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

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.


Become a Patron!

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