hand grabbing the tuning peg of a guitar
You will have to adjust several strings to get to Open E tuning.

A unique alternate tuning is the Open Low E major tuning.  In this article we will show how to use this rich, full alternate tuning which Sungha Jung uses for certain songs.

What Is Open E Major Tuning?

Open tunings are those that create a chord just by strumming the open strings. In the case of Open low E tuning, the chord produced when you strum the strings is the E Major chord. Open Low E tuning involves tuning the strings of the guitar to the pitches E, G♯, B, E, B, E, from the lowest string to the highest string. 

How to Adjust the Strings to play Open Low E

To tune to open low E tuning, the strings should be tuned to the following notes:

  • String ① (high E) No change
  • String ② (B): No change
  • String ③ (G): Down 1½ step, from G to E
  • String ④ (D): Down 1½ step, from D to B
  • String ⑤ (A): Tune down ½ step to G♯
  • String ⑥ (low E): No change

Here are the notes used in Open Low E tuning:

Open Low E tuning notes on the staff
Open Low E tuning notes on the staff

Method to Tune to Open Low E Tuning

Starting from standard tuning, lower the third string from “G” to “E”. Play the sixth or first strings as you lower the third string. You will hear the beats which will slow down and gradually disappear as you approach the note “E.

Next, you must lower the fourth string from “D” to “B”.  You can use the second string as your reference this time. Pluck the second and fourth strings simultaneously, and lower the fourth string, all the while listening for the beats. They will disappear when the fourth string lowers to the proper pitch, which is the note B.

The difficulty here is in lowering the A string to G sharp. You need to lower the string by a semi tone. This semitone or half step is the distance between two notes on adjacent frets.  Since we can’t use an open string as a reference, the note fretted at the sixth string fourth fret will be our G sharp as a reference.

Tuning the sixth string of the guitar
Be careful not to lower the fifth string beyond the half step interval.

Place your finger on the sixth string at the fourth fret and pluck it at the same time as the open fifth string. You will immediately start to hear the beats as you lower the fifth string because they are only a semitone apart.

Advantages of Open E Tuning

Open tunings allow you to use guitar harmonics to great effect. Sungha Jung in his song “on Cloud Nine” uses percussive harmonics. The open tuning means that he can produce a major chord simply by slapping the guitar at the 12th fret.

Limitations of Open Low E tuning

As with other tunings, you are limited to the key that your guitar is tuned in with the open tuning. In this example, if you are using open low E tuning, you'd better hope your song stays in E major and doesn't modulate.

Chord shapes are also different, but they tend to be simpler with an open tuning. Because of the alternate tuning, you will have to learn where to place the fingers in a new position and you cannot rely on your previously learned chord shapes.

Songs by Sungha Jung with Open Low E tuning

There are two songs that I know that use Open Low E tuning: Felicity and On Cloud Nine.

Felicity by Sungha Jung

In Sungha Jung’s song Felicity, he uses open low F tuning, which is like open low E tuning but a half step higher. I usually don’t recommend tuning up because this can cause you to break your guitar strings if you aren’t careful.

If you are not sure in which direction you should turn the tuning pegs, notice how easily the peg turns when you tighten versus loosen the peg.  

Tuning the sixth string
If you turn the tuning peg and it becomes more difficult to turn, you are most likely adding tension to the string.

In the song Felicity, Sungha Jung in his original version uses Open Low F tuning, which requires tightening the sixth, second and first strings. I play the song using the Open Low E example that we just looked at, raised a half step by putting a capo on the first fret.

Sungha Jung’s On Cloud Nine

To play the song On Cloud Nine by Sungha Jung, you will need to tune your guitar to Open Low E tuning.

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