It’s the King of cigar box guitar tunings. G-D-G is the most widely used tuning you’ll find used in videos throughout most cigar box guitar communities. Why is this tuning so popular? This article unpacks that question, and gives you the straight facts to answer it.
Let’s first begin with what G-D-G actually is.
G-D-G is an open tuning
G-D-G is an open tuning; it refers to how the strings are tuned. The thickest string is tuned to G. The string in the middle is tuned to D. And, you guessed it, the thinnest string is also tuned to G. When you strum 3 strings tuned G-D-G, without using a slide or your fingers to fret them, you’re playing the strings open. And when all 3 strings are played open in G-D-G, you hear a “G” chord. That “G” chord you hear is referred to as a power chord. Power chords in an open 3-string tuning lack a note to make it sound happy (major) or sad (minor). Also, there are no sour notes, unlike a standard tuning on a six string guitar that sounds several different notes when played open in the standard EADGBE tuning.
As Bad Finger, member of Cigar Box Nation, replied in a Nation forum topic, “…think of standard tuning as a really nice pair of channel-lock pliers. You ‘can’ do about anything with them. … Fix the kitchen sink, hold a workpiece, twist a nut off a bolt, use it as a hammer, pry tool, . . . lots of things.” An open tuning, on the other hand, has a simpler focus.
Bad Finger went on to say, “Open tunings are a bit more like a specialized tool that will have features making it good for a particular purpose or purposes. Like an impact wrench. You can break a nut off about anything – and fast, but don’t try to use it as a hammer.”
But don’t let that specialization fool you. A power chord open tuning is capable of much more than you think.
You can play nearly any song
A 3-string cigar box guitar tuned to an open power chord can play nearly any song in western music. That’s right, nearly any song. Most of the music we hear can be broken down into simple chord progressions.
And whether you’re listening to Mozart, Robert Johnson, or The Beatles, every song has a simple version that can be played with an open tuning. Most songs in western music are built on some variation of 3 to 5 chords. Every one of those chords can be played on 3 strings.
Now here’s where your mind will be blown. You can play all of those songs with only 1 finger. “What’s that?” you ask. “Any song?” Believe it.
Play cigar box guitar with 1 finger
Is there anything more beautiful that that? Not only can you build your own cigar box guitar, but you can make music with your guitar by using only 1 finger.
Use that 1 finger to hold down all 3 strings behind any fret and you’ll play a chord. The same can be done by holding a slide on top of the strings. So, all along the entire fretboard, nearly the whole of western music is available to you using only 1 finger with a power chord open tuning.
The simplicity doesn’t end there.
Forget about confusing music theory
Open tunings are perfect for cigar box guitars. Just as the simplicity of a cigar box guitar makes it inclusive for would-be builders, the simplicity of an open tuning makes it inclusive for all players. Making music with your cigar box guitar doesn’t need to weigh you down with the science of music. There’s no need for scales, or sight-reading, or complicated chord forms and fingerings. A cigar box guitar with a power chord open tuning allows everyone, regardless of musical experience or education, to feel the joy of making music.
“That’s all well and good,” you may say, “but do I need special strings to get tuned G-D-G?"
It’s easy to get tuned G-D-G
Finding strings that can be tuned to an open power chord is easy. Of the 6 strings on a conventional guitar, 4 of them can be used to easily achieve 2 power chord open tunings. The 6th, 5th, and 4th strings – traditionally tuned E, A, and D – can be tuned to D-A-D. Additionally, the 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings – traditionally tuned A, D, and G – can be easily be tuned G-D-G. So you can pull off the strings from that dusty ol’ guitar that’s been sitting in your closet for 15 years and finally put ‘em to use.
“Can other strings from a conventional guitar be used on a cigar box guitar?” you ask. Absolutely. “Still” you wonder, “what makes G-D-G stand out above the rest?”
The people’s key
In the music world, the key of G is often referred to as the people’s key. Many people’s vocal range fits into melodies written in the key of G, making it inclusive of a vast number of voices.
On top of that, the key of G works well with most stringed instruments used in western music. Guitars are easily tuned to open G. Half the strings on violins and mandolins are in the G chord. And the standard tuning for banjos is to an open G.
“Okay. This all sounds good. But where’s the hard evidence to support this popularity?”
The straight facts
On Cigar Box Nation, member Turtlehead conducted an exhaustive survey of the the community. One of the questions posed determined the most widely used tunings among 3 string cigar box guitar builders and players. And a whopping 93% of those surveyed who play 3 string cigar box guitars use the tuning GDG.
Long live the King
So now you can see why G-D-G is the King of cigar box guitar tunings.
- It’s an inclusive key for an inclusive instrument
- It can be used to play almost anything
- You can use just 1 finger to make music
- There’s no need for music theory
- The strings are widely available
- The key fits most voices and stringed instruments
- And you can easily play along with almost every other 3 string cigar box guitar player.
Bear in mind, there are numerous ways to tune a cigar box guitar; no one way is the right way. This is a fun, and fact-filled article, but the joy of making and playing cigar box guitars is based in the freedom of expression. Keeping in line with that spirit, let’s close with more of Bad Finger’s forum topic reply, “As a teacher, we are encouraged to start our students with an “I can” statement. This is often a lot more productive than “With open tuning, I can’t . . .” Focus on exploring the possibilities vs. the limitations.”
From CB Gitty forums.