Pedal Steel tuning methodsWritten by Mat Budymat Davallet
The pedal steel guitar need a good tuning to get the right sound, some call that tuning consistency. This consistency is the result of tuning adjustment based on your "frequency A reference". This mean that your different strings are not on the same frequency if you take A 440 as a reference but lightly higher, lower or equal, we call that "temperance". For exemple when we look at the Jeff Newman tuning chart, for A 440 your G# is 439hz, B 442... etc. For some reasons this chart is not in stone but varies depending on the different models, cabinet drop... This mean that you must find the good tuning and cents adjustement for your own instrument. Using the existing chart is a good starting point but for anyone who wants a steel totaly in tune, harmonics method is essential. With this different method you'll find the good score difference in cent to make your own chart or programming your tuner or use the real ear method with harmonics.
Before starting tuning your steel with the calculator you must find your cabinet drop value by following these steps.
- Press A and B pedals.
- Tune the 3rd string with pedal B engaged (A) 440hz ref.
- Tune 4th string (E) 440hz ref.
- Tune 5th string pedal A engaged (C#) 440hz ref - 14 cents.
- Released Pedals and check the E on the tuner. It has certainly climb a few cents (about 2 cents in most common case) this value is what we call "cabinet drop".
We'll have to consider this error for our tuning process.
(1)(2) Enter cabinet drop value here: you can move the cursor (1) or enter manualy (2).
(3) Select what you want (4 choices)
- Cents differences (Ȼ) (for digital tuner such as peterson)
- Hertz value (you can select 440,441,442 A ref). (for digital and non digital tuners)
(4) The chart gives you the value of every notes for your pedal steel guitar.
(5) You can print your chart with your own pedal steel tuning values.
PSG uses both modes: natural scales with its open-tuning and tempered scales when you play the frets on the neck. The system allows us to get the perfect chord in one key and to transpose these key all over the neck.
Differences between Zarlino’s scale and tempered scale:
A major chord is built from its root (or 1st degree), third (or 3rd degree) and the fifth (or 5th degree). We will be interested only in the third because there is the poroblem, the fifth is the same in both scales.
I'll spare you the mathematical details you can check on specialized websites.
Start from a scale of A at 440Hz frequency. The A major chord is A / C # / E.
Zarlino tells us that the third has a 5/4 ratio with its root (440 Hz * 5) / 4 = 550Hz.
The tempered scale gives us C # 554,4 Hz (4.4Hz higher than Zarlino).
For exemple we can experiment with a C scale at 1000Hz with a difference of 10 Hz between the two thirds.
The thirds of the natural scale are always lower than the third of the tempered scale.
The electronic tuner:
To tune his instrument, we can trust in his on ear for sure but you can also use an electronic tuner wich uses the tempered scale and is usually graduated in 'cents'.
The 'cent' is 1/100 th of a semitone.
In our tempered A majorscale, the 2nd degree (B) is 493,68Hz If and 3rd degree C # is 554,4Hz and the difference between the 3rd and 2nd degree is therefore (544.4 to 493.68) = 2 semitones = 200 cents
1 cent = (544.4 - 493.68) / 200 = 0.3036 Hz
Our 4.4Hz difference between C # Zarlino and C # tempered represents 4.4 / 0.3036 = 14.49275 .... cents. Can be rounded to 14 cents without the ear detects error.
To check: C (1000Hz), D (1122Hz) and E (1260Hz) for the tempered scale and E = (1000 * 5) / 4 = 1250 for Zarlino. Go to your calculators !!
In short !
When the first degree is tune to the 440 hz ref, the 5th degree (perfect fifth) is 440 hz ref but the 3rd degree (the third) is granted to -14 cents, below 440.
By abuse of language, I use 440 hz ref for tuner display at 440
The “cabinet drop”
It could be simple and immediately applicable for all the strings, pedal and knee,but another phenomenon comes into play: the “Cabinet drop”.
When pressing the pedals, body or 'cabinet' of PSG is subject to additional constraints that affect the overall tuning of the instrument.
By doing the following process we can know the correction to be made in the tuning process for each PSG:
- Press A and B pedals
- Tune the 3rd string with pedal B engaged (A) 440hz ref
- Tune 4th string (E) 440hz ref
- Tune 5th string pedal A engaged (C#) 440hz ref - 14 cents
- Released Pedals and check the E on the tuner. It has certainly climb a few cents (about 2 cents in most common case) this value is what we call "cabinet drop"
We'll have to consider this error for our tuning process.
Hoping that my arguments are not too confusing. The same principle is applicable to C6. With this knowledge you must also correct the positions to be “in tune” with the other instruments and play a little higher in certain positions and
work with the most natural vibrato.
Thanks to Jean Yves Lozach' and Emmanuel Danan for their help and development.
When you play a string on a pedal steel guitar, you can obtain particular notes by touching the string lightly with your finger on certain frets. Those notes are call "harmonics". For exemple you can obtain a E open string with string 1 or 10 and the same note (octave up) with harmonics by touching the string at fret 12.With the same string you can obtain:
B by touching the string at fret 7
E by touching the string at fret 5 (this E is 2 octave up from the E open string.
G# by touching the string at fret 4 or 9
From this principle we are ready to tune the pedal steel guitar with and without pedal and knee basis on E9 chromatic tuning
For exemple 3B(7) -----4(5) mean string 3 with B pedal engage touched at fret 7 give string 4 touched at fret 5. Then we tune string 4 in concert with the string 3. As string 4 has no pedal or knee engage we
tune string 4 open string (otherwise we tune the edal or knee with the nylon tunings).
3B (open) : Tuning the A from a frequency reference such as keyboard, tuner. Note: Choose your global frequency ref (440, 441, 442...)...
Harmonics tuning chart reference:
|3B(7)||4(5)||String 4 relative to A reference (E)|
|4(4)||3(5)||String 3 relative to string 4 (G#)|
|4(5)||3B(7)||String 3 with pedal B (A)|
|4(7)||5(5)||String 5 relative to string 4 (B)|
|4(4)||5A(3)||String 5 relative to string 4 (B)|
|3(12)||6(5)||String 6 relative to string|
|4(12)||8(5)||String 8 (E)|
|5(12)||10(5)||String 10 (B)|
|5A(12)||10A(5)||String 10 with pedal A (C#)|
|10(7)||7(12)||String 7 (F#)|
|6B(12)||9(7)||String 9 (D)|
|3(7)||4E(5)||String 4 Knee E (Eb)|
|4E(12)||2(12)||String 2 (Eb)|
|3B(12)||2D(7)||String 2 knee D (D)|
|5(7)||1(12)||String 1 (F#)|
|6B(4)||5C(5)||String 5 pedal C (C#)|
|5C(5)||C(7)||String 4 pedal C (F#)|
|5A(4)||4F(5)||String ' knee F (F)|
|4F(12)||8F(5)||String 8 knee F (F)|