How to Tune Your Guitar to Open C

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CGCGCE Tuning

Open c tuning on guitar

Open C tuning is a lot of fun to play with. When the opens strings of a guitar in open C tuning are strummed, it sounds like a C major chord - but it sounds a whole lot deeper and fuller than any C major chord you've ever played before. This tuning utilizes a very low sixth string to give the guitar a big, full sound. Because of this very low sixth string, and depending on your guitar, you may find after tuning your guitar to open C your open sixth string rattles a bit.

When you lay your finger flat across all six strings on any fret and move it around the fretboard, the C major chord turns into different major chords (depending on which fret you're holding down). 

PRO TIP: The first string (E) is the string that gives this tuning it's "major" sound. If you want to experiment with a minor tuning, try tuning your first string to E♭ instead of E - this gives you an open C minor tuning.

Open C Tuning Tips

  • Start by tuning your sixth string down two full tones to the note C. Check the note against the third fret of your fifth string (also C) - they should be the same note an octave apart.
  • Next, tune your fifth string down a tone to the note G. Check the tuning against the open third G string (same note an octave apart).
  • Your fourth string needs to drop a tone to C. Once it's tuned down, it should sound like the open sixth string an octave up.
  • Your third string doesn't need changing - it's a G.
  • Your second string actually needs to be tuned *up* a semitone to the note C. Once tuned it will sound like the open fourth string an octave up.
  • Your first string can be left alone - it's an E.

Once you've taken a first pass at tuning the strings, you will need to go back and fine-tune each string (changing the tuning of a string can actually impact the tuning of your other strings as overall neck tension is changing). Once you think you've got it, listen to MP3 of this tuning and make any necessary adjustments.

Tab of Songs in This Tuning

Friends - Track from Led Zeppelin III. Great song with several interesting parts, all in open C tuning. It'll take some practice, but you'll get it! Listen to "Friends" on YouTube

Most High - This Page & Plant tune makes use of the lower strings in the open C tuning to create a nice full guitar sound. Listen to "Most High" on YouTube

Sister Awake - The Canadian band The Tea Party are another group that uses open tunings extensively. This track uses the open strings of this tuning as "drone" strings. Listen to "Sister Awake" on Spotify

Learning More About Open C Tuning

Once you're comfortable with the tuning and have played around with a few songs, you may want to dig in further. Guitarnoise.com has put together a nice resource for learning various chord shapes in open C. Over on YouTube, Bobby Crispy has put together a video lesson with some simple ideas on using open C tuning to create great sounding guitar parts.