How Keith Richards Plays in Open G Tuning

In the sixth lesson on Open Tunings we take a look at the instantly recognizable style of Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. With the simple building blocks shown here you can play many of the classic Rolling Stones hits and of course you can use this knowledge to write your own riffs and songs.

All examples are taken from my new ebook ‘An Easy Guide To Open Tunings For Blues & Rock Guitar’, which contains many more examples and ideas (available at my website).

Classic Rolling Stones Songs You Need To Know

If you don’t know about the Rolling Stones here is a list of some of their greatest hits to get you started:

  • Brown Sugar
  • Start Me Up
  • Honky Tonk Women
  • Sympathy For The Devil
  • Satisfaction
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  • Angie
  • Paint It Black
  • The Last Time

Many of their albums have become classics, but if you want to buy your first Rolling Stones-CD, I suggest ‘Grrr!’, a 3-CD-compilation that contains countless hits from their earliest days till today (and in addition it’s very cheap). All of the above mentioned songs are included on ‘Grrr!’.

Keith Richards also recorded two very good CDs under his own name: ‘Talk Is Cheap’ and ‘Main Offender’.

The Guitar Style Of Keith Richards

On many of the Rolling Stones’ greatest hits Keith Richards played in Open G tuning. Often he has the lowest string removed, so that he plays a five string guitar. If you don’t want to remove that string, you can touch the lowest string with one of your fingers (fretting hand). Use the tip of your index finger when playing a bar chord or the tip of your thumb when playing in the open position.
Keith’s guitar playing is not about fancy or lightning fast playing with impressive technique. It’s about great riffs, infectious groove and timeless songwriting. Richards once said in an interview that you can recognise a great song by stripping away all the production stuff and play it with just an acoustic guitar and a voice. If it still sounds great, you have a great song. Measure the hits of the Rolling Stones with this yardstick and you’ll know why so many of their songs are timeless classics that will be played for generations to come.

The Typical Chords Of Keith Richards

Ex. 1 shows the ingredients of Keith Richards’ main guitar riff, first in the first position with open strings (chords 1 and 2) and then in a movable version with a bar (chords 3 and 4). I added three more chord variations Keith uses sometimes (listen to the intro from ‘Brown Sugar’ to hear these variations in action).

Ex. 2 shows a typical intro in the style of Keith Richards.

In Ex. 3 demonstrates the typical Keith Richards accompaniment riff. Keith played this exact riff in many of his songs (e. g. take a listen to ‘Start Me Up’ (measure three and four of the main riff) and ‘Brown Sugar’ (most of the verse and measure three and four of the chorus riff)).

Ex. 4 demonstrates another typical playing technique of Keith Richards: A pickup measure with two sixteenth strums just before the accent on beat one.

Ex. 5 combines this sixteenth strum with the typical Keith-Richards accompaniment riff and a chord change.

Putting It All Together

Now it’s your turn to come up with your own variations. Also it would be very educational to try to transcribe a few Rolling Stones songs in their entirety. Next you should try write a song with guitar parts in the style of Keith Richards or try to fit some parts in his style to other Blues or Rock songs.

You’ll find many more examples like the ones in this lesson in my new ebook ‘An Easy Guide To Open Tunings For Blues & Rock Guitar‘. Stay tuned!

Lesson by Andi Saitenhieb.