The Lap Steel Tunings Database

There are probably hundreds of lap steel tunings being used by players today. The lap steel tuning database contains about 100 of the most common steel guitar tunings.
In earlier days, many musicians protected their tunings as trade secrets, sometimes going so 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 string tunings a lap steel player is likely to come across. I’ve also included a few 10 and 12 string tunings. There are some great links at the bottom of the page for anyone that wants to dive deeper.

Rickenbacher B7 Bakelite lap steel guitar, as seen on the Lap Steel Guitar Tuning Database by Allan Revich.
1940s Rickenbacher B7 seven string Bakelite lap steel guitar

Getting Started on Lap Steel

These five tunings for 6 string lap steel guitar are great starting points for anyone just beginning the lap steel adventure:
  1. C6 – C E G A C E – The C6 tuning is by far the most common modern tuning for solid body lap steel guitars. It is very versatile and there is a lot of learning material available online.
  2. Open G – G B D G B D – This “high bass” version of Open G is the most common tuning for Dobro style resonator guitars. If you plan on playing acoustic bluegrass, or you’re a fan of Larkin Poe and blues musician Megan Lovell, this is your tuning.
  3. Open G – D G D G B D (low bass) – This version of Open G is very popular for musicians playing standard guitar as well as lap steel guitar. It is also popular for Weissenborn style guitars as there is less string tension than the Dobro tuning when using standard guitar string sets.
  4. Open D – D A D F♯ A D – Open D is a popular blues tuning, and one of my personal favourites. It is another tuning that works equally well on lap steel, standard guitars, and Weissenborn guitars.
  5. Open E – E B E G B E – Almost the same as Open D, but tuned a whole tone higher. This tuning is popular with guitar players.

Lap Steel Tunings

All tunings are listed from low to high (thick to thin),
Lower case note name indicates a 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 E
  • Open G – G B D G B D (Dobro)
  • Open G – D G D G B D (low bass)
Other Common 6 String Tunings
  • B11 – B D F A C E
  • Bm11 – 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
  • Dsus4 – D A D G A D (usually referred to as “Dad Gad”)
  • E6 – E B E G C E (often 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
  • Am11 – A C E G B D (G6 over C6)
  • Open B – B F♯ B D♯ F♯ B (Baritone tuning, not recommended for scale lengths less than 26 inches)
  • B11 – C♯ D♯ F♯ A C♯ E (no root, Mike Holland)
  • Open C – C G C E G C (not recommended for scale lengths less than 25 inches)
  • C6 – A C E G C E
  • C13 – B♭ E G A C E (often referred to as C6)
  • C13 – A D B♭ G C E
  • D5 – D A D D A D (modal tuning used by Ben Harper)
  • Dmaj7 – D A D F♯ A C♯
  • D7 – D A D F♯ A C
  • D7 – D A D F♯ C 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
  • E7 – B D E G♯ B E
  • E7 – E B E G♯ B D
  • E7 – E E G♯ B D E (Sacred Steel)
  • Em7 – E G D G B E (drop G of standard guitar tuning)
  • E6/9 – G♯ B E G♯ C♯ F♯ (referred to as E9)
  • E9 – G♯ B E G♯ D F♯
  • Em11 – E A D G B E (standard guitar tuning)
  • 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
  • G6 – E G D G B D
  • G6 – e G D G B D (reentrant)
  • G7 G B G B D F
  • G7 – 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, also called “D over G”)
  • G11 – G B D F A C
  • Gm11 – G B♭ D F A C (min, maj, min, maj + m7, M7, m7, 6)
  • G13 – E G B G D F
  • G13 – C E G B D F (could also be called Cmaj11)
  • Leavitt – C♯ E G B♭ C D (Leavitt Tuning is not referred to by a chord name)

7 String Lap Steel Tunings

Common 7 String 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 – B♭ C E G A C E
  • Open D – D F♯ A D F♯ A D
  • Open E – E G♯ B E G♯ B E
  • Open G – D G B D G B D
  • 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)
  • A7 + C6 – A C♯ E G A C E (Jerry Byrd tuning)
  • B11 – B C♯ D♯ F♯ A C♯ E (Mike Holland tuning, plus root)
  • C13 – b♭ A C E G C E
  • D6 – D A D F♯ A B D
  • D6 – D A B D F♯ A D
  • D7 – D A D F♯ A C D
  • D9 – D A D F♯ A C E
  • D/Dm – f D A D F♯ A D (Papa Dafoe)
  • Dmaj9 – D A D F♯ A C♯ E
  • E7 – E B D E G♯ B E
  • E7 – E B E G♯ B D E
  • Fmaj7 – F A C F A C E
  • G6 / Em7 – E G B E G B D
  • G6 – e G B D G B D (Papa Dafoe)
  • G9 – g G B D F A D (Papa Dafoe)
  • 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

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)
  • 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 (Leon McAuliffe)
Other 8 String Tunings
  • 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 B♭ C E G A C E
  • C13 – B♭ C E G A C E G (Junior Brown)
  • C13 – C B♭ C E G A C E (Low C – used by Jerry Byrd)
  • D9 – F♯ A C D F♯ A 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 – E G♯ B D E G♯ C♯ E (I’ve seen this referred to as C#m7)
  • 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)
  • Open G– D G B D G B D G
  • 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 Tunings

With 12 strings the tuning possibilities are endless, but the universal E9 pedal steel tuning is where most players will probably start.

  • E9 – B E G♯ B E F♯ G♯ B E G♯ D F♯ (Pedal steel tuning)
  • G13 – D F A C E G A C E G B D (Reese Anderson)

Papa Dafoe* 2021 Tunings

6 String
  • G6 – e G D G B D and E G D G B D
7 String
  • G6 – e G B D G B D and E G B D G B D

* 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.

More Steel Guitar Resources

Need a bit of help understanding music theory? Start HERE.
Want to dive deep? Download a free music theory textbook (pdf).

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, like 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 B♭ 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 are simply names. They exist to help steel players communicate information about tuning. The names used have evolved over time to perform that task.

A Note About 13th Tunings

13th tunings at their most basic combine a 7th tuning with the 6th tuning of the same chord (the 6th becomes the 13th when the chord contains a 7th). Clearly they represent a significant innovation in lap steel tunings. Take any open chord tuning, like E major (E B E G♯ B E) and add in the 7th (E D E G♯ B E) for an E7, then add the 6 (13th) for E B D G♯ C♯ E, and you get a 13th tuning. Suddenly you have minor chord options, jazzy 6th, and bluesy 7th chord options—all under a straight bar. Keep in mind that there are other ways to tune to E7 and E13 besides those I’ve used for this example.

The theory behind 13th tunings is especially interesting. They can contain every note in a diatonic scale except the major 7th, which is replaced by the dominant (flatted) 7. However, they don’t need to contain all those notes to still be considered a 13th chord. Typically, lap steel 13th tunings will consist of only 5 notes; 1 3 5 7 13. For C13 that would be, C E G B♭ A in root position. But it would still be C13 even without the 5, so only 4 notes, C E B♭ A. In fact, in a pinch, you could even drop the root note out of your C13, and play just the 3, 7, and 13, E B♭ A! — On the other hand, your C13 could contain all 7 notes, the 1 3 5 7 9 11 13, so for C13, C E G B♭ D F A (ref).

As with all lap steel tunings, the greater the number of notes, the more versatile the tuning, and the more skill, and theory knowledge, needed to take advantage of that flexibility.