Steel Guitar Tuning Methods

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This blog is dedicated to the different tuning techniques that can be used with the pedal steel guitar.

I have tried to put up posts that give an overview of some of these tuning methods. I have included some history and background information on the tunings as well as a short description of how they work.

This site will be updated with new posts over time. I hope you enjoy your visit here, and if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me.

I was recently asked about the different tuning techniques that can be used with the pedal steel guitar. While there are many different ways to tune, I will try to describe some of the most common methods.

The instrument is most often tuned to an E9th tuning, but can also be tuned to C6/A7th, B11th and other more advanced tunings.

For this discussion I will use an E9th tuning as it is the most commonly used and is a good starting point for learning to play this fantastic musical instrument.

I am a professional musician who has been playing and recording pedal steel guitar for over 25 years. I have recorded with many artists including Joe Cocker, Johnny Cash, Jimmy Buffett, Keith Urban, John Anderson, Tanya Tucker, and Earl Scruggs. I have also toured the world as a member of many bands and as a solo musician.

I have created this website to help educate and inform people of the different tuning methods that can be used with the pedal steel guitar.

Pedal Steel Guitar Tuning Methods is your one source for all things related to the pedal steel guitar.

Steel Guitar Tuning Methods is meant to be a reference site for the various tuning methods used in pedal steel guitar playing.

I am not going to get into teaching how to play the instrument, or what notes to play with what tuning, or even which tuning best fits specific keys. There are many great sites that give you this information. Rather, I want discuss the techniques used to get the notes in a particular tuning.

Many players have their own style and approach to getting their notes tuned up. Some take a “brute force” approach using mutes and/or bar stops, others use more esoteric methods using altered tunings and/or copedants. If you don’t know what any of these terms mean, don’t worry about it at this point – it will be explained later.

The goal of this site is to describe how each technique works, when it is most useful, and how it can be set up on the instrument.

There are many ways to tune a pedal steel guitar. The way I learned was a method devised in the late 1950’s by Bud Isaacs and Jimmy Day. It was a compromise between the Emmons and Sho-Bud tuning methods. Bud Isaacs and Jimmy Day were both employed by Sho-Bud at the time, so it became known as the Sho-Bud tuning method. Many players still used the original Emmons tuning method and they would probably not consider what I learned as an Emmons tuning.

When I started playing in 1968 you had two options, Emmons or Sho-Bud tuning. If you learned one tuning you were stuck with that tuning for everything you played because very few players knew more than one of these tunings. Some of us would have liked to try other tunings but there was no information readily available on how to do it. I did eventually learn other tunings but I didn’t know of any books that explained how to do it so I had to learn them through trial and error as well as by watching other players tune their guitars.

Basically what I am going to cover here are the same three things that were covered in my book, “Pedal Steel Guitar Tuning Methods.” That is:

The different types

There are a number of ways to tune a pedal steel guitar. The most common tuning is E9th. This means that the open strings of the guitar are tuned to an E major chord and the additional notes available from pedals and knee levers allow you to play in the E9th tuning.

The next most common tuning is C6th, sometimes called C13th. This tuning is based on a C major chord with additional notes available from pedals and knee levers which allow you to play in the C6th tuning.

Other tunings include A6th, Ab6th, G6th, B11th, Bb11th and many more.

The material here is presented in no particular order, so feel free to jump around. This page will be updated as I have time or as questions about a particular topic arise.

There are many different tunings for the steel guitar. The most common tuning is E9th, which is used by most players in the country genre. Other popular tunings include C6th (used by jazz and Hawaiian players), A6th (used by some country and Hawaiian players), Universal tuning (used by country, rock, jazz, gospel, pop and Christian artists). Some of these tunings are based on open string chords while others are based on closed form chords.

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