Tune It Or Die! Saw that on a T shirt recently.
An easy way to get a spirited conversation going with steel guitar players is to mention the subject of tuning.
Just about everyone has an opinion on how a pedal steel guitar should be tuned. Most can acceptthere are different ways to tune and a few will stop at nothing to get you to agree with them that their way is best.
Most of the discussions start something like this:
“Well, so and so (insert any famous steel player’s name) tunes like this.” If that famous player is someone you like to listen to then you might agree. But then again you might not and then the sparks fly.
There are more or less two ways to tune your pedal steel guitar;
Straight up and using a tuning chart such as that produced by Jeff Newman.
The straight up technique is when you tune each string to be in tune with the tuner needle “straight up”. This is the easiest way to tune and judging by the posts on the forum, the most popular. The drawback is that chords will be a little (very little)out of tune so you after you tune, there might be a little tweaking needed to correct that.
Using the Jeff Newman (or anyone else’s charts) gets a bit more complicated in that you tune each string a little sharp or a little flat so the intervals between the strings are in tune.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and tell you that I tune straight up and then go back and tweak the intervals between the strings with my ears. I find the charts and graphs a little cumbersome.
It really doesn’t matter which tuning method you use. We all end up generally at the same place. The important thing is to be consistent and use what works for you not necessarily what some famous player uses.
I cover tuning basics in my best selling book “Teach Yourself To Play Pedal Steel Guitar”.
Now, remember trying to tune when you had crusty oldstrings on your guitar? Sure, everyone does at some point. And it is very hard and frustrating to get the guitar in tune with those crusty, rusty old strings. Changing your strings periodically is probably more important than trying to try some new tuning method because some famous player does it. If you’re gonna emulate some famous player, change strings often. Not only does your guitar sound better but it will stay in tune longer after using the pedals and levers.