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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Jakob Bro on Open Strings

“For me, the guitar can be seen as two instruments in one. The open strings being one world of sounds. All the other notes being another. Making these worlds meet provides endless opportunities in sound and a lifetime of study on its own”.

— Jakob Bro, Jan. 2020

Rachel Housle on Open Strings

“The guitar is an interesting instrument because it’s so accesible, but is also has all these layers. You can approach it in so many different ways with having a ton of prior knowledge for things to sound good—like with barre chords or power chords—and write songs that are really valid and beautiful. Or you can get into really intricate finger picking and alternate tunings and it’s a world that goes really deep, even though it’s incredibly simple at the outset when you’re getting started. As you start to get deeper in, you start to connect with the instrument and associate the sounds with what you’re able to play and you can start to hear more, like hearing the sound of the open strings on recordings or in certain combinations like if there is a unison note with a pressed down note and an open string—these little guitaristic things that you start to perceive. There’s also just something about ‘The Shapes’ and the way they sit in your hands—they come so easily to me compared to something like the piano. They’re a self-contained, resonating mechnaism. And, the guitar is so portable (it’s why you see so many buskers with it), and a really natural accompanying instrument. “

— Rachel Housle, December 2019

Sam Amidon on Open Strings

SAM AMIDON REFLECTIONS ON GUITAR AND THE OPEN STRINGS THEREIN
1. Open strings are the shit. 
2. I like to put my guitar into an open tuning, come up with a guitar part, and then put the guitar back into standard tuning and see if I can recreate the part
3. My favourite guitarists, in no particular order, are: 1. Jimi Hendrix 2. Jimi Hendrix 3. Bonnie Raitt 4. Sonny Sharrock 5. Bonnie Raitt & Derek Bailey 6. Ali Farka Toure. 7. Jimi Hendrix 8. Cat Power 9. Arto Lindsay, Marc Ribot, and Bill Frisell 10. Joni Mitchell 11. Jimi Hendrix 12. Bonnie Raitt 13. Pops Staples 14. Paul Brady 15. Nathan Salsburg
4. “Standard Tuning” is a comical notion given that in the mid-60s, Dylan was mostly in open D, Joni was in open D or DADGAD or one of her myriad other tunings, and Keith Richards was in open G.
5. Jimi Hendrix………..

— Sam Amidon, November 2019

Pat Martino on Open Strings

“It’s very difficult, if not impossible for me to offer insight regarding a process that takes place at a moments notice. … in my opinion true art remains liquid, at the moment it’s analyzed it becomes concrete and as such it looses its magic. Regarding my use of open strings, aside from tone, and delay their use remains a selective part of the improvised format, and what they embody in that moment is unquestionable.”

 — Pat Martino, November 2019

Miles Okazaki on Open String Chords

“I don’t really “know” many chords, unless you count triads, which I work on quite a bit. Sometimes, though, open strings are the only way to get something, like six note sounds. I wrote a song recently using a chord that goes (low to high) Ab, Eb, F#, G, B, A# (open G and B) It’s then answered by another chord that goes E, Db, F, C, D, A (open E). They’re actually the same chord in transposition, and together make 12 tones. This was a little puzzle I was trying to figure out, and I found a few other solutions that aren’t very difficult to grab (which is important for me). The guitar is like that for me, very mysterious. And the open strings can sound like all kinds of different things, depending on the context of what you put around them.”

— Miles Okazaki, November 2019

Ben Monder on Open String Chords

“The open string seems to me to be the essence of the sound of the guitar. The vibration of an open string produced by a great guitar creates a universe of overtones unlike any other instrument. Also, chords are always enriched timbrally by the incorporation of one or more open strings, and it’s fun and rewarding to explore all the ways this can be done. One of my favorites is (from low to high): open E, D#, open D, C#, open B, C.  Strum this one and annoy your friends!”

— Ben Monder, Oct. 2019

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.”





Darcy James Argue on Composing for the Guitar

“My guitar writing is full of guitar-specific techniques, including passages with drop-D turning, harmonics and double-harmonics, slide playing, palm-muting and other types of muting, pedal effects and loops, fully-notated voicings, and so on. I’m not a guitarist so in many cases what I write consists of an educated guess about what’s possible, based on my understanding of how the instrument works, but I’d say most of the time it ends up being doable. My guitarist, Sebastian Noelle, will let me know if something can’t be done!”

— Darcy James Argue, Nov. 2019

<iframe style="border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;" src="https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=4148461685/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/track=4170497201/transparent=true/" seamless><a href="http://darcyjamesargue.bandcamp.com/album/infernal-machines">Infernal Machines by Darcy James Argue's Secret Society</a></iframe>

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