In this study, the authors show that open split ring resonators (OSRRs) and open complementary split ring resonators (OCSRRs) can be loaded with varactor diodes in order to implement tunable filters in coplanar waveguide (CPW) technology. By loading a CPW with shunt-connected varactor-loaded OSRRs, a band-stop filter with tunable central frequency results. The electronically tunable band stop can be switched to a pass band by replacing the shunt resonators with varactor-loaded OCSRRs. To illustrate the possibilities of the approach, a tunable band-stop filter and a tunable band-pass filter have been designed and fabricated. The measured characteristics are in good agreement with the co-simulations (electric and electromagnetic) and with the circuit simulations of the electric model. The measured tuning range is roughly 120% for the stop-band structure (for varying voltages between 0 and 28 V) and over 30% for the band-pass filter (for varying voltages between 5 and 25 V). © 2011 The Institution of Engineering and Technology.