Open G Tuning Songs - Open G Blues Guitar Tuning

open g tuning songs for slide guitar - delta blues son houseThe video above opens with an old clip of me playing Crossroads by Robert Johnson on an old Johnny Joyce model Aria, and at 1:22 I start to explore the open G guitar tuning from a beginner’s point of view. 

It’s a simpler tuning than open D, and it’s perfect for playing with a bottleneck or slide. I use a thick glass bottleneck, which gives a different sound and feel to a steel or brass one – it’s a matter of choice.

Open G is the most common example of alternate guitar tunings and using a slide is by far the most common technique for this Delta blues tuning. The bottleneck way of playing guitar consists of letting the surface of the slide rest on the strings while we strum or fingerpick. 

Generally, the guitar action needs to be higher than when playing normal guitar, so it’s a good idea to keep one guitar set up just for bottleneck. It’s a great idea to set up a ‘beater’ for this.

Damping the strings with one of your fingers behind the bottleneck is very important, and takes a bit of practice – stick with it, because it’s the backbone of the technique. The actual open G tuning guitar G (2m:58s) is quite easy, and involves taking just three strings down. The bass E comes down to D, the A string down to G and the high E also comes down to D.


Although some delicacy is needed to make a good sound, the technique is quite forgiving when moving along the fret board to a particular note. A ‘vibrato’ action is used so that the bottleneck is hardly ever still – it wavers around a note, producing those ethereal blue sounds. One of the advantages of this is that you can slide up to a note, but don’t need to hit it spot on – you can vibrate the bottleneck and ‘fine tune’your position.

"Blues is a very emotional type of music, and those who play it feel the emotions deeply. Playing blues in open g bottleneck style can help an individual express themselves in a new way."

Bottleneck isn’t the only style we can play when we use this blues guitar tuning. Here I demonstrate a picking pattern I developed to play Mobile Texas Line, an unusual item among open G blues songs. It was originally strummed - see how you like it: 

I've always had a love-hate relationship with open G blues tuning. Yes, it sounds great and it gives you the old authentic feel of the Delta blues, but for a long time I just could not stop those strings buzzing.

For many years I played folk music and during that time I was introduced to open D by a friend of mine. Of course this was finger-picking folk music and didn't involve a slide or a bottleneck.

I like the idea of open tunings but for a long time they were really a minor part of my repertoire, preferring to play Ragtime blues and Delta blues or fast Piedmont styles.

In particular I'd like to play Blind Blake tunes in open D, because some of them are slow, and some are fast and exciting. The slow pieces allow you to get into the music and to get into the chord structure of an open tuning, well the fast pieces are exciting when done well.

In those days, I did try to play bottleneck style with open D but it never really worked out. it wasn't until much later that I heard open G for the first time played properly in the slide or bottleneck style.

When I was a younger player, like many people, I was quite arrogant. I loved to play complex guitar styles and I tended to ridicule styles that were either too simple or in another musical genre.

Delta Blues - Robert Johnson SongsOne night in the South of England, I happened to be in the folk Club in a small village, listening to the amateur floor singers and waiting my turn to play.

Folk clubs are a fantastic way to learn the trade of playing in front of people.  While sitting there, a man walk to the stage and prepared to play.

As he walked past me I noticed that one of his guitar strings had a knot in it between the nut and the Capo.

On top of that, the strings were so old that they were green and rusty.  I laughed behind my hand and made fun of this man, expecting to hear him play very badly.

He had only played two notes before I realised that this was something special. He fitted a glass bottle neck to his ring finger and moved it lightly over the strings to the 12th fret, before bringing it down to the 7th fret, and then the 5th fret, creating the most wonderful, plaintiff blues is sound. It was as though I was transported back to the Mississippi Delta.

This was perhaps the biggest lesson I'd ever had in playing guitar. First of all, you don't need to be a technical genius or be a fantastically complex finger picker to produce some wonderful blues music.

Secondly, a good guitar player will adapt to his instrument and the strings that he has. This is the genius of playing the Blues. It's a feeling more than technique.

In the case of this young man, the state of the strings actually helped produce that  authentic old sound. New guitar strings tend to have a bright and lively sound, which doesn't translate well into the old blues. In addition, the windings of the lower guage phosphor bronze strings tend to be raised and make quite a scraping sound as the bottleneck is pushed along.

If you are intending to play in the bottleneck style a lot, or almost exclusively, it's probably a good idea to use flat-wound strings. It really doesn't matter if they are nickel steel bronze or phosphor bronze, but I find that the bronze style strings produce a warmer sound. As with all strings, it’s a personal thing and  it's always best to try a few sets before you decide.

song in open g from the deep south
Blues songs in open g tuning - bottleneck Delta style
The most famous old-style blues songs in open G tuning are Crossroads, Walkin' Blues (Robert Johnson) and Death Letter by Son House. The Rolling Stones have written songs such as Honky Tonk Women, Brown Sugar and Jumpin' Jack Flash in open G tuning.

Listen to some short clips of popular classic blues songs in open G:

Kassie Jones by Furry Lewis

Kassie Jones Part 1 FURRY LEWIS (1928) Blues Guitar Legend.mp3

It's said that Muddy Waters played Walkin' Blues before Robert Johnson. An early field recording seems to verify this, and later live performances such as the one below certainly show a master guitar player at work.

Muddy Waters is one of the most influential blues singers and songwriters, with his songs defining Chicago Blues. He was born in 1915 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi to parents who were sharecroppers. 

Muddy's dad left when he was a young boy so his mom raised him and his 12 brothers and sisters by herself. His older brother taught him how to play guitar when he was 8 years old.

Muddy Waters was a pioneer of the electric blues style and is considered one if not "the" most influential artist in this genre. He has been inducted into both The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as well Grammy's Lifetime Achievement Award, which he won twice!

The frailing guitar picking style of Son House is legendary and 'Death Letter' is a fine example of his technique for playing a blues in open G. He was an adult when Robert Johnson was still a child and the younger guitar player would follow him around, trying to be more like his hero.

Son House is a Mississippi Blues musician who was born in 1897. He began his career at the age of 19, playing harmonica and guitar for tips on street corners in Clarksdale, MS. His first recorded song came when he was 28 years old with "Death Letter" (1928) and "Preachin' The Blues" (1929). 

These early recordings were so successful that he toured the U.S., Canada, and Europe as one of the most popular blues musicians during this time period.

Son House died in October of 1988 at the age 100. He is buried next to his wife, Willie May Jones (1907-1975), and their son John Henry Jr., who was killed by a train when he fell asleep on railroad tracks near Clarksdale MS while waiting for someone with whom they were going fishing.

Muddy Waters (acoustic) at Newport 1968 Walkin Blues.mp3

What is open G tuning on a guitar?

Open G guitar tuning means adjusting the guitar strings so that a G chord sounds when the open strings are plucked. The bass E is tuned down 2 frets to D, the A string tunes down 1 fret to G, and the high E string is tuned down to D.

Use the tuner below to make sure we're close. That way can follow along with the tablature for Crossroads. Click on the audio for a quick tune-up and get into open G tuning.

What is open G tuning on a guitar? How to tune to open G

Son House Death Letter Blues.mp3

Whether we like it or not, Robert Johnson will always be the iconic Delta blues man, with Crossroads Blues begin the iconic Delta Blues song. He does so much with a standard blues chord progression in open tuning.Robert Johnson was an American Blues musician and singer-songwriter.

Robert Johnson was an American Blues musician and singer-songwriter. Born in Mississippi, he lived a very short life of 27 years before dying in 1938. It is rumored that Robert sold his soul to the devil for skills on guitar and vocals at a crossroads near Dockery Farms, close to Greenwood, Mississippi. This is a very famous story, and the truth of it has never been confirmed. It's possible that Robert Johnson was just an extremely talented musician who had some help from his family in getting started with music at such as young age (his father played guitar).

But there are many people out their today still believe this legend to be true - even though they have no proof! 

Robert Johnson- Crossroad.mp3

OK. Open G Blues Tabs - Now let's take a look at my version of Crossroads blues. 

Slide guitar tabs - Crossroads Guitar Tab1

Guitar Tuning - Open G - DGDGBD.mp3

Crossroads in open G tuning Tab2

Open G - Crossroads Intro Tab 1.mp3

Crossroads Tab 3

Open G - Crossroads Intro Tab 2.mp3

Open G - Crossroads Intro Tab 3.mp3

Open and download the complete PDF Guitar Tab File For Crossroads in Open G by Robert Johnson

This article below is a great example about using open G tuning for slide guitar - Catfish Keith is a master of the style and plays in nothing else! (Almost!)

The Voice of the Blues

~ by Catfish Keith ~

Article in Fingerstyle Guitar, Issue 19, Jan-Feb 1997

 Nothing knocked me out more than the first time I heard solo country blues.  I was coming up as a teenager, in Davenport, Iowa, and one day I heard my first Son House number, "Death Letter".  That was it!  Wow! 

From that moment on, I was hooked on that crying, singing sound that still makes my hair stand up.  I couldn't believe how much music was coming from just one person.  The combination of stomping feet, deeply felt vocals, and propulsive, from-the-gut, string-popping slide guitar left my jaw dangling to the ground.  I was floored by this music.  My life was changed forever.

While my high school buddies in the 1970s were into disco and heavy metal, I went deeper and deeper with my mission of discovering the very roots of American music, and found a treasure trove of exciting, obscure musical gems from Mississippi delta blues masters like Charley Patton, Booker White, Mississippi Fred MacDowell, Johnny Shines, Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, and Son House to ragtime blues guitarists like Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Big Bill Broonzy, to sanctified pickers Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Gary Davis, and Rev. Robert Wilkins. 

Often, one guitarist made the sound of two or three guitars, playing bass, rhythm, melody, harmony, and counterpoint at the same time!  There were also many other influences and styles working their way into my repertoire, including early jazz of Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, and Bix Beiderbecke, island music of the Caribbean and Hawaii, with Joseph Spence and Sol Hoopii as major heroes. 

Old-time fiddle tunes, zydeco, and New Orleans R&B were in there too.  Needless to say, nobody at school had any idea what I was talking about!  But I didn't care.  I was just tickled to be soaking up this great music.

Times have changed since those days of years ago.  Early recordings of the 1920's and '30s, once almost secretly passed from the hands of one zealot 78 record collector to another, are now available on Compact Disc compilations in chain stores for everyone to enjoy.  Hundreds of new and old blues recordings are released every year on major and independent labels. 

Blues festivals and blues societies have sprung up all over the U.S. and abroad, and a handful of blues-based artists have become certified rock stars.  Blues is the soundtrack for beer and soap commercials. 

You can learn the notes easily from mountains of books, videos, and at guitar workshops.  Blues legends are working and touring more than ever.  Times have never been better for the blues.

Bottleneck Slide Guitar - SLIDE GUITAR SET-UP

To play slide, you must first have your guitar set up properly for the best tone and playability.  On my albums and live, until about 1998, I've played on my 1930 National steel-bodied Style O resonator guitar. 

These are great sounding old guitars, especially for slide and delta blues.  Many blues, jazz, hillbilly, and Hawaiian guitarists played Nationals, and before the electric guitar caught on, were the loudest, shiniest, funkiest guitars available.

In recent years I've been favoring my 1999 National Baritone Polychrome Tricone guitar (pictured below) from National Reso-Phonic Guitars in San Luis Obispo, California. This has been my main thing ,touring and recording steel-bodied National since the day I got it.

This special instrument has a longer scale length (a couple inches longer than a standard National neck) and is tuned lower (see below). The strings are also quite a bit heavier (.068-.017 on mine).  The neck meets the body at the 13th fret , and adds two more frets to the length of the neck, and enables you to go 3-5 half steps lower than normal.

I'd been seeking this huge, deep tone for quite some time and the cats at National Reso-Phonic really came through  with  a  revolutionary, very special guitar for me. Because of the Baritone Tricone's popularity, this is an in-demand catalog item for them now,  and  is  available  usually by special order.


If you are interested in buying a new National (of any kind), please email or call, I'd be happy to help. I've assisted lots of folks get their dream guitar, and, by special arrangement with National, I can get you prices as good or better than most dealers (always 20% off list price and no sales tax unless you live in Iowa). Also, I'm always available for  any and all advice I can lend about these great instruments.


You can set up any steel-string acoustic guitar for slide.  The nut of the guitar must be slightly higher (around the thickness of a matchbook cover), so the strings are higher over the fretboard than for regular guitar playing.  You should still be able to fret the strings as well as slide comfortably without clonking the frets with the slide.  A qualified guitar repair person should be able to set you up right.

Note:  BE CAREFUL choosing a repair person.  Try to get a couple of (or lots of) recommendations from respected players before taking your dear guitar into the shop.


For the best slide tone for your guitar, heavier gauged strings, especially on the top two treble strings, are generally better.  I use these gauges on my 1930 Style O and 1998 Delphi Nationals, in Phosphor Bronze:

Low to High:  .056    .045    .035    .026    .019(plain)    .017(plain)

On my Baritone National, I use these gauges, also in Phosphor Bronze:

Low to High:  .068   .056   .042   .030   .019(plain)   .017(plain)

CAUTION:  Many acoustic guitars are not made for heavy string tension.  Be careful not to put strings on your guitar that are heavier than the recommended gauges.

IMPORTANT:  Don't tune your guitar too high!  It could pull some (especially wooden acoustic guitars) apart!  Tune no higher than a D or G-tuning, and if you notice the bridge area raising on your acoustic guitar raising, use lighter gauge strings. The new Nationals are pretty tough, with double truss rods, but they say if you tune to an E or A Tuning, take the tension off the strings before putting the guitar away.


Although there are dozens of variations, I use these two traditional open chord tunings for slide, often flatted a half step: 

·  Open-D,  Vasserpoo or Vestibule Tuning.  Low to High:  DADF#AD

·  Open G,  Spanish or Hawaiian Tuning.    Low to High:  DGDGBD

On the Baritone National, I use the same tunings, only pitched lower, starting at B or B-flat.


I use a large plastic thumbpick on the right hand thumb, and two metal fingerpicks for the index and middle fingers, but for me, especially on the steel guitar, picks help make a sharper, louder tone and help save your fingers.


There are many kinds of slides to choose from; everybody has a different preference.  Some use a metal tube or pipe (Son House used a piece of copper tubing), or a spark-plug socket.  These have a brasher, more metallic tone, but have the advantage of being shatterproof (and multi-purpose).

Some of the old-time slide guitarists used a knife.  Cedell Davis used a butter knife.  Legend has it that Blind Willie Johnson used a straight razor for a slide.  Makes for a sharper tone, but sounds mighty dangerous!

My preference is a glass slide, made from a wine bottle.  Glass has a weepier, richer sound than metal.  You can make your own or buy commercially made slides in the music stores, and remember the thicker the glass, the thicker your tone will be. 

The glass in many wine bottles (the kind with corks, not screw-on tops) is nice, thick, and smooth, and makes for the best sound. You can also buy slides online, just like mine (pictured below), through this website, individually handmade from wine bottles by Roger Gohl of Sly Devil Slides in Los Angeles. Email me if you want more info on custom lengths, double cut slides, etc.


Putting your slide on your left hand pinkie finger leaves your other left hand fingers free to fret notes and make chords without the slide, and also to damp the strings behind the slide.  Some guitarists like Son House and Bonnie Raitt use the slide on the ring or middle finger, but generally, having the slide on your pinkie is the best bet.


Unlike fretting the strings, playing with the bottleneck involves setting the slide directly above a fret, with light pressure on the string with the slide when plucked.  Try it on the high D (first) string in Open-D tuning, with the slide angled slightly away from the neck, so you are only resting the slide on the high string. 

Then, pluck the string with your right hand index finger, and slide up the neck slowly from the third fret to the fourth fret.  Ahhh!!  Vibrate the slide slightly (left & right) along the string at the end of the phrase to give it that vibrato like a gospel singer.  That's it!

The difference between playing slide and regular guitar is like the difference between a violin and a ukulele.  Think of the slide as a woman's voice.  Some of the notes will be bent or "blue" notes that are 1/4 to 2/3rds above the fret.  The ability to bend and vibrate these vocal-sounding notes is what makes slide guitar so haunting.

Article Source:

Songs In Open G Tuning Guitar

When we look at the open G tuning songs for guitar , we find that the vast majority are played with a bottleneck, which creates a raw, old sounding Delta blues style guitar music. However, it doesn't always have to be that way and there are many songs played with delicate style that are really beautiful. 

open g blues guitar tuning - cigar box guitars

Slide Guitar Songs In Open G

So how did this delta blues tuning come about? Where did open G come from in the beginnings? If talking about the blues, then we really do need to go back to the roots of the Mississippi and try to imagine what a musician's life was like back then.

The first guitars were probably home made affairs, simply because there was no money around to buy factory made models. These first guitars usually had 3 or 4 strings and the tuning pegs just force fitted into holes, so the tuning was actually rudimentary and often slipped out of tune. 

It made great sense to tune these instruments to a chord so tat it was relatively easy to make a simple tune. They were often fretted with a knife and played with a bow, although modern slide guitar tabs don't show this.

Open Guitar Tunings - The Real Deal

A usable 6 string guitar didn't really come into the hands of poor people until the Sears company started to offer Stella Guitars in their mail order catalogue, the basic models just costing a few dollars. 

They truly were a gift from God. The construction was robust and could be knocked around a bit before being seriously damaged. They didn't have a truss rod, so if the neck became deformed or warped, the guitar was basically no good - unless it was used with an open guitar tuning, which didn't have to be as accurate as standard tuning.

Even with a good neck and solid construction, the early Stellas didn't hold their tune that well, a situation made worse by the hot humid conditions in the South. Open guitar tunings for guitar made the tuning much less susceptible to weather changes for example, but there was another good reason. 

If a bottleneck or side was used, then the tuning didn't have to be that accurate anyway, as part of the slide technique is to slide up to a note and then add vibrato, so if the position on the fret board is a little bit off, it can be corrected during the vibrato.

Open G Chords
It all depends on exactly what kind of songs you want to of course, Blues-rock in the style of Keith Richards has a different approach than acoustic Delta blues, for example. My own preference is old-style acoustic, so mostly I lean towards bottleneck songs with open G tuning.

A notable characteristic of slide playing is that very often, no chords are used at all. You just create a sparse and repeating riff as background to the lyrics. That's not to say it isn't difficult. It takes a lot of practice to get it right, adding finesse in just the right places and then emphasising a line of verse with a percussive attack, or the snap of a string.

A master uses every trick in the book to spell-bind an audience with the music, from disturbing the cliche of the blues chord structure to improvising instrumental breaks with riffs they had never played before. 

The chart below shows some of the common chords used for playing songs in open G, both blues and other genres. It's great fun playing around with them, combining them and even making up your own! Have fun with it.

Author: Jim Bruce 
Date: 2014-07-15
Category: Music - Open G Songs

slide guitar songs in open g - open G Delta Blues Songs


Another blues guitar tuning - open D

Open G Guitar Tuning FAQ 

Who invented open G tuning?
Open G Tuning originated in the Mississippi Delta, probably because it was easy to keep in tune in hot, humid conditions

Is wild horses in open G?

Yes, it is! Open G is a favourite of Keith Richards and many Rolling Stones songs were written in this tuning

Walkin' Blues is very similar to Crossroads. Pick up the licks and adapt it!

What songs are in open G?
There are just too many to list, but here are some notable ones. The list doesn't include the many old classic blues songs. 
    •  The Black Crowes - Hard to Handle, Twice as Hard 
    • Coldplay - High Speed 
    • Robert Johnson - Walkin' Blues (also covered by Eric Clapton) 
    • Led Zeppelin - Black Country Women,In My Time of Dyin',Going to California 
    • Pearl Jam - Daughter 
    • Pink Floyd - Fearless 
    • Rolling Stones - Can't You Hear Me Knockin', Brown Sugar, Happy, Honky Tonk Women, Jumping Jack Flash, Start Me Up 
    •  George Thorogood - Bad to the Bone
What tuning is used for slide guitar?
Slide or bottleneck guitar is almost always played withe guitar tuned down to open G

How do you tune a guitar to open A?
    • Open A option 1 - E-A-C♯-E-A-E
    • Alternatively: E-A-C♯-E-A-C♯
    • Alternatively: A-E-A-E-A-C♯ (one step down from Open B)
    • Use for slide playing: E-A-E-A-C♯-E (identical to Open G tuning but with every string raised one step or two frets)

How do you play open tuning?
You can play any style you like and many modern songs use open tunings. The old blues men often used open G, but many modern performers used hybrid tunings. For example, Joni Mitchell said she used about 50 during her career!

What is open tuning?
An open tuning is when a guitar is tuned down (or, very rarely, up) so that it plays a chord when the strings are strummed open. Common tunings are Open G, Open A and Open D.

What kind of guitar did Robert Johnson play?
In the only photos of Johnson existing he is holding a 1920s Gibson L-0 or Kalamazoo KG-14, but maybe these were provided by the recording company.

What is the best open tuning for acoustic guitar?
It depends on what you want to play. Delta Blues bottleneck or slide is often played in Open G. Open D is good for fingerstyle folk and blues, but open G is easier, with just 3 strings to tune down.

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