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Guide to Guitar in Open C

I started playing guitar many years ago—attracted by the low wages and free beer. My articles are mostly guitar and keyboard lessons.

Picture of John Fahey took in Paris in 1984 during a gig Credit Pascal Chassin.

Picture of John Fahey took in Paris in 1984 during a gig Credit Pascal Chassin.

Questions This Article Answers

  1. What is open C tuning?
  2. What's normal guitar tuning?
  3. What's an easy way to retune to open C?
  4. What songs explore alternate tunings on the guitar?

1. What Is Open C Tuning?

  • The tuning for open C is C G C G C E.
  • Playing all strings open will make a C chord.
  • You can also play harmonics on all the strings at fret 12 for a C chord.
  • A barre at fret 5 is an F chord.
  • A barre at fret 7 is a G chord.

2. What's Normal Guitar Tuning?

Normal tuning for guitar is E A D G B E. It is often called standard tuning. Standard tuning is used by most guitarists, and frequently used tunings can be understood as variations on standard tuning. “Nonstandard” tunings are also called “alternative” or “alternate.”

3. What's an Easy Way to Retune to Open C?

  • Take the 2nd string up 1 semitone to C.
  • Using this note as a reference, take string 4 down to C.
  • Using open 3rd string as a reference, take string 5 down to G.
  • Using string 4 as a reference, take string 6 down to C.

4. Songs That Explore Alternate Tunings


“Big Yellow Taxi”

Joni Mitchell

“Brown Sugar”

The Rolling Stones


Led Zeppelin


Led Zeppelin

“I Had a King”

Joni Mitchell

Little Green

Joni Mitchell

It's always a challenge to play guitar in a chord/melody style—that is, the tune and chords together. The tab below is for the traditional Scots tune, "Auld Lang Syne," which is usually the song used for New Year's Eve celebrations. It is also a great tune for solo guitar. The guitar tab is supplemented by the chord pictures below—have a look at these first, as it will help in learning the tab part. It's a good idea to memorize the tab, a bar at a time—you don't want to have to read it.

"Auld Lang Syne" Tab

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Read More From Spinditty

Tips for Playing "Auld Lang Syne"

Firstly, the bar lines don't mean anything here, they are just there to make it more readable. Line 1 matches the verse lyrics, "Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind, should." Line 3 matches the chorus "For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne." Then, line 4 and line 2 repeat. That's it!

How to Play John Fahey's Version

I used the John Fahey version that's on Youtube, which I used as a basis for this arrangement. There is a video link below—please note it isn't exactly the same as this guitar tab. You could play this song in normal tuning, but it would be hard to replicate the tone and power you can get from open strings and drone notes.

John Fahey's music [in open C] used the lexicon, mechanisms, and tunings of American vernacular music as a divining rod to a new blended style that would be referred to as 'American Primitive Guitar.'

— Dan Orkin (

"Auld Lang Syne" Chords—Open C



Jon Green (author) from Frome, Somerset, UK on April 08, 2012:

Hi - will check out your hubs.

theonlineguitaris on April 08, 2012:

Hey! I see you play guitar. You look like you've been playing for a very long time. Follow me, I'm theonlineguitarist. I like to write about guitar repairs and maintnance. Maybe we could both learn from each other.

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