If you’re interested in finding an alternative way to tune your guitar, consider learning how to tune to open C. Different from your standard E, A, D, G, B, E tuning, tuning to open C will help you achieve the C chord sound when strumming on open strings.
What is Open C Tuning?
Open C tuning is a specific guitar tuning that allows a C chord sound to emanate from your guitar when not holding down specific strings and strumming on the open strings of your instrument. The open C essentially comes from the combination of three things:
- Having the root note of C
- The major third
- The perfect fifth
When your guitar is tuned to open C, you will be able to create an open C by simply strumming, rather than fretting, your guitar.
An open C chord will offer you a more velvety and melodic sound quality. The perfect chord tuning for beginning guitar players and experts alike, practicing your guitar in an open C tuning can help you achieve a rich sound style with percussive qualities.
The Best Guitars for Open C Tuning
If you’re wondering which guitars are best for open c tuning, the answer is most guitars. While you can tune both 12-string and 6-string guitars to open C, it is best to make sure that you choose strings with tension and strength. If each guitar string has more than 30 lbs of tension capacity, it could be too strong.
A total string tension of around 160 lbs is ideal when successfully tuning your guitar to open C. Even though open C tuning will prove easier to accomplish on a 6-string guitar, the string tension limitations apply to 12-string guitars as well.
Guide to Achieving This Tuning
Before starting to tune your guitar to open C, it is crucial that you first understand open C by playing an exercise. By strumming all the strings of your guitar while playing a scale on only one string, you will be able to easily see where all of the major scale notes on your fretboard reside. This will be very important to know when engaging in the actual tuning process.
Major chords in an open C guitar tuning involve a simple shape that you can master easily. To play an open C chord, all you need to do is to strum all of your open strings at once. This creates a C chord. If you want to play a different major chord, all you need to do is block your fingers across your fret.
Then, align the note of your sixth string with your desired root chord. A root chord, such as A or E, can be matched by the act of the fret barring. Whichever note is matched with the sixth string of your guitar at any given time will be the marker that informs you of the major chord you are playing.
While open C minor chords are slightly more tricky to play than open C major chords, they are still very accessible to those newly playing in open C. One great minor chord whose shape can be shifted both up the fretboard and down again is Cm or C minor.
To make a C minor, when tuned to open C, you can follow these steps:
- Barre the third fret of your guitar with your finger from the fifth to the first fret.
- On the fourth fret, place your pointer finger in front of your guitar’s second string.
- Place your middle finger on the fifth fret of your fourth string by moving it up and over.
- Put your ring finger on the fifth fret of the third string by reaching under.
- Play the five highest strings simultaneously.
Though it might sound complex at first, once you get the finger patterns down, you will be able to practice open C minor chords without hesitation and learn new open C songs.
Tuning a 6-String Guitar to Open C
Once you feel comfortable with the concept of open C, it’s time to start tuning! If your guitar is not tuned at all yet, we suggest starting with standard tuning. You can tune your guitar either by ear or by using an automatic tuning device. If you start with your guitar at standard tuning, you only need to follow a few simple steps to change four of your strings.
These steps include:
- Step one: Try using the 3rd fret on the 5th string to create a C reference.
- Step two: Loosen the 6th string until the 5th and 6th sound harmonious and in tune.
- Step three: Find a G reference for your 5th string. Turn the tuning knob to lower it an entire step downward.
- Step four: Adjust your 4th string until it matches your 6th string in harmony.
- Step five: Make sure your 3rd string is in the standard tuning of G.
- Step six: Use your guitar’s 6th string for reference and raise both the 6th and 4th strings until they are in C harmony.
- Step seven: If already in standard tuning, leave your 1st string in E.
Once you have played your guitar in open C for a while and have decided you would like to continue, we suggest altering your string gauge. Changing your strings to a lesser gauge can help you maintain your new open C tuning.
Songs to Test Out The Tuning
For those wanting to continue practicing their guitar playing with open C tuning but don’t know which guitar songs to try out, consider attempting the following:
- Burden in My Hand by Soundgarden: Written by Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, Burden in My Hand is a great song to practice your open C tuning with. Though you’ll need to adjust your tuning slightly by lowering your second string from C to G, you’ll end up with a very similar open C variation perfect for the song’s melody.
- Friends by Led Zeppelin: Friends is the epitome of epic songs to perform in open C. With its deep and fluctuating style, you’ll have lots of room to experiment until you feel comfortable with your new tuning.
- Independence Day by Elliott Smith: Smith’s Independence Day is a great song that can involve the right amount of open C strumming to help you practice. Its simplicity is a great learning tool for those who would like to play the song in repetition.
- Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons: Little Lion Man is perfect for anyone who already has some experience playing in open C but wants to become more proficient. With a lot of open strumming and intricate tone shifts, it can help increase both speed and dexterity when playing in open C tuning.
- Ocean by John Butler Trio: Though Butler is known to play as 12-string guitar rather than the more common 6-string, most of his songs still use open C tuning. With a song as loose and malleable as Ocean, you’ll have the freedom to test your new chord arrangement with some artistic flexibility.
Once you become familiar with all of these songs on your open C-tuned guitar, you will have no problem playing other longer and more complex open C songs in the future.
As the Head Editor at Music Grotto, Liam edits content produced from over 30 professional music/media journalists and contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.