Lap Steel Tunings

Let us say at the outset that there is no definitive way to tune a lap steel guitar. A quick search of the internet will reveal that these instruments are very personal, and each player has one or more favoured tunings.

Lap Steels are built in all sorts of shapes and string configurations - 6,7,8 or 10 string varieties. This allows the guitars to be tuned for simple open chords to complex harmonic arrangements depending on the player's abilities and tastes.

Tuning The Neilson 6 String

The Neilson 6 string guitar can be tuned to any 6 string lap steel, slide or dobro type tuning. These usually are tuned to an open chord.

Here are some common 6 string tunings: (from low to high string)

G - B - D - G - B - D G major
D - G - D - G - B - D G slack 
D - G - D - G - Bb - D G minor

D - A - D - F# - A - D

D major
D - A - D - F# - A - C# D major 7th
D - A - D - F - A - D D minor

Tuning The Neilson 7 String

If we take the G Major 6 string tuning above, this gives two sets of a G major chord (G B D) an octave apart under the slide. By adding the extra string in the middle of these two sets of G major, and tuning this added string to various notes, the player has access to a number of extended chord structures. The guitar can be viewed as such:-

The seven string configuration of the Neilson guitar allows it to be played in a variety of styles and tuned to any number of chords. If you are not familiar with chord structures and how to build a chord,  click here for a brief explanation.-

G B D x G B D

where x is the added string

The following tunings are available:-

extra string guitar tuning description
E G - B - D - E - G - B - D G 6  / E minor 7
F G - B - D - F - G - B - D G 7th
F# G - B - D - F#- G - B - D G major 7
G G - B - D - G - G - B - D fattened standard G chord

G6 / Em7 tuning

G B D E G B D

By tuning the extra string to an E (one tone above the D string), the player has access to the 6th chord ( G B D E) and an Em7 chord ( E G B D). This allows access to full set of major, minor, 6th and minor 7th chords with the single tuning.

This tuning is very versatile as it can cover all major and minor chords quite easily. It works well with country music - a style that consistently uses standard major and associated minor chords, eg  C - Am - F - G type progressions.

By using the 6th, the tuning suggests country swing and big band styles.

The Em7 opens up many possibilities.

G7th tuning

G B D F G B D

This tuning is good for blues based styles where the (dominant or flattened) 7th chord ( G B D F ) is used extensively. By tuning the extra string to an F, this tuning suits blues and roots music styles. 

G major 7th tuning

G B D F# G B D

Limited but interesting possibilities.

G tuning (resonant string)

G B D G G B D

G B D D G B D

By tuning the extra string up to a G (or down to a D) will return the guitar to a straight major chord with the G doubled. giving an added resonance.

G minor 7th tuning

G Bb D F G Bb D

This tuning produces a Gm7 minor across the strings by tuning to a G7 and dropping the two B strings to Bb..


Alternative Tunings

As stated earlier there are many ways to tune this guitar. Here are some ideas

NAME TUNING DESCRIPTION
slack G D - G - B - D - G - B - D combines both 'country' and 'slack' blues tunings
D D - F# - A - D - F# - A - D

an extended 'D' tuning

D6 / Bm7 D - A - B - D - F# - A - D a lower register 6th / minor 7th tuning
E E - G# - B - E - G# - B - E an extended 'E' tuning
A A - C# - E - x - A - C# - E 'G' tuning above, up one tone

The internet provides a great deal of information on lap (and pedal) steel tunings.

A good place to start is http://www.well.com/user/wellvis/steel.html

For those feeling overwhelmed, try http://mirrorimage.com/air/index.html and press "Rock On".

check out MouseGuitar 

 

String Gauge Selection

String selection is again an individual choice, but due to the shortened scale length, and the need to find an extra string. The general rule of thumb is - get the heaviest set of strings you can. 

The D'Addario " Blues / Jazz Rock" set (EXL115) with an additional .024 work well with the shorter 22.5" scale length, but if heavier strings are available, they may be preferable. The gauges are (from lowest to highest):-

G B D E G B D
.049 .039 .028 .024 .018 .014 .011

 

Slides

Slides

The 'Stevens' or 'Jim Dunlop' slide, or a rounded pedal steel slide are good examples of suitable slides. The slides usually need to be solid and heavy - this produces a more precise sound. Finger slides and bottlenecks can also be used.

Slides

This newly aquired slide made by Tim Sheerhorn has become a favourite. The pointed ends allow for accurate single note picking. Nice one Tim.