Open guitar tunings in their basic form were handed down to us form the American blues scene (mostly), although certainly other countries had their own folk variations. In the deep south, the weather was sultry, that's to say often hot and humid, which isn't a great combination for sensitive wooden instruments like guitars. Tuning the guitar to an open chord made a lot of sense. Just bar the strings at any fret and you will play a chord, and it is much easier to keep in tune. This kind of arrangement also lends itself to playing with a bottleneck, which is a delicious sound when done probably.
After the pressure of necessity passed, modern guitarists started to explore the possibilities of open G, open G and also open C. There are many, many variations and open C is not used nearly as often as the other two and their hybrid cousins. The great thing about this tuning is that the open bass E chord is tuned right down to C, so it's really low. This provides a great rumbling, droning bass, but it's got to be tuned really accurately. If not, it can sound pretty awful - when it's right, it's a joy to hear in any style of playing. See examples here www.play-blues-guitar.eu.
A lot of guitarists don't like it to much because of the strain it puts on one particular string, which is the B string. Normally, we tune down to achieve the right sound, unless of course you're tuning up to open E or A, but this is rare. In Open C the B string is tuned up to C, so it's tighter than usual, more difficult to bend over and also more prone to snapping if the finger picking touch is too strong. With care, it's a great tuning but it's best not to tune up and down so often. It's a good idea to have a separate guitar tuned to Open C.
It isn't just the blues that sound good in this tuning. Many Irish jigs, reels and traditional slow ballads often use variations and hybrids. Sometimes just changing one string makes an enormous difference to the sound and also opens up possibilities of creating new chords to take full advantage of the new patterns. One famous blues man, Skip James, used the tuning a lot and some of the greatest songs were the result, such as Crow Jane and many others.
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