitarist who was used to playing in nothing but regular EADGBE tuning. Now I enjoy playing some awesome slide, and few of my guitars ever go back to regular tuning at all!

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 18, 2010:

Hi Taggline - they are all great players. Ry Cooder was on TV here, an old concert from the Chicken Skin Revue era, which was fantastic. He was playing slide on a blue Strat with the best tone and intonation.

Trusted Marketing from Charlotte, North Carolina on February 05, 2010:

Open tunings bring a whole new world on the guitar, especially for those who want to learn something fast.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on December 10, 2009:

Thanks Antonio - all the best with your hubs.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on October 02, 2009:

Thanks supergadgets - you look like another Russian Beatles fan to me. We've just had a TV documentary on Beatles fans in Russia - interesting.

supergadgets from Moscow on October 02, 2009:

I am happy to discover your guitar hubs. Especially, videos are unique. Thumbs up :)

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on September 12, 2009:

Thanks a lot nicksstuff - I've also posted chord grids for open G which might save you a lot of time.

All the best, Jon Green

nicksstuff from Going for a swim in the ocean. on September 12, 2009:

Totally cool hub man. This helps me understand a lot about guitar. The article I posted with basic chords helps but you have taken it to another level. Thanks for such a great hub.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on August 05, 2009:

Gin and Mignet - thanks for your support. Try Open G guitar - it's a quick way of getting good results.

Gin Delloway on July 08, 2009:

nice hub! I like it!!

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on July 06, 2009:

Thanks Kyle. All the best with your playing.

honestkyle on July 03, 2009:

Geez, you got some much information here in this one hub, you could probably make a few with it! haha Great information however.

Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on February 23, 2009:

Hi Guitarists. I like effects pedals, things that go swoosh and wah, as much as the next person, but why don't we change our sound at source with tunings or slide rather than spending cash and creating problems for the planet. All those batteries, metal and paint aren't going to help!

Cheers, Jon Green

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