Keith Richards Explains How He Learned To Play Guitar

One thing, besides stories, that Keith Richards is known for is his use of a five-string guitar and “open G” tuning, which gives every Rolling Stones song that signature sound. He was asked to explain his relationship with the five-string, and in true Richards fashion, he replied like this: “ah, the five string guitar: it’s five strings, three notes, two hands and one asshole.” This was followed, of course, by that same laugh, but also a lengthier description of how he came to play it.

Actually, it’s a very old fashioned tuning, it actually comes from banjo, I believe, although it has a kind of murky history. … Some people would even call it Spanish tuning, other “open G.” I got fascinated with it because it wasn’t your classico (at this, he makes the impression of stiffly holding a classic guitar). In a way, you were given another instrument to play and figure out. And especially when you electrified it, you start to get these drone notes going that you can’t get from a regular guitar. And so I decided, what I found, was this sorta interesting, especially for a rhythm guitar, incredible bed for music, especially for blues and rhythm & blues and rock n’ roll, to lean on. So I just experimented. At the time, I suppose, I thought I was not going to get any better on the six string. I thought well, take one string off and then reinvent things. That will help me, and it did, for what I wanted to do. It’s a rather unique tuning and I don’t recommend it for everybody.