Slide Guitar Tunings: What Should You Use?

in

If you’ve been trying to learn how to play slide guitar, then there is no doubt that you have probably experimented with some different slide guitar tunings.

When using an open tuning, this means that when you hit all the open strings, it will sound a chord. For example, when using Open E Tuning, the open strings will sound an E major chord. In Open G Tuning the open strings will sound a G chord.

There are many types of open tunings, and some are better to use for different styles of playing. Let’s take a look at some popular open tunings, and what style of artist they sound like.

Popular Open Tunings

  1. Open E Tuning – This is my favorite tuning for slide guitar and is associated with the Elmore James, Duane Allman, and Derek Trucks style of slide guitar.  Tuning from low to high is EBEG#BE.


  2. Open D Tuning – This is the exact same kind of tuning as open e, except all the strings are tuned down a whole step.  Many people use this tuning on acoustic guitar or dobro because of the decreased amount of tension it will put on the neck of the guitar.  Tuning from low to high is DADF#AD.


  3. Open G Tuning – This is a great tuning for acoustic and electric.  Very similar to standard tuning in some regards.  You can use this tuning to play like Lowell George of Little Feat, Jerry Douglas, Keith Richards, Robert Johnson, and Ry Cooder.  Great for acoustic because there is less tension on the guitar neck when using this tuning. Tuning from low to high is DGDGBD. Check out my dobro lesson in open g tuning.


  4. Open A Tuning – This is the exact same kind of tuning as Open G, except all the strings are tuned up a whole step.  I believe Robert Johnson used this tuning on some tunes as well as many others. I have not used this tuning very much so I can’t really comment on it’s usefulness.  This tuning could cause some damage to an acoustic guitar because you are tuning strings up, so I would recommend further investigation before attempting this tuning to make sure your guitar can handle it.  Tuning from low to high is EAEAC#E. To achieve Open A, just use Open G Tuning and capo on the 2nd fret.


  5. Standard Tuning – This is really useful because you don’t have to retune your guitar or have a separate guitar for another tuning. The drawback here is that you will have to compromise your action as it’s very hard to play slide guitar with really low action. This tuning sounds like Warren Haynes and also check out Jack Pearson for some Standard Tuning Slide greatness.

Here is a video to show you what Open E Tuning sounds like on an electric guitar.

video

Here is a video to show you what Open G Tuning sounds like on a Dobro.

Hopefully that will help you to decide what tuning may be right for you.

7 thoughts on “Slide Guitar Tunings: What Should You Use?”

  1. Any thoughts on doing some instructional videos on open G? Im working my way through the open E and I cant get enough. Next stop is the land of G and you would be a great teacher for that too!!!

    • I recommend open a as its the same as open g except a little higher but if you want to play along with Robert Johnson. Open a with a capo on fret 2 for walking blues and on fret 1 for judgment day. Oh the secret devil tuning used on hellhounds is open b minor. So again open a minor with capo on 2.

  2. I like to play a 12 bar blues in the key of A in both open E tuning and then open A tuning (or D or G) and it makes my brain work harder. Keeps me from getting stuck in a rut. The licks and patterns can be similar but in very different positions on the neck.
    I haven’t found a good capo that would allow me to play clean slide near the capo, but there are good possibilities with that.
    It is hard to retune your guitar to different tunings between each song in a set.
    I suppose that is why folks just learn to play different keys in the same open tuning.
    Thanks for the help John, love your stuff.

  3. Man I just brought home a used (2008) SG Standard and then I see that you are playing a 61′ Reissue! Doh! Oh well, it still sounds pretty darn good.

    Can I leave my guitar in Open E and play along with a backing track in A? (without a capo). I was wondering if I could use the 5th, 10th and 12th fret as my changes during the progression. Thanks,

    Don

    • The SG Standard is a great guitar. Don’t worry about having the 61 reissue. You can play in any key using open e tuning and yes the 5th, 1oth, and 12th fret would be be the changes in a 12 bar blues in A. Thanks for the comment.

Comments are closed.