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Thinking about the "famous" G chord on acoustic guitar

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by LiquidMidnight, Jun 5, 2003.

  1. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I hope this thread isn't to pointless. The thread on trumpet intontation got me thinking about keys that are easier for certain instruments. Obviously the reason many Jazz tunes are played in F is for the ease of horn players.

    I then started to think that a lot of Rock music is played in E because of the tuning of a guitar. Plus E is the lowest note that can possibly be played on a guitar without detuning.

    Then that got me thinking about a lot of music played on acoustic guitar. A lot of it seems to be played in the key of G. Folk, Country, Bluegrass, (obviously, to also compensate for Banjo's being tuned to G) Southern Rock, Jam Band music, ect. The reason this seems to be, is to play that very unique G chord.

    If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's the G that's voiced like this.


    Just by playing a D, instead of the open B changes the quality so much. Yet, there is no other chord on the guitar that sounds like this. For example, if you were playing an open C chord, and you wanted to transpose it to F, you're probaly not going to change the quality of the sound to much, but the only way to play this G in any other key (at least to my knowledge) is to use a capo. I also noticed that guitarist like this chord because it sets them up to play major pentatonic riffs very easily.

    Sorry if my rant seemed pointless, but I was wondering if this chord has any special designation (formal or informal), history, and why I usually haven't found it in most guitar chord books. What are your thoughts?
  2. Hold on there, let's get on the same page. If you are talking about the traditional G chord, first position on guitar, it goes like this


  3. g4string

    g4string Supporting Member

    Sep 19, 2002
    Melissa, TX

    E-3 (g) 1
    A-2 (b) 3
    D-0 (d) 5
    G-0 (g) 1
    B-3 (d) 5
    E-3 (g) 1

    your way is the same thing exept that the b string on yours is played open which is cool too. The way I play a g chord I fret the 3 fret of the b string which is cool too.
  4. Guys, Machaut, g4string....^

    As far as I can see, Liquid isn't on about that traditional G chord, but the one with the extra fretted string.

    I agree with him; I'm not sure why, but it does give the chord an extra "special" quality.

    *thinks of Oasis's Wonderwall track* - that song is based around having those two fretted strings droning on. Or Pink Floyds Wish You Were Here....?

  5. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    In western music, major 3rds tend to sound slightly out of tune. The "traditional" G chord uses the major 3rd (B) twice. Not only do they sound slightly out of tune with the chord, but they typically sound ever so slightly out of tune with each other.

    By fretting the B string to D, to drop that 3rd and add a 5th, which sounds more in-tune and more natural.

    For this same reason, a traditional C chord can also sound cheesy.

    FWIW, I can't recall the last time I saw an acoustic player play a G with the B string open. I haven't done it in 10 years unless I need it for a certain progression.

  6. I think the last time I saw it was the Dandy Warhols (not the best of players, by their own admission) playing Godless when I saw them... oooooo June 2000.

    Actually, playing along to that tune, the traditional (open string) G sounds more right than the fretted string G.
  7. same here. i NEVER play it in the traditional way.
  8. Ditto.
  9. That probably plays a role, but I don't think the tuning is the main thing. After all, 5ths are slightly out tune in tempered intonation as well, which is why you don't use 7th fret harmonics to tune by.

    I think the main reason for the special character of that form of G as opposed to what Machaut refers to as the standard form is that you've changed the harmonic balance. In the standard form, 1 is tripled and 3 is doubled, but 5 is heard only once. In the "special" form, 1 is still tripled, but 5 is doubled and 3 is heard only once (with reduced impact). In addition, the lone 3 you have is voiced low, close to the lowest 1, which further reduces its impact. This is especially true in lower registers. Remember, the lowest part of a guitar is actually in the bass register; the low E string, if rendered in concert pitch, is actually the E one leger line below the bass clef.

    To see what I mean, try playing the G on the 15th fret of the low E of your bass simultaneously with the B on the 14th fret of the A string. Kinda muddy, huh? Then play that same G, but with the B on the 16th fret of the G string. The B will have a subectively stronger effect; at least that's how I'd describe it. You can hear it more easily, and it would cut through an ensemble better. The relative weakness of the 3 in the "special" form of that G chord means that most of the strength of the chord lies in 1 and 5, giving it more of a drony quality and lessening the harmonic force of the major third.

    If that helps at all.

    And no, that chord doesn't have any specific name!
  10. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    But you would think the the extra 3rd would sound fuller than the extra 5th, since 3rds are harmonically more valuable than 5ths. (not sayings 5ths are worthless or anything)
  11. P. Aaron

    P. Aaron Supporting Member

    Being an enthusiastic guitar player as well, I do play the traditional open G chord. As well as about dozen or so other G chord voicings.
    The open chord with the b note lets you hammer or fret the 4th(c) to "color" the chord. Or, you can really color it up by hammering or fretting the 6(e) as well and changing it from a G to a C(5?). (Keith Richards without the open tuning.)

    You can also use the open position to fret the 9th(a) and the 4th(C). This is used in "I'm One" on the Whos' "Quadrophenia" with Merle Travis style fingerpicking. Use your 3rd(ring) finger to dampen the A string for both chords.

  12. Depends on how you hear fuller, I guess. Or harmonically valuable. 5ths and 4ths are traditionally "strong" intervals, stronger than 3rds. To me, doubling or tripling the 3rd doesn't make it sound fuller, just louder. If that makes any sense. When I studied formal harmony, a ways back, it was actually kinda recommended that you not make a habit of doubling the 3rd. The books would have put it differently, but what I drew from that was that you could often get more musical bang for your buck by doubling other notes. Of course, that was textbook classical ahrmony, and what I've played for years is different ....

    But back to the "full" thing, you know, a rhythm guitarist, in some genres, could actually get a big full sound just playing roots, 5ths, and octaves. I don't think that would be as easy playing 3rds.
  13. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I don't know, as far as "ear candy" goes, (and that's quit a subjective thing :D ) I don't find power chord voicings all that interesting. Not to say that power chords are irrelevant, or totally boring, but my I always get a little bit more of an "eargasm" when I hear deeper harmonies. Still, root and 5th definatley serve a big purpose. Espcially in rock music, where distortion/overdrive doesn't always work to well with the harmonics and overtones produced by open chord voicings. Also, just the nature of most rock music is based on more simple harmonies. (God, I sound like a jazz or classical snob here, :p I'm actually a big rock fan, but I think we can agree that primarily, rock follows more sparse harmonies)

    Hmm, this is starting to turn more into a debate about haromny. I wonder if it would be more suited for GI.
  14. gotta love those eargasms....:ninja:
  15. Well, interesting, strong, that does get into personal taste, or your personal ear. But I think the general feeling in standard harmony, at least, is that once you get your 3rd in there, in a place where you get the impact you want and it does its job in signaling major-minor, you often just don't get that much more out of doubling it. And don't forget that the fullness of a chord has to do not just with what notes you put in and how many of each, but how they're spaced from each other.

    And as for, say, jazz harmonies, you're not necessarily more likely to double the 3rd in those chords, if only because the chords themselves are more complex and you gotta save a finger or three for 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, sus 2s, sus 4s, etc.
  16. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    Very true about the Jazz harmonies. On guitar, (or any stringed instrument for that matter) you are limited by the physical attributes of the instrument. You can only play 6 notes at a time on guitar, which is something you have to take into consideration when you are voicing your chords. If you want to imply chord extensions, you might have to drop other notes. Where as on a piano, you can play 10 notes at a time, (and that's not counting the use of the damper or sustain pedals) plus, the actual linear physicality of a piano makes voicing chords a lot easier. Of course, with the freedom to play so many notes, you have to take into account if you are mudding things up. But that's a whole other tangent.