I started playing guitar many years ago—attracted by the low wages and free beer. My articles are mostly guitar and keyboard lessons.
Open G tuning, where the guitar is tuned to a chord instead of normal tuning, remains one of the quickest and cheapest ways to expand the sound of your guitar playing. It is ideal for slide guitar too. Here are the practical shapes you'll need to get started in this versatile tuning.
What Is Open G Tuning?
The tuning is D G D G B D, from the lowest sounding 6th string.
The easy way to play the I IV and V chords in this tuning is:
G: open strings, strings 1-5
C: Barre in fret 5, strings 1-5
D: Barre in fret 7, Strings 1-5
My Favourite Songs in Open G Tuning
"If It Makes You Happy"
"Morning Morgantown and Little Green"
Use Open G to Create Your Versions of Songs
You can also take these shapes and use them to create your own songs, or do new arrangements of existing songs. For instance, "She Belongs To Me" by Bob Dylan sounds great in this tuning.
Open G chord shapes
How to Change to Open G Tuning
To change to open G tuning, take strings 1 and 6 down to D and take string 5 down to G.
Examples of this tuning include:
Example 1: "Blackbird" by the Beatles uses these chord shapes (it's best to use Travis picking for these) but is also played in standard tuning.
Example 2: Joni Mitchell's "Morning Morgantown" uses these chords as well.
On Which Guitar Do These Chords Sound Best?
All this stuff works on electric guitar, but it usually sounds best on a steel-string acoustic. I like Taylor guitars, Martin guitars, Collings guitars. If you have a dedicated 2nd guitar for open G (which is a really good idea) it may be worth using a slightly heavier string gauge to compensate for the lowered string tension you get in this tuning. You can also play harmonics on any string or strings at frets 5, 7, 12 (try it out—it sounds fantastic).
Other Fun Tunings
There are many different alternative tunings for the guitar and they are all worth trying. However, it's best to settle on one or two to avoid confusion.
- Open G with a lower 6 string: Open G also sounds great with the low 6th taken down to C instead of D. Shawn Colvin and Jackson Browne both use this tuning, and it does give you a great low bass note to fill out the sound.
- Removing the 6th string: You could argue that the low G on string 6 is a distraction. I think the artist called Keef removes this string altogether. That's because generally the root notes for chords are on string 5.
- Open D: Open D and DADGAD are the other most widely used tunings. I've got a few hubs on the subject if you are interested.
- As a general rule, most chord forms remain the same in Open G and Open D tunings, you just have to shift the shape across one string. So the Open G shape moves down one string for Open D, and vice versa. Obviously, or not so obviously, this can save you a lot of time if you use both tunings. If you use a capo too you can transpose most songs to suit your voice, very handy if you are not Joni Mitchell!
Vflo on August 21, 2020:
First, thanks for your great article(s) ! Just thought I’d mention another beauty in open G. I found a JamesJames video on YouTube for Moonlight Mile . There he suggests to bring top string to a G also- useful various parts of the song. Such a pretty sound all over that tune ! Try it out, I’m sure you’ll enjoy ;)