For the majority of his career, Keith plays his 5 string Telecaster, named Micawber, which is in Open G tuning
When playing like Keith, forget the idea of playing speedy guitar runs and focus more on capturing the vibe. Keith is a total feel player and does not ever entertain the speedier end of the guitar playing spectrum. It’s all about creating that rock and roll feeling with every lick and riff.
Sling your Telecaster nice and low, get rid of your low E string and lets dive into the world of Keef.
“Before They Make Me Run,” “Brown Sugar” and “Honky Tonk Women.” Those are just a few of the timeless Rolling Stones songs on which riff-master Keith Richards wielded the legendary “Micawber”, a 1950s Telecaster that is probably the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s most famous guitar.
Richards received Micawber in December 1970 on his 27th birthday from fellow Fender fan Eric Clapton. At the time, Richards and the Stones were getting ready to work on the album that would become Exile on Main Street.
“Most people used open tuning basically just for slide. Nobody used it for anything else. But I (keith Richards)
wanted to use it for rhythm guitar. And what I found was, of all the guitars, the Telecaster really lent itself well to a dry, rhythm, five-string drone thing. In a way that tuning kept me developing as a guitarist. ‘Okay, now figure out a diminished sixth on it!’ You’ve got so little to work with. And that makes you reconsider six-string concert tuning. ‘Cause if there’s so much in that little space [i.e., five-string] how much am I missing on the other? You can transfer some of that back to six-string concert tuning. You can swap knowledge between one tuning and another.”
All the examples in this lesson are in Open G tuning unless otherwise stated.
Keith Richards often plays in this tuning with without the use of the Low D string.
Guitar Tab showing an Open G tuning lick with a droning string using notes from the G Major Scale.
This bluesy lick is reminiscent of the main riff from the Stones hit Honky Tonk Women. It’s a great way to use a droning open string along with some choice notes from the G Major scale to creating some swagger.
This riff was inspired by the track Can’t You Hear Me Knocking and should be played with lots of swagger and attitude. Don’t worry about the timings being metronome tight, this is rock and roll, a bit of looseness adds to the overall vibe.
Guitar Tab showing an Open G tuning shuffle riff using a blues style shuffle between 5th and 6th chords.
Guitar Tab showing an Open G tuning riff using moving 6sus4 and major chords in various positions on the neck.
This example revisits the idea of major chords that move around which get extended to the 6sus4 variation, except in this example we start with the 6sus4 of each chord before dropping to the major chord version.
The first bar is straight eighth notes on the first and second beats using the G6sus4 and G chords with a rest on beats three and four. This is then replicated in each other bar.
Bar two being F6sus4 and F, bar three returning to G6sus4 and G and the final bar dropping down to C6sus4 and C major.
This is a 70s style riff like you’d expect to hear on hits like Brown Sugar.