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"Every minute I could I banged away, hunting chords on the old upright," Carmichael recalled; "there are no sounds more irritating than unfound music" - Hoagy Carmichael, early days in Bloomington, Indiana

Author Topic: Open G on Lap Steel  (Read 8467 times)

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Offline LightninKat

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Open G on Lap Steel
« on: June 14, 2015, 07:41:59 PM »
Hi!

My father is taking up lap steel and he asked me to tune it in Open G (DGDGBD) for him... I found it very strange and ended up breaking a string. It seemed like the lowest string was like my 4th string D on a resonator and went too slack if lowered the octave. I assumed it was Open G as DGDGBD bc that's what I'm accustomed to on my resonator and his book matched that... When I tried to research it many websites reiterated the DGDGBD that I know, but one mentioned a GBDGBD that repeats and is apparently "traditional" for on dobro. I'm am so confused right now... if anything I thought dobro would have been closer to my resonator than the lap steel and I don't want to keep breaking my dad's lap steel strings...

Can any of you help point me in the right direction as far as understanding proper lap steel G tuning?

 :-\ Kate

Offline frankie

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #1 on: June 14, 2015, 07:53:19 PM »
Hi Kat - those are both 'proper' tunings, but the tuning with the low D bass is often called 'spanish' tuning, and is more common in blues music of all kinds (country blues, chicago blues, blues rock, etc...). The one with the G bass is sometimes called 'high bass' or 'dobro' tuning and is more common in country music, specifically bluegrass. There are examples of high bass being used in blues and spanish tuning being used in country music, but the kind of music your father wants to play would go some way to determining which to start with. In the long run, it's best to be familiar with both of these, and a few others, too - notably vestapol (DADF#AD or EBEG#BE).

Country music and honky tonk use some much more sophisticated tunings, and then there are the 7 and 8 string steels... makes my head hurt!

Anyway in short, if dad wants to play blues, start with spanish (DGDGBD), and if he likes bluegrass and country, start him on high bass (GBDGBD). He can always learn about the others later.

Offline frankie

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #2 on: June 14, 2015, 07:57:17 PM »
Also - the low D in spanish should definitely be an octave below the 4th string D. If the 6th string is too slack at that pitch, substitute a slightly heavier one next time. :)

Offline orvillej

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2015, 10:50:03 PM »
Mostly depends on how he wants to play. If he's thinking about solo blues performance then the low-bass (or Spanish) would be the ticket. If he's thinking more about playing with others in ensembles and taking melodic guitar solos, then the high-bass (GBDGBD) works better. The way the scales line up and the repetition of two triads an octave apart make the logic of solo melody playing more easily apparent.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2015, 10:51:04 PM by orvillej »

Offline alyoung

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2015, 03:07:42 AM »
It's probably worth pointing out that in either version of G tuning, the 2nd string B, the third string G and and fourth string D are exactly same as on a standard-tuned (EADGBE) guitar. In low-bass G, the top D is an octave above the fourth string D, the bottom D is an octave below, and the bass G is an octave under the third-string G. High-bass (GBDGBD is a bit more of a tussle -- the top D is still an octave above the third-string D, but the bass string has to come up until it is an octave below the third-string G and the fifth string has to come up until it is an octave under the second string. You don't say what sort of lap steel your Dad has, but if it is a solid-body electric, some of those have shorter scales than a standard guitar, so some adjustment to string guages might be required.

Offline Frank Howard

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2015, 11:25:35 AM »
DGDGBD is a well established lap steel tuning, one of the earliest to appear in lap steel (usually called "Hawaiian guitar" back then) instruction books. 

The low D should be tuned one whole step lower than the low E on a standard tuned guitar.

A pretty good source for info on lap steel is the "Steel without pedals" board at steelguitarforum dot com.

One thing to look out for:  Lap steel players often (not always!) describe tunings backwards from the way most people do.   That is, they might describe standard guitar tuning as EBGDAE instead of EADGBE.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2015, 11:29:20 AM by Frank Howard »

Offline Stuart

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Re: Open G on Lap Steel
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2015, 11:35:09 AM »