Tuning Up

If you are new to steel guitar and you have been looking for input on how to tune the E9 tuning, you may have discovered tempered tuning charts that show what strings to tune away from A-440 to get “in tune”. Then you tuned up and tried to play along with your band or a track and it just sounded “off”. Let me try to help out here with a few ideas that are becoming more popular and acceptable with the steel guitar community.
Because the steel guitar has tremendous sustain and clarity of sound, it’s easy to hear “beats” when two strings are sounded together. If you tune your 8th string E to A-440 and your 5th string B the same, or maybe a few cents flat, they will sound pretty good together. But then you add the 6th or 3rd string G#’s and you will hear pulsing “out of tune” beats unless you tune the G#’s flat by anywhere from 5 to 15 cents. At that point you can play an E triad on strings 8,6, and 5 and you will have a great sounding E chord. The steel is in tune with itself. But play along with a fixed pitch instrument like a piano or guitar and it just doesn’t sound right. What happened?The A-440 notes on the fixed pitch instruments clashed with your temper-tuned notes on the steel! That would lead me to believe that we should tune “straight up” to A-440 so we can sound in tune with other instruments. Try it and see if it works for you. Physics guys have all sorts of fun with this concept, but since this blog is called “Practical Pedal Steel” , that’s as far as we need to go,
One last note. If this is not working for you, change your strings! New strings are the best cure for bad tone.