While it is possible, playing Rolling Stones classics like Brown Sugar and Start Me Up in standard tuning will most likely leave you utterly disappointed and forced into impossible finger positions. Granted, the rhythm parts can be played using simplified power chords, but that still won’t get you that signature Stones sound. So how does Keith Richards pull it off? Well, as someone who knows how not to take things too seriously, Richards is probably the first to admit he really isn’t the best guitarist ever to have roamed the stage. The trick here, is open G tuning.

Open G: De sleutel tot de Rolling Stones

Granted, the secret to the most famous Rolling Stones riffs was already uncovered years ago, and many guitar magazines and internet blogs with articles on the open G tuning have been published in the meantime. The downside is that these often dive (too) deep into the specifics and throw around all kinds of scary chords and keys. This way, if you’re not a theoretically educated guitarist – and I sure wasn’t either in my younger days – it’s easy to lose both track and interest. All in all, it’s actually pretty simple. Like ‘Keef’ says: “All you need is five strings and an a-hole.” That means we’re going to skip over the theory for now. Once you got to grips with the basic chords, you can always study up later.

What Do You Need?

Well, you’re not going to get very far without a guitar. This can be an electric guitar, but open G tuning also works great for blues and Delta blues on a steel-string acoustic or resonator guitar. It also doesn’t need to be a Telecaster, but a guitar with a fixed bridge is recommended. In the case of guitars with tremolos like the Stratocaster, the string tension affects the tension of the tremolo springs and vice versa, meaning that by the time you finish tuning the last string, chances are you’ll have to check each string again. The same goes when you tune your guitar back to standard tuning. If your axe has a Floyd Rose, don’t even bother trying open G tuning unless you want to be stuck in it forever. Secondly, you’re going to need a chromatic tuner. Chromatic means that the device is able to recognise notes that lie outside of standard tuning (EADGBE). Of course, you also can tune your instrument by ear but a tuner is simply much quicker. You basically have what’s needed now, although a capo can come in handy and a slide is essential if you want to play authentic Delta Blues.
As far as technical skills go, it’s important that you’re able to lay down a firm barre and, in addition, it’d be nice if you’re able to palm and finger mute the strings with both your left and right hand. Finally, tools like song books, educational software and YouTube aren’t necessarily needed but can make life a lot easier.

The Open G-Tuning

To tune your guitar in Open G, the strings need to be tuned the following way (from low to high):


The low E string is tuned down to a D; the A string becomes a G; the D, G and B strings remain in standard tuning and the high E string is tuned down to a D. Play all open strings at once now and if all is well, you’ll hear a familiar sound: the G chord. Okay, that’s nice and everything, but you’re probably wondering, “Now what?” Now, we actually arrive at the ‘Keith Chord’, and this is where the magic happens.


In the left image above, you can see how the chord is to be played at the first two frets. The image on the right shows the fingering for the barre. Since you use your index finger to lay down the barre, you might as well learn how to play the first chord using your middle and ring finger.

The second chord is just as easy as the first. Instead of pressing down on the third bass string at the second fret, you’re now going to press down on the G string. If you play a full barre, you’ll notice the lowest bass string doesn’t quite fit the rest of the notes of the chord. You can try avoiding it with your playing hand but you’ll likely end up compromising your rhythm or ‘swing’. As such, it’s better to use the tip of your barre (index) finger to mute the string. Alternatively, you can be like Keith and simply take the low E string off your guitar.

Perhaps you’re thinking: “Wait, that’s it?” Well, yes and no. With the chords you’ve seen, you have enough to play a full version of ‘Brown Sugar’. Instead of listing each and every fretboard position, I’ve included a number of YouTube videos that shed more light on all of this.



This blog doesn’t exactly give up all the secrets of the Open G tuning, so I recommend experimenting with it a bit first. Since your fingers have built up years of standard tuning muscle memory, slinging solos will be a tad tricky at first, but work itself out soon enough. Most experienced guitarists are actually able to play solos in both tunings at the same pace, while guitarists who’ve never played in Open G before will have something to busy themselves with. In the next blog, the focus is going to be on slide techniques, using different picks and fingerpicking. Any die-hard Stones fans that came here hoping to find more technical tips and tricks will unfortunately have to wait until yours truly has mastered these to a blog-worthy degree!

Have fun practicing with these YouTube videos:

See Also

» All Guitars and Accessories
» Tuners
» Capos
» Guitar Slides
» Guitar Lesson and Song Books

» Guitar in Drop D Tuning: How & Why
» Chords: Theory and Chord Symbols

2 responses
  1. Maxine craven says:

    How do know where to play your chords like A D E or E A B7 I only know tuning in open E A D G B E

    • Hi Maxine,

      If you Google something like ‘chords in open G tuning’, you’ll find several websites showing you how to play A, D, E etc. They’re very easy to play, by the way.

      Let me know if you have any more questions!

      Marnix | Bax Music

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