Open tunings for guitar: give them a try!

Open tunings for guitar: give them a try!

EADGBE’s standard guitar tuning is a bit of a musical straightjacket. Those who want more must deviate from the beaten track. A whole new world opens up with open tunings. Playing guitar becomes adventurous again. “You have to learn to play the guitar again,” said “fingerstyle” guitarist Shlomi Levi.

New possibilities

Which guitarist would not like to play like a virtuoso musician with beautiful melodic compositions, dexterous riffs or a completely different and unique sound? The road to that goal is closer than many people think.

Step away from the guitar’s default tuning and grab your instrument to try out new tunings. Any tuning that sounds nice is an open tuning. Often the most insane guitar riffs and melodies, of which you may think “this is impossible or you have to have very long or super nimble fingers” are based on open tunings.

If you listen to and analyze the music of Ben Howard, you will discover that the secret of his guitar sound lies mainly in his ability to juggle and play with open tunings.

Almost all of his songs are written in an open tuning, which gives his music an extra dynamic. Howard’s preference for open tunings derives from their use in Celtic music, on which his songs are based. The same goes for Mumfords and Sons. They too use the open tunings more often than the standard ones. In country & western music, guitarists tune their guitars to non-standard keys. Mostly to use the slide. This is then used again in blues and even jazz music is not averse to open tunings.

Guitar Open Tuning Guide Chords Playing How To Tutorial

Amazing result

Open tunings give every guitarist a different finger picking sensation. Because you can tune the guitar in a D-chord, for example, you no longer have to pick that chord with your fingers.

Your fingers remain free to pick up other strings or chords you invented yourself.

The result is sometimes astonishing. Suddenly new possibilities and a new sound open up.

According to finger picking specialist Shlomi Levi, the first steps towards open tuning don’t have to be big and difficult at all.

He often uses open tuning in his music. “Just start tuning the thick E string down to a D,” explains Shlomi, who has focused on the “fingerstyle” for over seven years and has released many songs in the meantime.

“If you ‘drop’ the E string you suddenly get an extra low tone and that gives a new dimension to playing. You get a very nice atmosphere. Almost ballad-like. ” ”In order to still get the standard chords, you obviously have to take that thick E string into account.

If you grab an E chord, you have to grab the E string on the second fret. For the G chord, you have to grab the E string on the fifth instead of the third fret. You can also tune the next string down to a G. Then you get an even deeper bass feeling.

By the way, in open tunings you never tune “up”, but always “down”, because otherwise there will be too much tension on the strings. “


Shlomi: “There are two ways to play with open tunings. The first way is by tuning your guitar to a chord and the second method is to develop the sound and tone yourself, such as tuning the E string to a D.”

The “drop” of only the E string is called an “alternate tuning”. These are tunings that are not yet fully symphonic by themselves, but just another tuning that can be used to enhance certain sounds.

In “open tuning” the guitar is fully tuned in a major chord.

For example, open D tuning (D-A-D-Fis-A-D) and open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-G) are widely used open tunings and have been around for over a century.

The open D tuning is also called the Spanish tuning and the G tuning is alternatively referenced as the the Sebastol tuning. Of course, there are other major tunings to be made for each chord.


An important aspect of playing with open tunings consciously is knowing how to play scales.

After all, if you have the guitar in a different tuning, you also need to know which strings to pick.

Shlomi: “Try to gain insight into your guitar and scales, so you can also learn to play chords in an open tuning. The best method is to first look at your favorite songs and if they are often played in a D, tune the guitar in an open D tuning. Then you search for all the chords. By knowing the scale of each chord, you then also know which strings and frets to use to play a chord in an open tuning. Slowly you will discover how you can use the guitar in a different tuning. First try out one or two open tunings and practice with them. Memorize the new handles of chords. ”

And by memorizing those tunings and then using a capo, you can easily pick up other keys as well. An open D tuning with the capo on the second fret becomes an E.


In order to play with open tunings in a conscious way, a guitarist must therefore know the basic principles of chord theory. But on the internet you can also find a lot of tablature of open tunings from Ben Howard or Keith Richards, among others, to learn to play songs in an open tuning.

From there you can then see in which chord or with which tones you are playing. Please note that not all tabs on the internet are correct.

If you have mastered playing with this and you know which chords and tones you use, you can then also figure out how to play the chords and choose an existing song yourself. And if you can play an existing song, it’s easy to take the next step: making up your own tuning and picking out chords and melody lines.

That’s what Shlomi Levi does with his music. He composes on the basis of open tunings.

Shlomi: “I turn the ‘tuners’ until I find a nice chord and then I look for a melody. Then you suddenly get something new. You do have to write down and record everything. This also applies when you are figuring out the chords and fingels of existing songs. Write everything down in tablature. It is always a puzzle and every song takes time, whether you compose yourself or play it back. It is as if you are learning to play the guitar again with open tunings. ”


Anyone who uses open tunings cannot avoid tuning the strings often. The best way is through a tuner. Then you can easily “tune” the strings to the desired tone.

But even if you have discovered a nice “own” tuning, you can use the tuner to find out in which key you have tuned the strings.

It’s easy to learn the scales and chords that way too.

Over time, you can pick up certain open tunings by ear.

Shlomi: “Please note that it is still possible that even with a properly tuned guitar you can still have something of a false tone in the higher regions. Play a few clips on the higher frets to make sure your strings sound right. Otherwise, tune your strings to the ninth fret. ”

Due to the constant tuning, the strings wear out faster and therefore break earlier. “I have learned that the strings also break faster because the hole in the tuners is often a bit too sharp. I then file this smooth. But after a while, due to the constant tuning, metal fatigue does occur. ”

Another tip that Shlomi gives is to file the grooves in the nut of the guitar a little wider, so that the string does not catch. In addition, his advice is to use mainly 0.12 strings, because you often tune the strings lower.

“The thinner, the easier you play. The thicker the better the sound. In open tunings you will have too thin strings lubber slightly and that is at the expense of the sound. Also try out other brands of strings to see which ones fit best. ”

For your convenience you can check out this article about clip-on tuners and how they can speed up the process.

Shlomi has tuned four guitars differently and during concerts he makes sure that all his guitars are tuned differently.

Shlomi: “With open tunings and fingerpicking, you should mainly practice. Great guitarists like Tommy Emmanuel do that too. Take small steps of one or two measures and polish them by repeating this hundreds of times, then take the next step. Also make sure you record this, so that you can listen to yourself without having to deal with the technology. ”

Open chord tuning

Open tunings or “open tunings” are mainly about major chords. Of course you can also tune a minor, but those are the “alternate tunings”. Below you will find the major open tunings.

Open A

E-A-C♯-E-A-E or the alternative E-A-C♯-E-A-C♯

Open B

B-F♯-B-F♯-B-D♯ or the alternative F♯-B-D♯-F♯-B-D♯

Open C


Open D

D-A-D-F♯-A-D or the alternative D-A-D-A-D-D

Joni Mitchel uses this tuning in Big Yellow Taxi and Mumford and Sons uses it in “Little Lion Man.” The alternative is used by Keith Richards in “Jumpin ‘Jack Flash”.

Open E


Unlike most other open chord tunings, this requires three strings to be turned up. Use “light” strings for this tuning. The tuning is used by Brian Jones in “No Expectations”; Keith Richards in “Salt of the Earth” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, among others.

Open F

F-A-C-F-C-F or the alternative C-F-C-F-A-F.

The alternative is used if you don’t have “light” strings on your guitar. Led Zeppelin uses this mood in “When the Levee Breaks”.

Open G

D-G-D-G-B-D or the alternative G-B-D-G-B-D

The Open G tuning is, together with the Open D tuning, the most used one.

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