Confused about open "G" tuning

I have built two 3 string guitars so far. Gathering parts and working on my third currently. I know that these CBG's can be tuned many different ways. When building my first two I remember reading that "open G" was a good place to start so I ordered the recommended strings from C.B. Gitty and tuned them to "open G" which is....G,D,G.  or so I thought.

Looking at Gitty's listing to buy more strings I see the same strings that I bought previously. They say they are for "open G" tuning but it has them listed as G,B,D or G,B,E tuning. In fact I don't even see a string set that has G,D,G listed as open G tuning.

So....what is Open G tuning? What strings are what? What is a good string set for 3 string tuning?

You need to be a member of Cigar Box Nation to add comments!

Join Cigar Box Nation

Email me when people reply –


  • Well, all of this really goes to show that ANY thing will work with these CBG's. I guess the problem I was having is that I come here and other sites to "learn" how to build a great sounding guitar. When there is no right or wrong way to do it, it makes it difficult to know if your on the right path. On the other hand.... its good to know that there is a broad range of ways to make a great sounding CBG.

    • I dunno, Tom.  I think there are a lot of right and wrong ways to do it - or at least "righter" or "wronger" ways.  There are certainly lots of ways to make a CBG sound horrible; not as many ways to make it sound good - but certainly way more than one.

      You can get the benefit of other people's experience in places like this, but you have to factor in that each person followed his own path to get to where they are, each with his own objectives and background.  So, for any question, you'll get at least as many different answers as the number of people who respond.

      For questions like the one you asked, it's helpful to go back to the standard guitar.  Though there are many alternate tunings used, most string sets are designed for standard tuning on a guitar with something between a 24" to 25.5" scale length.  For that, the strings are tuned E,A,D,G,B,e. Call them E6, A5, D4, G3, B2, and e1. These standard sets are pretty much optimized for the standard scale length, standard tuning, but still show a lot of variation depending on intended use and individual playing style.  So, even if you were asking on a regular guitar forum about the "best" set of strings, you'd get a million different answers.  CBGs are no different - they're still guitars, played by people who are all different from one another.

      A straightforward approach to deciding on strings is to first decide what notes you're going to tune to, and then pick the strings from a standard set that are meant to be tuned closest to that set of pitches.  The responses here cover a lot of alternatives for 3 strings that will make some combination of notes that are in the G major chord.  (G,D,B).  But, depending on which notes from that chord you want to tune to, there are a many different ways to select strings. 

      I'll say this:  If you've never played any guitar before, the octave tuning without the third, i.e. the G-D-g tuning is probably the easiest to play on.  It's traditional for dulcimers and for a bunch of other instruments - the Trichordo Greek Bouzuki, the Greek Baglamas (though those are typically octave D tuning, not G), the Turkish Saz, ...  You can bar (or use a slide) straight across the strings and get a chord that can be major or minor (since there's no third in it, it can act as either).  You can strum across the three strings and play melodies on the high two, and just about never have a combination that doesn't sound good.  And it gives you a pretty wide range of notes - more than two octaves, depending on where your neck joins the body.. 

      If you're already used to playing slide, something like G-B-d is nice, because it's the high 3 strings of the open G tuning used for a lot of acoustic blues and country stuff.  It's nice to have a couple of CBGs, each set up for one of those tunings. 

      Once you've decided how you're going to tune, there are still some other factors to consider.  There's a lot of variation in string thickness between standard sets, depending on their intended use.  Also differences in materials and winding, again, depending on intended use and playing style.  Sets for rock & electric blues will probably have very thin strings, intended for bending notes.  A jazz set will be very thick, to get richer tone.  Strings intended for electric guitars with magnetic pickups and lots of bending will skip a lot of the fancy winding materials, and will often have an unwound third string.  Strings for playing slide (like Dobro strings) will be very heavy, and often will have an unwound third. And the list goes on. So ... lots of degrees of freedom, and the only way to figure out what you like best is to try a bunch.

      A CBG doesn't have much box to act as a resonance chamber, and the top is generally not the best wood.  So, if you want it to sound halfway decent unplugged, you have to go with the thickest strings you can stand for your playing style, tuned fairly tight - that will give you the best and loudest tone.  If you're going with magnetic pickups and intend to almost always play plugged in, this isn't so important.  Again - it's not that there's no right or wrong, just that there are a lot of righters and wrongers, and they depend on how you play and what you want to do, and the only way to know is to try, make mistakes, learn from them...

      I don't know if this makes things any clearer.  But sometimes, at least for me, it helps to go back to first principles to figure out what direction to go.

  • Your right ... open G tuning is g-d-g. You should use the 5-4 and 3 strings from a set of strings.

  • If you're a singer you need to think of your vocal range before you pick a tuning. It seems like most people go with open G but that doesn't work for me. Keni Lee Burgess tunes and sings in open G but his voice is a deep growl.
    I tune in open D. My voice and range is quite a bit higher than Keni Lee's, and I'm playing to sing with. You could go with open D or open E, open C, open G all pretty easy by selecting from available normal guitar strings. I've been thinking of dropping down to open C.
    • This is a really good point.  G has been called "The People's Key",  (also "The Camp Counselor's Key"), because it's the easiest to play in on the guitar (and second-easiest on the piano), and it usually matches most male baritone voices pretty well.  (Baritone, with limited range, is what most untrained male voices sing - particularly in the USA.)  It also let's you play blues with a harmonica player playing cross-harp on a C diatonic harmonica, which is (IMHO) the most versatile key for the harp  (right in the middle, more or less...)

      If you want to play with other instruments, you probably need to be able to play in G for American folk music and a lot of slide-oriented blues, D for Celtic music, E and A for a lot of blues and rock ...  Bb, Eb and sometimes F for jazz, especially with horns.  Throw in C for playing with less-skilled piano and accordion players... need those smileys again...  I know I'm oversimplifying, but this set of keys is probably table stakes if you're going to play with others.

      Maybe the answer is to have a lot of CBGs, each set up differently!  Or learn where the notes are for whatever tuning you pick, and learn some chords other than the 1-4-5 in that key.  (Or get a capo :-) )  Lucky for me, my voice stinks in every key, so matching my range isn't an issue... :-D

  • Sorry, brain fart! Thanks Jeff.
  • Tom, C B Gitty part # 34-010-01 Uncle Enos Blues Blasters work very well for me. They tune to G D g . They are medium weight bronze wound #44 #34 and #26.  

    • What rotten roger said. I've used those on all my builds. Tuned GDg, they hold tune well and have a great sound.

  • An open G chord comprises G, B, D, so you can use any combination of those notes (tones) comprise a G chord.
    Now in plain language use what sounds good to you from those tones. You can do GBD, GBG, GDG, or even invert it and do BDG! Or even DGB. The E is the seventh of the chord and makes the chord a G7. Use those notes and make it sound like you want it to sound.
    • "The E is the seventh of the chord and makes the chord a G7"  Not to be a total PITA about it, but it's the 6th, not the 7th.  (Where are those smileys when you need one...)

This reply was deleted.