The Reason Keith Richards Play A 5 String Guitar
ROSKILDE, DENMARK - JULY 03: Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones headlines the Roskilde Festival 2014 on July 3, 2014 in Roskilde, Denmark. (Photo by Rob Ball/Redferns via Getty Images)
The legendary guitarist Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones recently graced The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, showcasing his guitar prowess and engaging in a jam session with the host. However, one particular aspect of Richards’ guitar caught the audience’s attention – his 5-string guitar.
As Fallon inquired, “Do you only play with five strings?” Richards, known for his laid-back demeanor, responded with a chuckle, “That’s a big fat string. It cost more money, man.” He went on to explain:
“In fact, it’s tuned to an open G, right, and if you’re going to do ‘Honky Tonk Women’ or something.”
The distinctive style of Keith Richards, instantly recognizable from the Rolling Stones’ iconic sound, captivated the crowd. He showcased the familiar riff featured in many of their hits, including ‘Start Me Up’ and ‘Brown Sugar.’
A notable characteristic of Richards’ guitar technique is his frequent use of Open G tuning. Often, he opts to play a five-string guitar by removing the lowest string. Guitarists who prefer to keep all six strings can emulate Richards by lightly touching the lowest string with one of their fingers (fretting hand). The key is to use the tip of the index finger for bar chords or the tip of the thumb when playing in the open position.
Richards’ approach to guitar playing is not centered on flashy or lightning-fast techniques. Instead, it revolves around crafting great riffs, infectious grooves, and timeless songwriting. In an interview, Richards shared his philosophy, stating that a truly great song should stand the test of stripping away all production elements and being played with just an acoustic guitar and a voice. If it still sounds great in its simplest form, then it’s a timeless classic.
Applying this criterion to the Rolling Stones’ hits reveals why their songs have become enduring classics played across generations. Keith Richards’ mastery of the 5-string guitar is not just a unique quirk but a testament to the simplicity and brilliance that underlie the band’s musical legacy. As Richards once eloquently put it, “You can recognize a great song when you strip away all the production stuff, and it still sounds great.” The Rolling Stones’ catalog stands as a testament to this enduring principle, ensuring that their music continues to resonate for years to come.