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by Wolf Marshall

Welcome, cyber pickers worldwide, Wolf Marshall, here at Guitar Port central. In this series within Essential Guitar we’ve been looking at alternate tunings. We began with tuning down one string (Drop D tuning) and progressed to a two-string alternative (Double D tuning). This time we’ll begin exploring the subject of chord-based open tunings. Open tunings exploit a chord sound; that is the main aim. As we have been in various lowered D tunings thus far let’s make a natural segue into the world of Open D.

Open D tuning makes the open strings of a guitar sound like a D major chord. Let’s begin with the basic mechanics. Click and open up your tuner program in the home page. Start in standard tuning by dropping your two E’s, both high and low, a whole step to D. Next lower the second string a whole step from B to A. Finally drop the third string G a semi tone to F#. The open strings of your guitar should now be spelled (from low to high): D-A-D-F#-A-D.

Point Number One: The sound of Open D tuning has long been a favorite among blues artists. To illustrate let’s begin with an absolutely indispensable blues phrase. If ever there was a must-know blues lick, this is it. The riff has an extensive pedigree. It was first heard in the play books of acoustic country-blues artists like Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton, adapted for electric guitar by Elmore James, and was seized and passed down into blues-rock and rock repertory by players like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. The riff was re-invented by Stevie Ray Vaughan in his composition “Slide Thing”—which brings us to Point Number Two. This episode of Essential Guitar combines two essential ideas that work hand-in-glove: Open D tuning and slide guitar.

Dirty Blues

Dirty Blues

Example 1 is a familiar Elmore James-inspired blues riff in Open D played with the slide. The tuning naturally creates a D major triad on the top three open strings (low to High), F#-A-D (3) to (1), and that’s what you hear from the get-go. Notice this triad is now played as a three-note barred shape (at the twelfth position). In bar 3 we find another useful attribute of the open tuning as a blues resource. The extended dominant seventh-chord sound is expressed as A-C-A, also played as a barre on the second and third strings in the fifteenth position. The upper-register slide riffs are counter-balanced by a typical low-register blues comping figure in the first position. This figure is a breeze to play in the tuning as a root-fifth D5 chord is simply the lowest two strings, D and A, and the D6 chord is a one-finger form.


Example 1
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