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Keith Richards' secret Rolling Stones acoustic guitar tuning finally revealed?

The Rolling Stones are one of the most famous bands in guitar history, but that doesn't stop the persistent myths and mysteries around them – and one involves the tuning of the much-loved closing track to 1969's Let It Bleed album.

Keith Richards' rhythm part on the song You Can't Always Get What You Want has been the subject of conjecture amongst guitar playing Stones fans for years. It isn't C and F chords, and it apparently isn't Keef's usual open G with the bottom string removed. Now one man believes he's cracked it.

LA-based pro guitarist Jon MacLennan says he has spent “hours and hours and hours” listening to the recording in order to figure out exactly what Keef is doing on the studio track. Because the man himself has never told us. 

“I’ve seen every YouTube video, all the sheet music books, I’ve scanned the forums, interviews," says MacLennan. "I can’t find any interview about Keith Richards talking about what he did to make this sound.

“Many people say it is in open E with a capo on the 8th fret," he adds. "This tuning sounds slightly like the recording, but it transfers the chords that Keith plays down to a thicker string. Unfortunately, this really changes the timbre of the fills. 

With other methods, you don’t get that doubled high string, which is only heard when Keith strums through to the high E strings

"With other methods, you don’t get that doubled high string, which is only heard when Keith strums through to the high E strings. That’s what gives the guitar a chorusing 12-string sound at moments. Another theory is that the guitar is tuned to open G, a staple of Keith’s playing, but this method is actually using a G6 – a slight variation from open G."

MacLennan has devised a way players can create the sounds by blending a six- and 12-string. So yes, you need a 12-string. Hey, we never said it would be straightforward! 

Keff has allegedly never revealed the tuning in any interview 

Keff has allegedly never revealed the tuning in any interview  (Image credit: Robert Knight Archive / Getty)

Here's his five-step method:

1. Start with a 12 string guitar, and remove all doubled strings except for the doubled high E string. This gives you a six-string guitar with doubled high E strings – which is a total of seven strings

2. Remove low E string completely. Now you should have a total of six strings

3. Tune the A string down one whole step to G 

4. Add a capo on the 5th fret

5. Your final tuning should read (with the capo) CGCEAA

More alternate tunings

The guitarist demonstrates it all in the video above and we have to hand it him for dedication. 

For more info on MacLennan's work as a Fender Play instructor, solo artist and session guitarist head to jonmaclennan.com