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I have a six-string lap steel that so far I have kept in C6 (CEGACE). I like it because I can play major or minor on it, but the tuning is seemingly built for hawaiian and classic country work, and that's not really where my interests are.

But, it seems like going to an Open D or Open G Vastapol or Spanish tuning would be a step backwards, toward tunings with all roots, thirds and fifths.

One rock player I know of with steel guitar interests is David Gilmour, but even if I knew his tuning, It wouldn't so much matter, because what I've seen is single-note stuff, so it almost wouldn't matter if he didn't have the other strings, so his preferred tuning isn't useful.

I get that the lap steel is not the most forward-looking instrument out there, but what are some tunings that would work in a more progressive or modern rock style?

  • If you're interested in David Gilmour, check this out gilmourish.com/?page_id=69 – Anonymous Mar 7 '11 at 13:37
  • I thank you for the page. It's a neat thing. Don't know that it really directly addresses the question, but still, cool. – Dave Jacoby Mar 9 '11 at 2:33
  • @ekaj, moved your answer to here, since its a comment, not an answer. – Bella Mar 11 '11 at 19:00
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How about standard dobro tuning?

G B D G B D

or

EDIT:

C Diatonic (this should give you a lot of chord possibilities)

F G A B C E

Here is one source with a lot of alternate tunings

BTW: You can play minor on the Open D as well by leaving out the only third

  • I have it in C6 at the moment. There's benefits, like I have both major and minor and I don't have to be too careful to distinguish the two, like I would if the major and minor thirds were in adjacent strings. The problem is that most everything I do sounds like a poor 50s honkytonk imitation, which is fine if you're looking to sound like 50s honkytonk, but if you want to sound not out-of-place in a rock environment, it isn't so good. I haven't spent time with dobro tuning, but that's just major triads, which makes it less versatile than even C6. – Dave Jacoby Mar 10 '11 at 18:00
  • Sorry Completely my bad! I obviously did not read the question properly... will edit to fit the question.. – user399 Mar 11 '11 at 6:31
  • +1 for the link...I was trying to remember the Berklee tuning earlier, and I see that it's there. – Anonymous Mar 11 '11 at 18:36
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I personally enjoy the G6th tuning (D G D G B E). The D and G notes seem a tad repetitive at first, but it adds a lot of interesting variance in the tone. It is acclaimed by some Gilmour fans because it is versatile for Gilmour-style solos or for chords, allowing not only the primary triads of G (D G D) and E-Minor (G B E) but also a plethora of other phrasings. It could be interpreted as a step back for you from the more versatile C6th Tuning, however I find it to be an excellent compromise between the more modern-adapted G or Dobro Tunings and the 50s-eske style of the C6th.

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Gilmour's G6 is indeed pretty versatile for rock work, and is a great tuning for someone coming from "underarm" guitar as it shares some common intervals. It gives a minor triad on top, a major triad in the middle, a big four-note power chord on the bottom, and leads feel pretty familiar to a guitarist.

As mentioned, Jerry Byrd's C Diatonic tuning is pretty good for melodic work, and it also has several of the same chord voicings from the C6 tuning built into it. However, it's a bit limited on a six-string instrument. It comes into its own on a seven-string as Jerry used it, or an eight-string with an added low C.

William Leavitt's tuning (the Berklee tuning mentioned above) is pretty versatile from a harmonic perspective, and is very capable for jazz. The diminished seventh chord on the bottom is particularly handy, as it contains every chord tone of a 7b9 chord (which occur often in jazz) except for the root. The chordal possibilities are great in this tuning, although it can involve a fair amount of bar movement to play busy melodies.

B11 (B or C#, D#, F#, A, C, E low to high) offers some interesting possibilities. One of the keys to this tuning is that on any given fret the four treble strings give you a sixth chord, and from there if you move down two frets, the four bass strings give you a ninth chord built on the same root. Useful for getting from a I to a IV chord by way of I6-I7(or 9)-IV.

On an eight-string instrument, an E13 tuning can be a useful one, particularly with a G# as the high string, although on six-string it might be too limited. Pretty sure a lot of really old country hits were done with this tuning.

Finally, you can definitely still get plenty of mileage out of C6. The only issue is that, like you said, everything sounds Hawaiian until you either figure out what you're doing or you join a Hawaiian band. Just have to be mindful of which grips you use. Another thing to keep in mind is that with the right string gauges, from C6 you're a quick and easy retune away from high A6, C6/A7, D9, B11, and E7 (this last one is really cool for blues, and with some careful behind-the-bar bends it does a pretty mean country pedal steel imitation too). If I were going to only have one six-string steel, that's the route I would go for versatility.

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