Acoustic Blues Musings, Pt. 3
Guitar Player|Holiday 2021
Open roots tuning tips.
JIMMY LESLIE

PLAYING IN STANDARD tuning will only get you so far along the blues trail. Three primary reasons why acoustic blues players favor open tunings are that they simplify fretboard navigation, make any guitar sound more resonant and facilitate bottleneck slide. A basic grasp on how to play in rootsy open tunings is essential to have in your arsenal for the classic blues canon, and a whole lotta folky blues-rock to boot. Here’s the what-up broken down into a few principles.

ROOT CHORD THEORY

The core concept is tuning to a chord, and E best exemplifies it. To get a handle, start by forming a basic E major chord in standard open position. Notice that the fingers are simply raising the pitch of the fourth and fifth strings by a whole step plus a half step on the third. Take the fingers off and turn the tuning keys to raise the pitches to where the fingers were. Viola, open E tuning. Duane Allmans’s “Little Martha” is a lovely acoustic example of open E’s chimey tone caused by increasing string tension rather than decreasing it, like the majority of open tunings.

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