Alternate tunings on the guitar are a must for anyone who wants to be a well-rounded player. Learning open C tuning is a powerful tool and is something that is used by a lot of guitarists. Knowing some songs in open C can unlock a lot of musical possibilities for you.
In this guide, we are going to be covering everything you need to know about tuning to open C. We will be sharing some of the best songs in open C as well as video tutorials to go along with them.
How to Tune Your Guitar to Open C
If you are going to be playing some of the songs in open C tuning in our guide then you will need to set your guitar up to play this. Below we are going to tell you how you can do this.
- Sixth E string – Play your sixth string and tune it down by two steps down from the E until it plays a C note.
- Fifth A string – Take this string down by a step from the A until you hit a G note.
- Fourth D string – Play this string and tune it down a step until it plays a C note.
- Third G string – Your third string will stay in its same tuning with no changes needed.
- Second B string – The second string has to be played and tune up a whole step so that it plays a C note.
- First E string – The E string will stay the same and doesn’t need to be changed.
Now that you know how to achieve open C tuning you can start playing some of the most popular songs that use it in our list below. Remember that with some of these songs the musician uses a variation of open C tuning which you can replicate by tweaking one of your strings. For these songs we have explained what the tuning variations are.
Songs in Open C Tuning
1. Little Lion Man – Mumford & Sons
Little Lion Man is an acoustic guitar song with a folk tune that really packs a punch. It can as the debut song for the folk-rock quartet known as Mumford & Sons. The song reached international success for this British band and was nominated for several awards including a Grammy. As the frontman Marcus Mumford said, they never thought that the song would do well considering it features a banjo and a bunch of swear words. It seems the band stumbled upon a great combo though, with the vocals blending well with the piano, bass and banjo.
The track is a catchy one and is played in a variant of open C tuning. You’ll need to retune your acoustic guitar from low up to high so that the notes are CACGCE and place a capo on the fifth fret. The chord shapes are easy enough to play, the tricky part comes in with the rhythm as it’s quite fast so try to use a thin pick to keep up with the pace comfortably. It’s definitely one of the most recognized open C tuning songs out there today.
2. Friends – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin are on the greatest and most successful rock bands to have ever existed. They are known for the guitar-driven tracks and for their innovative take on rock music. Jimmy Page, as the bands lead guitarist, loved trying out alternate tunings. He was known to use Gsus4, drop d, Celtic and open C as part of the band’s huge repertoire of songs. This track came from their third album and Page uses a variant on open C tuning. It is the C6 tuning that creates a lower pitched tone. The tuning worked well with the Indian string instrument arrangement used throughout the track.
To play Friends correctly you will have to tune your guitar so that the strings play the notes CACGCE which will achieve C6 tuning. There’s some amazing work on the acoustic guitar in the piece. You will be playing the same chord shapes throughout the main song but it’s the main riff that will challenge you the most. In the first verse there are open strings and ascending octaves which makes the song sound ethereal.
3. Skinny Love – Bon Iver
Another ethereal song in open C tuning is Skinny Love by Bon Iver, a band that has roots in American indie folk music. It’s a short song but it certainly knows how to tug at your heartstrings. The piece was written by Justin Vernon in his time in an isolated cabin after going through a failed relationship and an illness. The song was released in 2008 and it did well in the charts as well as being featured in multiple TV and film soundtracks such as Grey’s Anatomy.
From a guitarist’s point of view, you will be using open C tuning so that when you play all of the strings it should sound like you are playing a standard C chord. The strumming pattern stays fairly consistent on the droning open strings. There is also a piano cover version by Birdy, a British artist that was used on episodes of Prisoners’ Wives and The Vampire Diaries. It’s definitely one of the most popular open C tuning guitar tab songs we have on this list.
4. Pretty Noose – Soundgarden
Soundgarden got a Grammy nomination for Pretty Noose and when you listen to the track, you can definitely see why. The opening riff goes brilliantly with the powerful vocals of Chris Cornell, as the rhythm pounds through the song to give us one of the best alternative rock solos ever to be recorded. The track hit the charts internationally, reaching number two on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks and number for on the Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. The lyrics talk about regretting romantic decisions that weren’t well thought out.
For the guitar tuning you will be playing the notes of CGCGGE and this is a tuning that the bass guitarist, Ben Shepherd, first introduced to the band in the song Head Down. This type of tuning is known as a C5 variation where the second string becomes a G note instead of a C. A lot of the open C chords you use to play grunge music means you have to skip playing the first low E string and power chords are an absolute staple if you want to nail this genre.
5. Bron-Yr-Aur – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin don’t really seem like a band who would want to take a break in an eighteenth-century Welsh cottage, but that’s exactly what they did. The name of that cottage, Bron Yr Aur inspired Jimmy Page to write a song about the place. It is only two minutes in length but features a lot of fingerpicking techniques that can help you develop your skill set. The song is probably the shortest that the band ever recorded and it was on their sixth studio album titled Physical Graffiti which was released in 1975.
To recreate Page’s Bron Yr Aur track you will be using an open C6 variant of tuning. Tune your guitar to open C and then take the fifth string back so that it plays an A note, giving you CACGCE. If you listen to the original track you will hear some string squeaking which has been left in the song intentionally to make it sound rawer. The rattling of the strings comes from them being tuned too low. Most of the parts of the song are repeated so you will only be learning four to five sections to be able to play the piece well.
6. Burden In My Hand – Soundgarden
Soundgarden were big fans of open C tuning and their chart-topping Burden In My Hand is a great one to add to your catalog. It was released in 1996 on the fourth studio album titled Down on the Upside. The single topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart where it sat for five weeks in a row. The meaning behind the song is a man who has guilt about killing his wife.
The track went on to be nominated for 16 Grammy’s with Chris Cornell making use of his powerful vocals and guitar playing skills. He used alternate tunings in almost every song the band played. This is another variation of open C tuning where you take the second string from a C to a G so you play the notes CGCGGE. This sort of tuning has the second and third string at the same pitch so you have to watch out for the string tension on your second string which can become loose. Playing with heavier gauge ones can help with the string tension in this case.
7. King of Spain – The Tallest Man on Earth
Open C is a tuning that has a lot of versatility and can give off a rich sound. You will come across a lot of acoustic guitarists who play using this tuning. There’s so many different melodies, chord shapes and strumming patterns that fit in with the tuning. King of Spain is a great example of how open C tuning can take a straightforward strumming pattern and turn it into something extraordinary.
The track was created by the Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson who is better known by his stage name of The Tallest Man on Earth. He has a folk style that is often compared to that of Bob Dylan. This song features a great guitar riff with genius vocals, all using open C tuning and a capo placed on the eighth fret.
8. Ocean – John Butler Trio
A song that is over ten minutes in length, this track from the John Butler trio is pretty mindblowing. It showcases a lot of different and tricky guitar techniques that the band have become known for. The lead guitarist is John Butler himself and he uses a 12 string acoustic guitar to weave his magic. In this track, he tunes that 12 string guitar to open C tuning to play the incredible instrumental.
This song is a real challenge for any guitar player. There are techniques like hammer ons, pull-offs and percussive tapping that you will need to learn. If you want to give it a go, slow the tempo of the track down so that you can work on it section by section. Playing it on a 12 string guitar means that the tuning would be cC-gG-cC-gG-CC-EE. A similar sound can be achieved on a six string guitar by placing your capo on the fourth fret. There are other songs from the John Butler Trio that use open C tuning like What You Want, Betterman and Funky Tonight if you like this style of music.
9. Deadhead – Devin Townsend Projct
For something a little heavier for those metal fans out there, try this song for electric guitar in open C tuning. Deadhead is a song by Devin Townsend Project and it was featured on their sixth album.
It’s another long track, coming in at almost eight minutes but it shows that open C tuning can work even with a heavy metal style. It is probably the slowest track the band did on the Accelerated Evolution album, being hailed as the best thanks to the impressive vocals from Devin Townsend himself. Open C is his tuning of choice so for anyone who wants to play more of this sort of tuning in rock and metal tracks then you should definitely check out this band.
10. Question – Moody Blues
Changing things up again, we’re going to a song about the Vietnam War written by Justin Hayward, the guitarist and vocalist for the Moody Blues band. Question has some powerful lyrics and a great tune that became a staple for their live shows. It was released as a single in 1970 before being made the title track for the soft progressive album titled A Question of Balance. The song made it into the Uk charts, hitting number two on the UK Singles Chart where it stayed for 12 weeks.
The intro features a twelve-string guitar and a strong bassline. You can find this open C tuning by using standard tuning and then going two tones drown from E to C. You will take a step from A to G, another step from D to G, use the standard tuning for G and then going up a semi-tone from B to C. Finally the E is kept as standard. Once all of the tuning is in place you can move on to the chords and strumming patterns. Keep your wrist as relaxed and loose as possible so you get that fluidity and motion that will help you keep up with Hayward’s fast pace.
11. Can’t Get Enough – Bad Company
Another great track using open C tuning is Can’t Get Enough, a hit from the supergroup Bad Company. The composition is all down to Mick Ralphs and the track went on to sell five million copies all over the world. It uses a new standard tuning that goes CCGCEC where the high C takes place of a high G. According to Ralphs the song didn’t sound right in standard tuning and playing it with an open C made it sound much better.
While Ralphs used this new alternate tuning, the other guitarist, Paul Rodgers, stuck to standard tuning. During an interview with Vintage Guitar magazine Ralphs said that even though his unique tuning makes the song sound great it makes it harder to bed at the end of the guitar solo. He always has to remind himself not to hit the guitar too hard in case he damages the strings.
12. Independence Day – Elliott Smith
Elliot Smith is a Nebraska-born singer and songwriter who is known for his whispery vocals and soul-touching lyrics. Independence Day was a track from his 1998 album titled XO. The song is played in open C on an acoustic guitar with a drum backing and Smith’s hypnotic vocals.
The guitar part sounds simple but don’t be fooled by this. You will need a lot of patience and effort to learn Independence Day. Because Smith is minimalistic in his style most of his music is all about the guitar and the vocals with nothing else. In the opening part alone there are ten chord changes that go towards making the intricate folk style of the melody. It’s only three minutes long but it knows how to pack a punch.
That’s all for our songs in open C tuning. Make sure to set your guitar up properly using the instructions at the beginning to get the tuning spot on. Read each song blurb to find out if there are any other variations to the open C tuning too. We have loads of other guides on our website to help you with your guitar playing journey. Make sure to check out easy folk songs on guitar for similar tracks to the ones we have mentioned above which use different types of tuning, from standard tuning to drop D, a popular alternate tuning too. Have fun browsing and exploring with different open tunings!