Welcome to Guitar Uncivilized, a guidebook and online platform to freaking out one of the most common guitar sounds—the famed “open string chord”—exploring this single, exciting-but-accessible concept from all angles.

Built on digestible, culturally-relevant “micro-chapters”, as well as in-the-field interviews and research with some of the world’s most intriguing guitarists and composers, the project is built as an interactive zine-guidebook with chord recipes, anecdotes, examples and descriptive tips which can take your playing from stale to expansive without having to delve into much musical theory.


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Jackson Scott on Open String Chords

“I love the overlapping tones that are possible with an instrument like guitar, especially with open string chords. The vibrational and chorus-like sound of the same note at the same pitch being played on two different strings simultaneously is something that has always caught my ear. A few years ago, I also started to get really into experimenting with alternate guitar tunings. One trick I would do is to change just one string so that all the normal chords you would play would come out slightly differently. With the song “Never Ever”, I changed the tuning of 2nd string from a B to an A so that when you played a normal E major chord it would come out as an Esus4. There are tonal possibilities with guitar that you really can’t get with any other instruments.”





Jesse van Ruller on Open String Chords

“There are endless possibilities and I still discover new voicings almost daily. The wonderfull thing about these open string chords is the rich overtones that an open string has compared to the same pitch fretted. The blend of these rich in overtones notes with less rich fretted notes gives unique timbres. Also I love the intervals jumping up and down of a strummed chord that has low and higher notes in unexpected order. That effect can only happen with open string voicings.


As a teacher I often get the question of how to find these chords. Students want some kind of system to explore and categorize all of these chords. The way I see it is that I have an expending personal collection of options that I discover by learning repertoire. I always try to come up with solo versions of tunes and often a new tune gives me a new open string chord.”

— Jesse van Ruller, Oct. 2019

Mary Halvorson on Open Strings and Chords

“I’ve always considered open strings an integral part of the guitar. The sonority of the open string is so different from that of the same pitch played on a fret. Therefore utilizing open strings in line playing or chordal playing can give a unique resonance and timbre. As far as chords go, open strings can also allow for cluster harmonies and intervallic options which may not be playable otherwise. Exploring open string options for chords can really expand the scope of possibilities and allow for unusual and vibrant choices.”

— Mary Halvorson, October 2019

Rafiq Bhatia on Open String Chords

“One of the things that makes the guitar so interesting is the timbral possibilities of being able to play the exact same pitch in multiple ways—e.g. as open strings, harmonics, or fretted notes on different strings. I tend to think of each of these options as being unique because they all sound distinct from one another, even if each one shares the same fundamental frequency. Because of this, my approach is less based around “chords” and is more focused on “sonorities,” in that a big part of sounding multiple notes together is about how each component resonates and how they interact with one another. Open strings behave differently from fretted notes in virtually every way: timbre, transients, sustain, decay, intonation, undulation, etc. Using them in combination with other kinds of articulations (fretted notes, harmonics, etc) can privilege the open string’s harmonic role, create a certain kind of “width” of intonation, and/or provide a bridge between multiple structures”

— Rafiq Bhatia, March 2018

John Scofield on Open String Chords

“My feeling about open string chords is if you know harmony You just think: OK the ninth or the sharp 11th or whatever is this open string and I can add it to the voicing so learning harmony is the essential thing.”

— John Scofield, Mar. 2018

Joshua Hall on Open Strings

“I think I use open strings either to drone and provide some layer of sustaining sound throughout or as chords that I am not actually changing to but want to have the suggestion that I am. Instead of changing to a full ‘A major’ chord, I just play the note ‘A’ and let that be it. It gives me a wide open palette to play with.”

— Joshua Hall, Apr. 2018

Bill Frisell on Open String Chords

“Open strings. Where to begin? I guess, at the very beginning, when you pick up a guitar for the very first time, you play the open strings. Then you’ll probably start learning a few simple chords incorporating open strings but pushing more and more notes down with your fingers. If you get real serious you’ll want to learn a bar chord where there are no open strings. This is really hard. I’ve been playing for more than 50 years and still can’t play one comfortably. Back at the beginning word was that if you could play a bar chord, you could just slide it around and you’d be able to play any-all chords. I wanted to be able to do that. Seemed like pretty quickly, as you advanced, and got more familiar with the fingerboard, the idea was to learn all kinds chord shapes, voicings, inversions up and down the neck and not use open strings. There are thousands of books out there telling you how to do this. The possibilities are endless. Infinite.

There are only so many notes on the guitar but I don’t know anyone who has ever exhausted all the possible combinations.”

— Bill Frisell, Feb. 2018

Marc Ribot on Open String Chords

“I don’t think like a folk player. I don’t have preconcieved “chords” i can show people.. I play bass notes, and melody notes, and sometimes a harmony note or two. each is part of a moving voice. If they happen at the same time, they’re a “chord”, but that’s purely accidental. If an open string facilitates my being able to play a note i wouldn’t have otherwise had enough fingers to play, i use it. If not, i don’t.”  

— Marc Ribot , Feb. 2018