Open G tuning shares the title for Boss Blues Tuning with Open D. It's near impossible to discuss Delta blues, country blues, or slide guitar and mention only one of these two great tunings. With the exception of Standard, more blues have probably been written and played in these two than all other tunings combined. It's used in rock, folk, country and even new age.
Now that's out of the way let's talk a bit about Open G tuning without that other guy along! Open G (also called Spanish --- or Taro Patch slack key in Hawaii) has the open string bass note on the 5th ---- rather than the 6th string. If you like having the tonic bass on the 6th string, it can take some getting used to but it's more than worth it.
No worries for Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. He just eliminated the 6th string on his guitar altogether! Normally the tuning, low to high is DGDGBD. So Keith's is GDGBD. The power chord ... 1, 5, 1 ... in D tunings is on the 6th, 5th and 4th strings. In Open G the 1, 5, 1 moves to the 5th, 4th and 3rd strings. Seems it worked out okay for him.
This tuning has a sweet sound that can be driven just about anywhere you want it to go. It came from a banjo tuning and that may account for its bright quality. Whether you prefer blues, country, rock, or sounds from Hawaii, Open G will take you there!
Like many open tunings, it's easy to turn into an open minor. Lowering the B (2nd) string just one fret to Bb gives you a G Minor tuning and a whole new universe of possibilities.
Delta blues players used Open G tuning for fingerstyle, slide and a combination of both. There are many modern players who keep the powerful Delta blues sound just as compelling today as when it first evolved. Open G is also used a lot in country blues.
It's also a favorite of many great Hawaiian guitarists. As noted above it’s known as Taro Patch in Hawaii and it’s the most common alternate tuning in that area. Hawaiians refer to open tunings as slack key tunings and the style in general as slack key. The name is taken from a Hawaiian word meaning to loosen or slacken the string. They continue to create many exquisite tunes with different individual approaches using this style. An added dimension is that many feel this style and individuality reflects the true spirit of Hawaii.
Hawaiian slack key has also had an influence on today’s fingerstyle music worldwide. Likely it happened the other way around as well. Especially since the folk and blues resurgence of the 1960’s, guitar players everywhere have looked for ways to enhance and expand their repertoires. There’s no greater bunch of idea thieves on the planet than guitar players, so I doubt the Hawaiians are any different. Originality, beauty and sparks lurk in ways the theft is adapted and built on. Open G tuning has been expanded well here!
As with many tunings, its only limitations are the ones that each guitarist decides to impose.
Here’s how to arrive at Open G from Standard tuning.
1. From Standard tuning, lower the 6th string, (the big fat one) so that when you put your finger on it at the 7th fret and play the string, it sounds the same as the open 5th string. D
2. Lower the 5th string to match the tone when you fret the 6th string at the 5th fret. G
3. The 4th string remains the same. Don't retune. D
4. The 3rd string remains the same. Don't retune. G
5. The 2nd string remains the same. Don't retune. B
6. Lower the 1st string to match the tone when you fret the 2nd string at the 3rd fret. D
Retuning lower, the neck may relax, so notes may need tweaking a bit to sound right.