Q & A: Keeping a Guitar in Open Tuning

Hello to all!

Here’s a question from a recent email:


I am curious if you can answer this question with a reasonable degree of certainty or if not direct me to someone who can. I tuned one guitar to drop D and one to open G. I have gotten a 50/ 50 mix of friends telling me I can leave it tuned that way on the one hand and on the other hand I get told I need to retune them to standard every time I finish playing. Any suggestions?



And thanks for writing. I can definitely answer your question with some degree of certainty, but I will also tell you that this is one of those questions where people do have varying differences of opinion, and sometimes quite strong opinions at that. And usually, as is the case with most differences of opinions, these feelings are often based on some instance of personal experience. Someone might have a guitar that he or she keeps in open G all the time without any kind of problem at all. Someone else might have a guitar that he or she retuned to open G at one point and it caused no end of grief in terms of retuning, or perhaps some greater calamity was involved. It’s always good to ask “why” whenever you receive an answer that seems based more on an opinion than anything else.   

Be that as it may, you should have no trouble keeping a guitar at open D or open G for any length of time. Forever, if you so desire. Neither of these tunings involves tuning strings higher than they would be if they were tuned to standard tuning, so you’re not causing undue stress on the neck or on the saddle (if it’s an acoustic guitar).

Open E and open A are a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Both these open tuning involve tuning a number of strings higher than they would normally be. Because guitars are designed for standard tuning, keeping these strings high than normal for an extended period of time (extended usually meaning “days” and not “hours”) can cause unwanted stress on your guitar.

This discussion is also common among people who own twelve-string guitars, by the way. One faction will say that you should keep your twelve string tuned a half-step or full step lower so as not to stress the neck. The other side says it’s perfectly fine to keep it in standard tuning all the time. There are valid arguments for both sides and usually it becomes a matter of personal taste and experience.

There are some factors to keep in mind, though. (aren’t there always?) as laws of inertia apply here. If you keep a guitar in open G  or open D for an extended period of time, your instrument is going to go through a period of adjustment should you decide you’ve got to play it in standard. It may initially not hold its tuning and need some bit of adjustment until the strings get used to being stretched to normal tension again. As silly as it may sound, if the strings are old or have worn spots, you run the risk of breaking them when you retune up to standard. Constantly putting your guitar into an open or alternate tuning and then going back to standard does put wear and tear on your strings. So it’s a good idea to have spares handy.

I hope this helps. Thank you once more for the email and I look forward to chatting with you again.



About David

David Hodge is a music teacher with over twenty-five years experience who writes lessons for both Acoustic Guitar and Play Guitar! He is the author of five Idiot's Guide to Guitar books including The Complete Idiot's Guide Guitar and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Playing the Ukulele. David is also the lead editor and columnist for GuitarNoise.com. You can check out David's latest free online guitar lessons here and contact him by email at dhodgeguitar@aol.com.
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