Every musician knows that the heart of a guitar's voice lies in its tuning. Guitar tuning sets the stage for the instrument's sonic character, influencing every note, chord, and melody that you play.
While standard tuning has its place in the guitarist's toolkit, the haunting, resonant, and open sound of Open A tuning can bring an entirely new dimension to your playing.
What Is Open A Tuning?
Open A tuning, E-A-E-A-C#-E from low to high, is an alternate tuning that pitches your guitar so it makes a perfect A major chord when strummed open --- hence the name.
In contrast to the familiar E-A-D-G-B-E of standard tuning, Open A tuning lends a unique and richer resonance to the guitar by incorporating more A and E notes of varying octaves.
However, like anything in music, Open A tuning comes with its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it enables simpler chord formations, introduces new tonal possibilities, and is perfect for slide guitar playing.
On the downside, it can be challenging to master for beginners and may require relearning chord shapes and scales. Moreover, it can put additional tension on your guitar neck due to the higher pitch of some strings, which may require additional adjustment and maintenance.
Why Should I Tune My Guitar to Open A?
The enchanting allure of Open A tuning lies in the musical possibilities it unfolds. Its unique configuration allows for new chord voicings and harmonics that are not easily achievable in standard tuning, opening up a broader sonic palette for your music.
Many iconic musicians and songs have utilized Open A tuning to great effect. Its distinctive sound can add a rich, textural layer to your compositions and playing style, inspiring creativity and setting your music apart.
But perhaps the most significant advantage of Open A tuning is the way it can shape your approach to the guitar. Playing in Open A forces you to think differently about the fretboard, encouraging new patterns of thought and possibly sparking unique musical ideas. It's not just about the sound, but also the journey of discovery and innovation it can lead you on.
In the next sections, we'll explore how to tune your guitar to Open A, make necessary guitar adjustments, and provide tips on playing in this unique tuning. So stay tuned, and let's discover the beautiful world of Open A tuning together!
How To Tune Your Guitar to Open A
Tuning your guitar to Open A is straightforward once you understand the process. Remember that tuning to Open A (E-A-E-A-C#-E) from standard tuning (E-A-D-G-B-E) involves changing the pitch of the D, G, and B strings.
Low E String: This is already E in standard tuning, so no changes are needed here.
A String: As with the low E string, the A string remains the same.
D String: You'll need to tighten the D string up a whole step to E.
G String: This string needs to be tightened a whole step to A. Use your already-tuned A string as a pitch reference.
B String: The B string should be tightened a half step to C#.
High E String: This string stays the same, just like the low E string.
Always remember to go slowly when tightening the strings, as moving too quickly can cause the string to snap.
Adjusting Your Guitar for Open A Tuning
When moving to Open A tuning, one important consideration is the increased tension on the guitar's neck. This change can affect your guitar's truss rod, the metal rod that helps counteract the tension of the strings. You may find that adjustments are necessary to keep your guitar in optimal playing condition.
Check for Fret Buzz or Action Issues
With increased tension, the guitar's neck may bow more than usual, leading to fret buzz or action that feels too high. Play each string individually and listen for any buzzing. Also, see how the strings feel under your fingers. If there's any discomfort or the action feels off, it might be time for a setup.
Adjusting the Truss Rod
The truss rod can be adjusted to counteract the extra tension from Open A tuning. Typically, the adjustment nut is located either at the top of the neck (just under the headstock) or at the other end of the neck (accessible through the soundhole for acoustics). If you're not familiar with adjusting the truss rod, consider taking your guitar to a professional to avoid any potential damage.
Tuning to Open A might also affect your guitar's intonation---the guitar's ability to stay in tune up and down the neck. If you find that the guitar sounds out of tune as you play higher up the fretboard, an intonation adjustment might be necessary.
Remember, regularly playing in alternate tunings may necessitate more frequent adjustments to your guitar to ensure it stays in the best possible playing condition.
Why Tune Your Guitar to Open A?
Open A tuning presents many advantages that might motivate guitarists to make the shift:
Facilitates Slide Guitar Playing: Open A tuning is very popular among slide guitarists because it allows them to play major chords by barring. This setup is also great for playing melodies with the slide across different strings.
Encourages Creative Expression: The rich, resonant sound of Open A tuning can inspire new melodies, chord progressions, and riffs. The unconventional string relationships often lead to unique and creative compositions.
Explores New Soundscapes: Open tunings offer a different tonal palette that can add new colors to your music.
Simplifies Fingerings: In Open A tuning, major chords become easier to finger, opening up possibilities for more complex fingerpicking patterns.
How To Play Guitar in Open A Tuning
The transition to Open A tuning might require some adjustments in your playing style, but it will certainly enhance your versatility as a guitarist.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Open Chords: One of the easiest ways to start is by strumming the open strings, which will produce an A major chord. Try barring all the strings at different frets to produce other major chords.
Scale Patterns: Next, explore the new scale patterns this tuning offers. A good starting point is the A major scale, starting on the 4th string (which is now tuned to A).
Unlock New Possibilities
Tuning your guitar to Open A opens up a world of new possibilities for creating music. Whether it's enriching the sound of your chords, adding a new dimension to your slide guitar playing, or exploring a new tonal landscape, Open A tuning is a great tool to have in your arsenal.
With careful adjustments and a mindful approach, you can explore these new soundscapes while ensuring your guitar stays in great shape. It's all part of the journey of mastering this versatile and expressive instrument.