open g tuning pt 1
Harrison Marsh looks at electric slide in open G, used by Billy Gibbons, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page, Bonnie Raitt & George Thorogood.
Having looked at the fundamentals of slide playing in standard tuning, this month we explore playing with a slide in open tuning, starting with open G. Open G tuning is hugely popular among slide players and was widely used by early country blues players. Today, Dobro players such as Jerry Douglas and Eric Clapton (Unplugged album) also favour this tuning. Far from just being an acoustic guitarist’s tuning, open G was the choice for George Thorogood’s Bad To The Bone and a favourite of Keith Richards of course he famously removed the sixth string from his Telecaster completely.
In G tuning the open strings form a G chord, while 5th and 7th fret positions give C and D chords respectively. While open G lends itself easily to I-IV-V progressions and this makes up a lot of the repertoire here, as with wider blues playing it’s the subtlety, detail and phrasing that leads to some memorable licks. As well as full six-string chords using the slide, open tuning allows for playing double-stops easily; these add weight and interest to solos and are synonymous with the style. You will often hear players create call-and-answer effects between licks and vocals, as Muddy Waters did so masterfully. The 12th, 15th and 17th frets also allow the same licks to be played easily an octave up, which you will hear many players use. The third, fourth and fifth strings also create a ‘5’
you might find it better to set a spare guitar aside, string it with a heavier gauge and raise the action
chord under the slide, which has led to some iconic rhythm playing.
With open tuning it’s important to be aware of damping (both hands) as the strings will ring sympathetically. Also, anyone using light-gauge strings and a low action will struggle playing slide in G as the first, fifth and sixth strings are all tuned down a tone, taking a lot of tension off of the neck. You might find it better to set a spare guitar aside, string it with a heavier gauge and raise the action. Of course, accurate intonation is a prime goal.
An interesting thing about electric slide is how different players find their distinctive sound; Billy Gibbons is a great example, as is George Harrison. So let your favourite players dictate the sound you look for. It can be great fun experimenting with different tones.