Listen to any Rolling Stones track and you can instantly recognize the signature vibrant bluesy style and loose rhythm guitar playing that makes Keith Richards one of the most celebrated guitar players in rock ‘n’ roll history.
In this week’s guitar lesson, we’re going to look at open tuning, which is a particular aspect of Richard’s playing that largely shapes his distinct style and can help you capture a Richards-esque sound of your own.
Keith Richards loves open tunings, especially Open G, which he started using more frequently as the Stones matured into the late 1960s and early 1970s. So before we move into this lesson, be sure to grab a tuner and guitar (definitely a Telecaster if you have one), and we’ll check out some classic Stones riffs.
Open G Tuning
The main purpose of an open tuning is to have the open strings sound a particular chord (i.e. if you were to strum the open strings without fretting any notes, you’d hear a nice-sounding chord). Because of this, open tunings are primarily used with slide guitar – a style in which a player glides a glass or metal slide along the strings in order to change the chord tone.
Keith Richards doesn’t necessarily use the conventional purposes of open tunings however; Richards puts his own stamp on open tunings by incorporating a variety of blues-based techniques and achieving varying musical styles. For the electric rhythm guitar player like Keith Richards, an open tuning can help simplify chord shapes and result in an overall ease in playing riffs.
When you’re in open G tuning, the guitar’s open strings play a G Major Chord – G (the root), B (the major third), and D (the fifth).
To tune your guitar to Open G, you’re going to drop your sixth string down a full step to D, your fifth string down a full step to G, and your first string down a full step to D. So the open G tuning from the sixth to first string is, D – G – D – G – B – D
To play these riffs however, you won’t be using the bottom sixth string much; Keith Richards rarely used all 6 strings with his guitars tuned to Open G, and he’d often use a 5-string variation of the tuning by removing the sixth string of his guitars altogether.
Let’s chronologically take a look at three signature Keith Richards riffs and see how he incorporates Open G tuning, starting with the country-inspired, “Honky Tonk Women,” then moving to the gritty rock jam “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” and finally with the indistinguishable “Start Me Up.”