by Scott Zimmerman

Open tunings are a great way to come up with new sounds on the guitar as well as play some classic guitar tunes, especially electric slide classics. However, some open tunings like Open E require some of the guitar strings to be “tuned-up”, and this can create the potential for structural damage to the guitar. Let’s take a look at the problem and some practical solutions that will allow us to enjoy playing in Open E tuning.

Will open E tuning hurt my guitar? Due to the increased string tension on the guitar neck caused by tuning up three strings of the guitar, it is possible to damage the guitar neck with prolonged use of Open E tuning.

What Is Open E Tuning?

An open tuning generally means that the guitar is tuned to play a major chord with open strings. An open tuning is a type of alternate tuning. Any tuning that is not “standard” (E-A-D-G-B-E, lowest to highest string) can be considered an alternate tuning. “E” open tuning forms an E Major chord (E-B-E-G#-B-E). Open tunings are used frequently for slide playing because the three most important chords, i.e. I – IV & V chords, can be formed by covering all the strings in the open position, the fifth fret and the seventh fret.

What Is The Potential Problem With Open E Tuning?

The potential problem with Open E Tuning is that it puts more tension on the neck of the guitar which can damage the neck. The fifth and fourth strings are tuned up a whole step. Because these strings are thick, tuning them up a whole step each puts a lot of excess tension on the guitar neck. Add to it, the third string is tuned up a half step. For this tuning, there is a substantial overall increase in tension on the neck. This can be a little concerning when doing this to an instrument you value and would not like to damage.

VIDEO: Will Open E Hurt Your Guitar?

Is the Effect Different On An Acoustic Compared To An Electric?

Because tension on the strings of an electric guitar is much less than on an acoustic, using this tuning on an electric is less hazardous than on an acoustic. Many electric slide players use this tuning, which is evidence that it is not a guitar destroying maneuver. However, if you are planning to use your guitar in both standard and Open E tuning, it is important to look at some solutions for preventing permanent damage to your guitar.

Solutions To The Problem

#1 Use Open E Tuning But Don’t Leave It There

One solution to avoid permanent guitar damage when using Open E tuning is to re-tune the guitar to standard tuning after playing in Open E. This will limit the amount of time the extra tension is on the neck. However, this is cumbersome. It will take time to tune up to Open E and some re-tuning, as the neck settles into the new tuning, will be required. Also, it takes time to tune back to standard and fine tune the guitar while the neck settles back into standard tuning tension. Practically speaking, this can “use-up” your practice time and waste the “moment” of inspired playing that you began with.

#2 Use Lighter Gauge Strings

This is a good solution for Open E tuning on the acoustic guitar. Because acoustic guitar strings are under higher tension than electric strings, using a lighter gauge string can minimize any potential damage to your acoustic guitar.

#3 Dedicate One Guitar (Electric) For Open E Tuning

If you plan on using Open E tuning regularly, having a dedicated guitar that remains in Open E is a good solution. Usually, this would pertain to an electric guitar being used for slide playing. In addition, you can raise the action on this guitar to make slide playing easier. This will allow you to “jump” right into playing whenever the mood strikes!

#4 Best Practical Solution: Use Open D Tuning and Capo 2nd Fret

If you can’t dedicate a guitar to Open E tuning and you want to avoid any potential damage to your instrument, using Open D tuning with a capo is a great practical solution. Open D tuning is formed on the guitar by down tuning as opposed to increasing string tension. Open D tuning is (D-A-D-F#-A-D). The sixth, third, and second strings are tuned down. By placing a capo on fret two, you can play in Open E tuning, but the guitar will not be “working” as hard with the increased tension.

A Big Tip For Keeping Strings In Tune When Down Tuning 

If you have ever tuned down your guitar and played a song, you may have noticed that very quickly your guitar goes out of tune, especially the lower strings. This is because the down tuned string will try to “pull” itself back into its original tension, resulting in a string that is sharp. A simple solution is to pre-bend the strings as you lower the tension. For example, tune the E string down to D and lightly pull the string to stretch it out, and then tune it again. By doing this, the string will not move sharp while you are playing the song. However, you may need to repeat this process between songs. If you are going back and forth between standard and open tunings, there is no way to avoid this issue. However, if you have an extra guitar, and leave it in the open tuning, the strings will eventually settle into place.

Some Songs That Use Open E Tuning

Bad To The Bone – George Thorogood

Statesboro Blues – Allman Brothers Band

Rocky Mountain Way – Joe Walsh

She Talks To Angels – Black Crowes

Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley

Gimme Shelter – Rolling Stones


If you are an occasional Open E Tuning player, try using the Open D with a capo on fret two method. It is easier to down tune the guitar and less anxiety-provoking- “Am I going to break a string??” However, if you are the adventurous type, try the Open E tuning, you won’t permanently damage the neck in that short space of time and you will be able to experience the difference between both types of Open E methods. And if you are fortunate enough to have an extra electric guitar, try dedicating it as your Open E slide guitar!

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.