What is Open Tuning? A Quick Guide

Open tuning is a term that means tuning your guitar so that a chord can be played “openly,” or without fretting. The base chord consists of at least three notes and may include all of the strings or a subset. It often makes for easier playing depending on what key you are playing in. It’s often used in folk and blues music. Many renowned guitarists such as Ry Cooder and Keith Richards frequently use open tuning in their playing.

Particular keys and why you’d use them

When open tuning your guitar, you have a myriad of choices. The following are what you will find professional players use the most often:

G – The Most Common

Guitarists such as Keith Richards and Sonny Landreth often tune their guitars to G when they play. In open G, the strings are tuned down to D G D G B D.


The key of D is used when you want to add a touch of dark mysticism to a song. Some examples of well-known songs that use this tuning are Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” “Even Flow” by Pearl Jam, and Pink Floyd’s “Poles Apart.” The tuning is D A D G A D or sometimes D A D F# A D.


The key of E may be a good tuning to use when you are playing slide guitar. It has also been used by the Rolling Stones (“Jumping Jack Flash”), The Black Crowes (“She Talks to Angels”), and ZZ Top (“Just Got Paid”). The tuning for this key is E B E G# B E.


Tuning your guitar to the key of A would be a choice when you want to expand beyond other open tunings. The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” is an example of a song incorporating this lesser-used tuning, which low to high is E A C♯E A E

Other Tunings

Besides open tuning, there are a few others that you may want to explore. Drop D tuning, for example is used often in Heavy Metal music because of its dark undertones.

Some guitarists will tune down a half step or whole step when they are playing alternative or metal.

Why Alternate Tuning?

As with many other things, the purpose of learning alternate tunings is to expand your musical palette. With greater variety in tunings, you can play in many different modes. If you own more than one guitar, it is recommended that you have different tunings for each extra guitar. This is especially helpful if you are performing onstage.

Your Choices are Many!

There are as many tuning structures for your guitar as there are styles of playing. As you grow in your ability and confidence, you may find yourself having fun trying out different tunings until you have a few that you prefer for specific songs or sets.


Glenn Sutton
Ozzie’s Music
12222 Poway Road,
Suite #27
California 92064

Phone 619-306-3664


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