The Lap Steel Tunings Database

Quick reference to common lap steel guitar tunings

There are probably hundreds of lap steel tunings being used by players today. It would be nearly impossible to list them all. In fact, even in this brief summary, there are about 100 tunings listed! In earlier days, many musicians protected their tunings as trade secrets, sometimes going as far as detuning their instruments when they left the stage for a break, in case some sneaky lap steel player tried to “steal” their tuning. Thankfully, those days are gone, replaced by a spirit of sharing. In that spirit of sharing, I created this web page that covers most of the 6, 7, 8 and 10 string tunings a lap steel player is likely to come across. I’ve also included some great links at the bottom of the page for anyone that wants to dive deeper.

All tunings are listed from low to high (thick to thin, lower case indicates reentrant string)

6 String Lap Steel Tunings

Most Popular 6 String Tunings
  • Open A – A C# E A C# E (high bass)
  • Open A – E A E A C# E (low bass)
  • A6 – C# E F# A C# E
  • C6 – C E G A C E (probably the most popular modern tuning)
  • Open D – D A D F# A D
  • Open E – E B E G# B D
  • Open G – G B D G B D (Dobro)
  • Open G – D G D G B D (low bass)
Other Popular 6 String Tunings
  • B11 – B D# F# A C# E
  • C6 – G C G A C E
  • C6 – E C G A C E
  • D6 – D B D F# A D
  • D6 – D A D F# B D
  • D7 – D C D F# A D
  • Dm – D A D F A D
  • E6 – E B E G# C# E (usually referred to as C#m7)
  • E7 – E D E G# B E
  • E9 – D E F# G# B E
  • G6 – G B E G B D
More 6 String Tunings
  • Open B – B F# B D# F# B (Baritone tuning, only usable on 26″+ scale length)
  • C6 – A C E G C E
  • C9b2 – C# E G Bb C D (Leavitt Tuning, never referred to by a chord name)
  • C13 – Bb E G A C E (often referred to as C6)
  • C13 – A D Bb G C E
  • D5 – D A D D A D (modal tuning used by Ben Harper)
  • D6 – D B D F# A D
  • D6 – D A D F# B D
  • D7 – D C D F# A D
  • D7sus – D A D A C D (Papa Dafoe)
  • D9sus – D A D A C E (Papa Dafoe)
  • D9 – A D F# A C E
  • D9 – D E F# A C E (John Ely)
  • D13 – C D F# A B D
  • Dmaj7 – D A D F# A C#
  • E7 – B D E G# B E
  • E6/9 – G# B E G# C# F# (referred to as E9)
  • E9 – G# B E G# D F#
  • E13 – B D E G# C# E (sometimes referred to as C#m7)
  • Open F – F C F A C F
  • Fmaj7 – F A F A C E
  • Fmaj7 – F C F A C E
  • F#9 – F# A# E G# C# E (Dick McIntire)
  • G6 – E G B G B D
  • G7 G B G B D F or G D G B D F
  • G9 – G B D F A D
  • G9sus – g G D F A D
  • Gmaj9 – G B D F# A D (Bob P. Lee)
  • G11 – G B D F A C
  • G13 – E G B G D F
  • G13 – C E G B D F (could also be called Cmaj11)

7 String Lap Steel Tunings

  • A6 – A C# E F# A C# E
  • A7 – A C# E G A C# E
  • C6 – A C E G A C E
  • C13 – Bb C E G A C E
  • Open D – D F# A D F# A D
  • Open E – E G# B E G# B E
  • G6 – E G B D G B D
  • G6 – G B D E G B D
Less Common 7 String Tunings
  • Diatonic – E F G A B C E (Jerry Byrd tuning)
  • C6+A7 – A C# E G A C E (Jerry Byrd tuning)
  • C13 – Bb A C E G C E (reentrant)
  • D9 – D A D F# A C E
  • Fmaj7 – F A C F A C E
  • G6 / Em7 – E G B E G B D
  • G11 – G B D F A C D
  • G13 – G B D F A C E (includes 9th and 11th)
  • G13 – E G B G B D F

8 String String Lap Steel Tunings

Most Common 8 String Tunings
  • A6 – A C# E F# A C# E F#
  • A6 – F# A C# E F# A C# E
  • B11 – B F# B D# F# A C# E
  • C6 – A C E G A C E G
  • E9 – E G# B D F# G# B E
  • E13 – E G# D F# G# B C# E
Other Popular 8 String Tunings
  • A6 – A C# E F# A C# E F#
  • A6 – F# A C# E F# A C# E (Herb Remington, Cindy Cashdollar)
  • Amaj9 – A C# E G# B C# E G# (Don Helms “E6”)
  • B11 – F# A B D# F# A C# E (Don Helms)
  • C6 – A C E G A C E G
  • C6+A7 – A C C# E G A C E (Jerry Byrd tuning)
  • C6+A9 – b A C# E G A C E (Joaquin Murphey – referred to as C6/A7)
  • C13 – G Bb C E G A C E
  • C13 – Bb C E G A C E G (Junior Brown)
  • C13 – C Bb C E G A C E (Low C – used by Jerry Byrd)
  • D9 – F# A C D F# A C E
  • E6 (C#m7) – E G# B D E G# C# E
  • E6 (C#m7) – B C# E G# B C# E G# (Don Helms)
  • E7 – E G# B D E G# B E
  • E9 – G# B D E F# G# B E
  • E9 – E B D E F# G# B E (Jerry Byrd)
  • E13 –  B D E G# B C# E G#
  • E13 – B G# D E G# B C# E
  • E13 – E D E G# B C# E G#
  • F6 – D F A C D F A C
  • Fmaj9 – F A C E G A C E (Andy Volk – think of this as C6 over Fmaj7)
  • F#13 – f# d# F# A# E G# C# E (Herb Remington)
  • G6 – G B D E G B D E
  • G13 – G B D E F G B D
  • G13 – G B D E F B D E
  • G13 – E G B D F A C E (includes 9th and 11th)
Most Common 10 String Tunings

10 string lap steels are less common than their 6, 7, and 8 string counterparts, and with 10 strings to choose from the number of potentially useful tunings is nearly infinite. These three are most common.

  • C6 (Fmaj9)– C F A C E G A C E G
  • Alkire – C# E F F# G G# A B C# E
  • Robinson “C6” – F A C E G A C E G D (pedal steel C6 tuning)
Most Common 12 String Tuning
  • E9 – B E G# B E F# G# B E G# D# F# (Pedal steel tuning)
  • With 12 strings the tuning possibilities are endless, but the universal E9 pedal steel tuning is where most players will probably start.

Papa Dafoe* Personal Tunings

6 String
  • D9 – A D F# A C E
  • D7sus – D A D A C D
7 String
  • D9 – D A D F# A C E

* Papa Dafoe tunings appear courtesy of Allan Revich

Additional Steel Guitar Tuning Resources

The websites below are highly recommended. In addition to many more tunings, there is information about lap steel history and famous players. Tunings used by notable musicians are also within these pages.

A Note About Lap Steel Tuning

Sometimes it seems as if there are as many tunings for lap steel guitar as there are players of lap steel guitar. This may be because every tuning requires compromises; the result of an inherent conflict between simplicity and versatility. The simpler tunings, such as Dobro G, GBDGBD, allow one to play any major chord, up and down the neck – and it’s nearly impossible to make a mistake doing it. So why not just tune to a major chord and be done with it? Because a lot of music demands more than just major chords!

So, players started exploring tunings that had more extended chords built in to them. Starting with dominant 7 chords, with E7, and then progressing to 6th tunings that allow easy majors, 6ths, minors, and minor 7ths. From there, more and more tunings evolved, and strings were added to increase the possibilities even more.

Now, as can be seen by the abbreviated lap steel tuning database above, there are tunings galore. Each of which provide the options and advantages sought by individual players. In a nutshell, the more different notes there are in a tuning, the more versatile the tuning will be—and the more possibilities there will be to make mistakes. Fewer notes, mean fewer possibilities to mess up—and fewer rich chordal possibilities.

Of course, the older, major chord tunings, don’t just disappear. They were good when they were first applied, and they are still good now. There are ways to get virtually every kind of chord from every kind of tuning. But each player decides for themselves whether they value simplicity or versatility, and which tunings provide them with the best way to make the music they want to make.

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A Note About Names

Wherever possible I have tried to name each tuning for the chord that would be played when all the open strings are played. This should make it easier to compare and contrast all the different tunings. However, music theory aside, tunings are not always referred to by the exact chord they represent. C13, which is C6 plus Bb is often simply referred to as C6. E6 has become more widely known as C#m7, and sometimes simply as C# minor. Just because your theory professor would say a chord name is incorrect, does NOT mean a tuning name is “wrong”. Tuning names, like all other names, are simply labels applied by players to convey information to other players.