Mar
4

Robert Johnson Tunings and Guitars

Some say Robert Johnson turned his back to others in order to protect his unique tunings.  Is it possible those tunings have been uncovered?

There has been many speculations over the years as to how Robert Johnson tuned his guitar.  Hal Leonard even released a book, claiming to show the tunings and songs of Robert Johnson.  Though this book has been held in high regard, it is possible it is not entirely true.

As many musicians know, songs can be played in multiple different tunings.  There is no “right” way to tune a guitar – most go with the most comfortable for them, or with the “sound” they desire.  However, Robert Johnson seemed to act in a manner that others interpreted as protecting a certain tuning.

For instance, it is known that while recording, and reportedly at some performances, he would turn his back to the crowd (or other musicians) while playing.  Some scholars believe, as do I, this was more of a method known as “corner loading” which helped to amplify the sounds of an acoustic guitar.  So, perhaps it was nothing more than that – Robert using a corner to help amplify his sound (and change his sound).

However, “corner loading” does not apply to some other reports concerning Johnson.  For instance, it is widely reported, by Johnny Shines and others, that if you asked Robert how he played a particular song, he would reply “just like you.”   This unwillingness to show others is quite odd, especially since Johnson’s prowess on the guitar was taught to him by Ike Zimmerman (minus the whole devil legend). So why would Robert, who learned from another, not be willing to teach others?  Was it nothing more than him trying to protect his livelihood?  Was he just not into teaching others the instrument?  Or was he simply protecting a unique tuning he used…

I think most scholars would agree that Robert, who mostly played unaccompanied, didn’t carry around a tuner with him.  Nor did he tune to other instruments, because he played alone.  So what is left?  Tuning to his voice, and tuning by ear.

That being said, it is nearly impossible to decipher his exact tuning(s).  However, there are some interesting tunings he may have used. First of all, I should point out the fact – for you guitar players out there – this link that provides over 100 different tunings.  However, there are some hidden tunings Robert may have favored, that don’t appear on that list.

For one, try tuning to C# G# C# F G# C#.  Essentially, this is like drop D tuning but lowered a half step.  Give it a try, and see how much easier it is to play some of Robert’s songs.   The fingering seems easier, and the sound more in line with some of his recordings.   Of course, Robert more than likely also used multiple tunings.

There are also rumors flying around that is is quite possible he used another unique tuning.  Going with the whole “Robert loved open G tuning” theory, try tuning it to open G, but down to E, leaving the lower string relatively slack, and with a G string in place of a B string (tuned to G#).  This would turn the tuning to B E B E G# E.  You could then use a capo – which we know Robert often did (one of his photos shows a capo in use)  on the third fret giving you an open G.  Of course, none of these tunings match Hal Leonard and his interpretation.  But hey – there is more than one way to skin a cat, right?

As far as Robert’s guitar(s) is concerned, it may be time to dispel a rumor.  Some have reported, including some acoustic guitar mags (which I will not name) have reported Robert played a Gibson KG-11.  However, I cannot find any information to substantiate this claim.    However, it is widely known (and pictured in the photo above) that Robert played a Gibson L1.  Is it possible he owned more than one guitar?  Sure, it is possible.  But also think of the fact that he was a rambling man, often traveling light, and never really had much of a permanent home.  He surely wasn’t hopping trains with multiple guitars in tow.  Also, note that we have yet to see Robert’s guitar(s) turn up anywhere.

Of course, as with anything dealing with Robert Johnson and the old timers, no one will ever know for sure.  The facts around Robert Johnson – most of them anyway – died with him.

90 Comments to “Robert Johnson Tunings and Guitars”

  • Plus, robert did play in standard tuning. Me and the devil, kind hearted woman, sweet home chicago, etc. In one of his pictures, he is playing the A7 chord. I think the key is to annalyse each song and his influences. Certainly don`t believe in this E7 tuning you claim.

  • Looks like we’re just beating a dead horse here, nobody really knows for sure how many tunings Johnson used. One thing I hope we can all agree on is that Robert Johnson was a revolutionary guitar player and did things his own way. It is interesting how he can still stir such emotion in listeners, even today.

  • Any fool can make something complicated but it takes a real genius to make something simple , ……………….

  • Gene, I know for SURE that Sweet Home Chicago is in standard tuning( His standard tuning is in fact Eb. Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb). And so is Kind Hearted woman and Me and the Devil and some others that escape my mind now. So your whole theory and tuning doesn`t work. There`s also a third pic of Robert J, the one with Johnny Shines, and his guitar doesn`t have a capo. Now we have one of him with a capo on the 2nd fret, 1 one him making an A7 chord and the other. 2 doesn`t show a capo. In your videos you play with a capo beyond the 5th fret wich is just plain WRONG. IMO, you`re complicating stuff that is actually simple It`s just hard to play but that is because we weren`t born in that environment, with that kind of african oral tradition. Simple as that.

    When you said Robert picked up Son House`s guitar, what i believe is that it was probably tuned to open A or G, as Son house played 99% of his songs in those keys, and Robert could only play in standard. Maybe Ike Zinnerman was the one who thought Robert the open tunings. Plus, Robert was a ramblin man. He picked up influences from so many people and adapted it to his playing.

  • 1)The oral tradition has nothing to do with standard tuning. I wonder where you got that conclusion from my posts. I`m just pointing that YOUR conclusions are totally wrong since its OBVIOUS he used standard tuning in a lot of his songs so you`re “DISCOVERY” just doesn`t apply. Creative and interesting BUT WRONG nonetheless. I said that the reason we can`t play like him or many of the original blues players and/or that it takes a lot of effort to play like that its because we weren`t born surrounded by that tradition.

    2)http://copiah.msgenweb.org/Resources/Reference/Profiles/Johnson__Robert/robert_johnson1.gif

    This IS an A7 chord.

    3)Why do you need to hear something new? I`ve analyzed both of your ways to play his songs and the ones that make sense to me is those published and known authors and players. It comes down to my ear. When i see you playing robert johnson songs, in your videos, it just sounds WRONG so your whole theory and discoveries don`t work. When i see Clapton playing stones in my passway, for example, my ears tell me He`s close. VERY CLOSE. Closer than you, that`s for sure.

  • But anyways, i don`t want to be a Robert Johnson imitator so i don`t really need to play his songs note for note. I`m not that obsessed about it, really. One thing is for sure: Their way of making music has nothing to do with our western concept. This is the tradition i`m talking about.

  • Hello again Daniel, we must stop meeting like this.
    As far as the chord in the picture, it’s a matter of what we think we see. I see the little finger on the first string making the chord EEGC#EC, a strange chord. You must see the little finger on the second string forming EEGC#GA, that’s your A7 chord you’re talking about. It could be a matter of seeing what we want to see. If Johnson is in fact making the A7 chord, that still doesn’t prove anything about his tunings. It could have been a decoy, he had a livelihood to protect. We are still left with having to make assumptions.
    I wonder why the chord in the dime store photo is even more wierd. Do you think he was attempting to create a real chord there? As close as I can read that chord, maybe he’s making a Caug chord, xEG#CEC, omitting the F# made by the capo, of course. It’s hard to tell.
    I don’t play Stones in my Passway, but if I did, I would play it in my open-devil-E tuning capoed up to the key of A at the fifth fret, the same tuning shape and key Johnson played it in. I know by placing the capo above the second fret and playing with the slide above the 12th fret, (or 14th depending on the type of guitar), just blows your mind. But hey, it is feasible once you let yourself out of the box and open your mind up to a new possibility.
    I guess I AM obsessed with Robert Johnson’s playing and have been for years. I just really want to know exactly what he did with that guitar. It is my passion. I realize that the tunings is only a starting point for Johnson and his true talent and artistic expression came from the depths of his soul. That is something nobody can touch, not even Clapton. Clapton and all the other RJ players reach us through their own expression. I would not call them imitators, maybe inspired musicians would be a better description.

  • a) The chord in the picture is obviously an A7. You can`t even admit that. I proves to me his favorite key is something of an A(and it is judging by his songs) and that he could play in standard tuning, despite you saying otherwise. Many songs like Sweet home chicago, for exemple, is in standard.

    That`s funny. You want to play like Robert and yet you develop a way to play NOT like him because for sure he didn`t use those weird tunings. I have enough of a ear to listen that what you play and the fingerings and tuning u use, although very creative, aren`t right. I play Stones in my passway in open A, the way Robert did. Clapton`s way is very close to the way he played.

    You keep with this paranoia that robert was hiding something and yet he taught johnny shines many of his songs and played together with him many times. He himself stole a lot of songs.

    I admit that I was wrong and the tuning for Ramblin is indeed CFCACF( I can defnitely hear the lower bass notes now) which is exactely like open A or G. I don`t play it like that because i wouldn`t dare to tune my strings that high. I just tune to BEBG#BE or Bb-Eb-Bb-G-Bb-Eb and put a capo on the first or second fret and that is what i believe Johnson did.

    Bottom line. Enough with this discussion. We`re both stubborn and you`re not going to convince me of your weird tunings being the right way because my ears and knowledge tell me otherwise and i trust them more. Despite our diferences, we both share the respect and love for the music of mr Johnson and that is the most important thing. I will continue my studies on the blues and develop my own way of playing Robert.

  • Sorry, i meant to say Robert taught Robert Lockwood Jr and he said Johnson didn`t had no secret tuning.

  • Previous quote:
    “I admit that I was wrong and the tuning for Ramblin is indeed CFCACF( I can defnitely hear the lower bass notes now) which is exactely like open A or G. I don`t play it like that because i wouldn`t dare to tune my strings that highI just tune to BEBG#BE or Bb-Eb-Bb-G-Bb-Eb and put a capo on the first or second fret and that is what i believe Johnson did.”
    I guess BEBEG#E, BEBEG#D, and BEBEG#B are all just too wierd for you. Just can’t seem to lower that first, second, and third string down to B, G#, and E to get the open-devil-E tuning, the exact equivilent of open A and G tunings. Talking about wierd!
    Well Daniel, guess I am done here as well. I still have idea who you are. Maybe I’ll see you at the crossroads.

  • I still have NO idea who you are

  • Hi gentlemen. I guess it’s time I jump in here.

    While I understand you are both very passionate about your points of view, I have to say, I don’t think it will be resolved here. However, I can say that Gene has books published, has done quite a bit of research, and is considered to be somewhat of an expert in this field.

    Daniel, while I know you believe in your posts and what you are saying, but if I remember correctly, you are a student still. Not that it makes your points any less valid, but Gene has put himself out there with web sites, books, research, and passion. Currently, Daniel, you are coming off as a passionate student who is looking to pick a fight.

    The truth of the matter is, no one will ever know for sure. And until you have tried Gene’s tunings, you can’t really argue against his point. Try it. See if it fits FOR YOU. If not, use whatever tuning makes you more comfortable. Gene has a theory, as do you. Let’s leave it at that.

    Thanks guys – I do appreciate all the posts!

  • Jason, I was blessed with enough of a ear to see that although his tunings are interesting, it really doesn`t sound right. Close but completely off. Why would he invert the tuning of higher strings if its the same concept? Makes no sense whatsoever to me. I don`t care if he`s published or not. He seems to be a guy who wants to make a buck by selling his method and book and treat it as the holy grail. I saw his posts over the forums over the internet and people backlashed him and ended with the same conclusion as i did. Anways, i don`t want to pick a fight because its been a healthy discussion. I just completely disagree with his tunings.Robert Johnson wasn`t protecting anything. He stole himself a lot of songs. In fact, i just heard Banty Rooster blues by patton and know how much Robert copied to make Traveling Riverside blues. That`s the key to his music, To analyze his influences and know where he got all that stuff. Hell hound in my trail is almost a copy of Devil got my woman by Skip James and etc. Not only that, he taught Robert Lockwood Jr a lot his songs and he himself said Johnson wasn`t using any weird tuning.

  • Thanks Jason for allowing us to post our opinions on your site. Sorry for going on and on for much too long.

  • Actually i take it back what i said from the tuning of Ramblin on my mind 1 and 2. It`s in normal Open E tuning with the E on the bass but with a capo on the 1 fret. I thought the first bass note was lower than the F but i was wrong. It`s the F but the strings are damped/muted so that`s why it sounds lower. The tuning for it is definitely open E( EBEG#BE) with a capo and not BEBG#BE as I thought. I really don`t hear bass notes lower than the F.

    I play it in open Eb( Eb -Bb – Eb – G – Bb – Eb) with a capo on the 2nd fret and it sounds exactely like the record.

  • In fact, i can even hear the F note of the third string in the turn-around and that`s a given that it was the normal open tuning.

  • In Robert’s studio portrait I’d say he’s definately making an A7 but he’s not fingering the root A note on the E string. Still an A7 tho’.
    I’m of the opinion that a lot of Robert’s stuff is probably tuned pretty normally. I play Hellhound in standard & it’s pretty close . . . I think.
    Oh yeah & one very important thing: There is a third Robert pic that none of us have seen, apparently him with a relative who’s going into the Navy . . . but that recent pic of a guy who looks a bit like Robert (but A LOT like a young B. B. King) & a guy who looks NOTHING like Johnny Shines is, well, obviously not these two celebrated men. Apparently every photo found nowadays with a black guy & a guitar HAS to be one of our famous heros. Embarrassing stuff.

  • Well, Hellhound is almost a rip off of Devil Got my woman by Skip James. It`s certainly very inspired by him. It is in Em tuning E-B-E-G-B-E

  • It’s obvious there is African oral tradition in Blues music, to suggest otherwise is borderline racist; the backwards logic is in assuming if a Blues artist is playing in standard tuning this somehow defines the songs as “European”. Since when did Europeans have a right to monopolize tonality based on scordatura? If you want to get down to the roots of tunings like open G you might want to look to Ukraine or instruments like the kobza.

    Right, so take any 3 tunings – standard, open G or D and what does African tradition have to do with it? It’s called Melisma, you will find it in the West Indies, Africa and African American music, it’s also what occidental music might associate with a pentatonic scale common in West African music. When a singer desires to achieve Melisma they will need the accompaniment in any tuning to support this style, hence the guitar itself is singing Melisma – often in unison i.e., Patton’s Banty Rooster. In the big picture Robert Johnson’s relation to standard tuning is informed by his style in open tuning otherwise the bulk of his material would be standard, meaning he’s got to fit the standard tuned material into the repertoire to be tidy not the other way around. Chances are he had to rely on standard tuning to appease requests for popular material, yet the tenacity and facility are defined by his slide work.

  • Totally agree with Michael.

  • Gene,

    I always enjoy a good discussion, and you are welcome to go on and on if you like! But, sometimes, you have to agree to disagree….

    Thanks again for posting!!

  • Jason,
    I have no problem agreeing to disagree. Sometimes I may read into someone’s quote and misunderstand what is really being said. I never said there was no African oral tradition. It sounded like Daniel was trying to defend standard tuning through that tradition. I may not have been clear enough, but I was merely trying to say that an open tuning would be more in keeping with that oral tradition. But I could be wrong, especially after hearing what Michael had to say.

    When Robert Johnson nailed those three wires up on the side of his house, I would bet my life he tuned them to a chord (an open tuning) and my guess would be the equivalent of the open-G tuning. It just makes logical sense. This is where Robert Johnson started with the guitar and built his foundation as evidenced by his slde work. Here I would agree with Michael. He brought up some interesting points about Robert Johnson having his foundation in an open tuning. We all agree that the majority of Johnson’s slide pieces were done in open-G or open-A.

    Now here is something I find hard to understand of most who disagree with my findings. Why is it that by simply dropping the open-G tuning down to E makes the tuning weird or complicated as others here have stated? Tommy Johnson and Hayes McMullen did it back in Johnson’s day, according to Gayle Dean Wardlow. For this tuning, it’s the only way to be able to tune the first string up to the root tone,as it is in open-D or open-E tuning, without the string breaking. With the root tone in the bass on the fifth string instead of the sixth, using five strings to play with instead of six, would make it MORE simple and LESS complicated simply by using a capo for any desired key. You want an open-G, capo third fret; an open-A, capo fifth fret; to sound like an open-E, play it with no capo.

    Bruce Conforth’s CFCG#BE tuning for Ramblin’ makes perfect sense once you understand how Robert Johnson could have logically developed this tuning as I have previously explained. In my book, I simply gave up trying to figure out the tuning Johnson was using for Ramblin’ 1 and reluctantly attributed it to the open-E tuning. As I have said before, I believe Johnson had his capo on the first fret with this CFCG#BE tuning.

    Agreeing with Boswell, BB King is the first person I thought of also when I saw that third photo. As far as the REAL third photo, my understanding is that it belongs to Mack McCormick from Dallas. Still hoping his research will be published.

  • CFCG#BE isn`t even a tuning. I think you mean CFCACF wich is open F or Open E with B on the bass and capo on the first fret. BEBG#BE. I disagree with this tuning because when Johnson does the turn around, i can hear without a doubt the F note of the third string sounding and that means that the tuning must`ve been a normal open F, FCFACF or EBEG#BE with a capo on the first fret. I`ve paused the songs so many times and i got to that conlusion. I`m talking about Ramblin 1. I don`t care too much about the second version really. The first one is when his slide work really shines, he take his time, etc. Well, Johnson could`ve gotten this tuning from skip james as it almost the same as Hellhound on my trail wich is in open E minor, G instead of G#.

    The problems with your “devil” tunings, Gene, is that its ridiculous to place the capo at the 5 fret or something. The slide work is impossible or really unnatural to play that high on the strings. It makes sense that the tuning was a simple open G or A as everyone else states. He got those tunings from Son House, Patton, etc, who played the majority of their songs in those keys. I can even hear the crossroad theme “ta-ta-taaa” so proeminent in Johnson’s music like Milkcow, Terraplane, Stones, and Crossroads in Patton`s music. In order to analyze his songs and tunigns, you need to understand the songs and artists that Robert Copied.

    Anyways, I`m also of the opinion that Johnson had perfect pitch as it`s been stated he could easily pick up songs by listening once or twice,

  • Sorry, you’re right I meant CFCACF as capoed on the first fret. BEBG#BE open. What F note are you talking about on the third string? The open F is on the fourth string in the normal F tuning. I want to listen for it.

    Why do you find it so hard to accept that a slide can be used with the capo on the fifth fret or even higher. I find it rather easy. As a matter of fact, I use my left hand thumb right against the slide to mute the unwanted noise. It works great for me because the thumb gives the left hand much better control. I have heard it said that the use of the thumb is what separated us from the monkeys. Makes sense.

    We are talking about the same tuning here. It’s just the placement of the capo you’re having a problem with.

  • Yeah. I meant the 4th string. Listen for it 0:09 seconds of the Complete Recordings version. It`s there, without a doubt. It`s even tabbed in the new transcription book which i have it right now. Rory block was wrong and Ramblin` on my mind is without a doubt in open F tuning FCFACF or open E EBEG#BE w/ a capo in the first fret.

  • I wonder how you play the lick “Can`t you hear the wild howl?” In Come on in my kitchen with a capo on the 6th fret….it makes no plausible sense to have a capo so high up on the strings. IT might work for you but that`s certainly not the way Robert played.

  • My theory is that Johnson had to favor the open A♭ because on average if you attempt to keep a guitar like the Gibson he played strung so high you’re going to break strings, especially if you want to drop down from it and get back up. It’s a high tension and National guitars don’t mind it much, but for utility-sake I feel Robert did the wise thing and favored open A♭and E. Of course he desired the fuller body tone of open A and F proper, but this is one thing that makes his style so personal having wanted to emulate players like Son House, yet by the physics of his instrument was prevented the tones indicative of the steel guitar and it’s obligatory Blues tunings. A sure sign of string length in relation to capo placement can be heard in passing notes descending from the 12th fret, those intervals sound like they are travelling the steps of a full octave and not the 5 or 6 steps which would occur with a capo higher on the neck. Chances are if you listen close and the capo is recorded in 1st position, you will hear a slight shift in intonation as his slide would be fretting at 13 which on most guitars has a miniscule dynamic.

  • Some people were talking about why RJ could play things that most people can’t. I just thought I’d mention the picture in this video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmkkTGYyn5o

    Look how long his fingers are… I wonder whether or not that was the reason he was able to do more. His fingers are bent, and still they hang far off the fingerboard.

    Anyway, I just thought that was noteworthy.

  • It’s not in the fingers, it’s in the tuning!
    http://www.youtube.com/user/GeneRoebuck?feature=mhum#p/a/u/1/dcoug2R1j80

  • I’ve read through the posts and disagree with the “mystery” tunings theory! RJ was a product of his generation! There were a number of open tunings MS bluesmen used and RJ used some of these tunings BUT many of his songs were recorded in standard tuning with or without a capo! I agree with the opinion that RJ’s hands provided a “reach” most of us cannot attain and a skilful guitarist would use that to their advantage! I don’t use a slide while playing but have discovered I can replicate many of RJ’s sounds and techniques when playing in standard tuning! Now, if I were 27, with fingers like spider legs and had a real talent for writing and performing the darkest Delta blues imaginable, I believe I could produce a product equal to that of Robert Johnson’s! And I believe I could do most of it in standard tuning! But since I don’t possess any of RJ’s genius…!

  • To all writers, but especially Gene and Daniel,

    It is pretty simple gents. Blues isn’t played from a book or pictures. Use your ears, listen to what he plays and then play yourself. Don’t imitate an artist. People ain’t waiting to see or hear another imitator, thinking he is a Robert Johnson or a Elmore James. Just play… Perhaps the following video will provide a lesson to all interested in music:

  • Heres a 2 thoughts about that chord Robert Johnson is playing.. 1- It’s probably staged he just flopped his hand on there when they where taking the photo. I’ve done it at promo shoots alot. 2- What if his guitar is tuned to “G”. I don’t know the number for where his pinky is but I use it and that would be a D sumpin’… This conversation is as stupid as what size strings they used… Theres no magic guys , they bought what they could afford . They watched somebody play and didn’t know the chord names like
    middle class white people. Hell they didn’t even try to sound like each other and used whatever chords they liked . Listen to Robert J, Robert Lockwood, Honeyboy Edwards each play Sweethome Chicago … All different . Blues is a vocal story telling music . I can sing blues without a guitar I can sing it with a one string guitar. Play from your heart not from your ego..

  • The photobooth pic im 99% sure is a Kalamazoo KG-14 (one of which I own). the binding around the soundhole and everything about it looks the same. He is reported to have used them (johnny shines, robert lockwood)

    nevertheless its a beautiful guitar, with a perfect slide sound and feel, as well as the fingerstyle stuff. Loud also :)

  • Thanks for this informative article and discussion. In regard to the original posting, how is C# G# C# F G# C# like drop D tuning but lowered by a half-step? With drop D tuning being D A D G B E, a half-step lower would be C# G# C# F# A# D#, or Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb. The tuning you mentioned would be like D A D F# A D tuned down by a half-step — is that “open D” tuning, then? I’m not trying to make a big deal about this probable typo, but since we are talking about tunings here, it does make a difference.

  • Here’s a thought … has anyone thought of this in terms of one string being out of tune to the western 12-note scale, maybe being one of the Eastern 22-note scale ? (think sitar) This would case a distinct sound and playing style, especially if it was the third of the chord that is changed slightly. We all know blues likes to play a major third on ascending riffs and minor on descending riffs to give it it’s signature sound, why not alter it to begin with ?

    This plays hand in hand with the story of letting the devil tune your guitar at night at the crossroads under no moon, the delta voodoo tale which preceeds johnson’s use of a similar story.

  • Sorry I am late to the Robert Johnson party. As my name was mentioned (and disparaged) a few times, I will just say this: I have been playing and teaching blues guitar for almost 40 years. I have written or contributed to three Robert Johnson books including what I believe to be the definitive transcription book to date: “Robert Johnson: The New Transcriptions” published by the Hal Leonard Corporation. I have been an author of mostly blues and classic rock, jazz and country guitar books for 25 years and have over 70 books to my name. I headed a team of expert transcribers from Hal Leonard. We worked for two years on those transcriptions and I will stand by them until someone builds on our research and improves them. Listen to the audio CD that comes with the book and decide for yourself if you think we have the tunings nailed: standard, A, E, Dropped D, G (just “Love in Vain”), Em (just “Hell Hound on My Trail”) and Aadd9 (“Dust My Broom” and “Phonograph Blues” Take 2). We worked from Steve LaVere’s original 78s corrected for pitch. I am not looking for a disrepectful, name-calling debate about RJ, but will respond to sincere, intelligent questions or comments.

  • I believe Dave Rubin’s interpretation of RJ’s Dust My Broom in Add9 tuning is the most accurate I have tried to date. Basically it’s an open G type tuning but with the 5th string left at A instead of dropping to G. I’ve found that I can also play Malted Milk and Drunken Hearted Man in this same Add9 type tuning. To me it feels better than Drop D tuning which is most widely believed to be the correct tuning. Give it a try. Starting in regular tuning, drop both 1st and 6th E strings to D and you have it, then capo up if you want. If you then want to go to Open G just lower the 5th A string to G and you have Open G. Both songs MM and DHM can also be played in Open G but played in the key of D.

  • The gibby he’s holding in that one photo was not his. The guitar he’s holding with the cigarette in his mouth is his, and it’s a Kalamazoo KG-14. He couldn’t possibly afford a gibson, but the Kalamazoo was $12.50.

  • Thanks for posting, Richard. Another way to look at the Aadd9 tuning is to see it as open E on the bottom three string and open A on the top three – the best of both.

  • I haven’t looked at this site in about a year. I enjoy playing RJ tunes. I also enjoy trying out different tunings to see what I can come up with. I was at a tuning that I’ve played off and on for years in the key of G. It’s almost the same as regular tuning but with only the #5 A string tuned down to G, for EGDGBE then capoed up. All of a sudden I was playing Sweet Home Chicago and When you got a good friend in the key of F# and everything fell in place. I’m not saying that Johnson played in this tuning, I’m just saying that it’s the most right on I’ve heard or played. It took some getting use to some of the different fret positions. After you’ve worked that one out, then tune the #3 G string up to G#, to EGDG#BE and Rambling on my mind is there too. Make sure you are tuned in correctly with Robert and hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

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