C6th Pedal Steel Guitar Simplicity And Variations

By David J. Stewart


C6th is one of my favorite tunings, because it is so versatile and the best for Hawaiian music; but few pedal steel players use their C6th pedal steel to play Hawaiian, interestingly. This is simply because there's hardly any tablature written for it. Most Hawaiian players don't use pedals, sticking to either lapsteel or non-pedal steel (which is fine).

However, it's a shame in my opinion that more C6th pedal steel musicians don't play Hawaiian. It's all there (and then some) on your C6th pedal steel. What a lot of players don't realize, but I will tell you now, is that Hawaiian music is a style (not a tuning nor a guitar). If you want to learn Hawaiian, then check out my free tabs on this website and play it on your C6th pedal steel. If the song tab uses a C# on the 6th string, then just hold your 8th pedal down.

When I started learning to play steel guitar in 1992, I started on a pedal steel (as do nearly all modern players). I had never played a lap steel guitar, nor did I own one for several years after that. I was told lap steels were boring when I first started, and so I had that mindset for many years. Hawaiian music is supposed to be laid back (some people would consider that boring). I love the song, Beyond The Reef (nice and slow... all played on a 6-string C6th lap steel. I used a C# on the bottom). Using palm and finger harmonics, palm muting at the bridge, open strings, split harmonics (chime one note, but not the other), and other cool techniques, the lap steel really comes alive. It's an entire world just waiting to be discovered by you. That's the purpose of this website, that is, to make that special world of Hawaiian steel guitar a reality in your life if you want it. Whether you live in Canada or an island in the south Pacific, you can brighten someone's life with the most beautiful music this side of Heaven.

That made it difficult for me to understand the purpose behind the pedals. It was especially difficult to understand the C6th pedals. Although there are many excellent pedal steel guitar courses (and I bought them all), none of them explains the C6th pedal steel from a lap steel frame of view. If I were to teach you to play the C6th pedal steel, I would first teach you to play the basic C6th lap steel. I'd bring you to the point where you could play a few songs using bar slants instead of pedals). Then after you had learned to do the bar slants I would introduce the C6th pedals that replace your bar slants. Here's an in-depth explanation of how the C6th pedals replace the bar slants.

I played pedal steel guitar for 15 years before I ever seriously learned to play the lap steel. I had picked up an old AIRLINE brand lapsteel in the Trading Times for $75 from an elderly gentleman. The guitar used to be sold in Sears & Roebuck stores believe it or not. Wouldn't it be great if they still sold brand new lap steels in retail stores? America has lost so much beauty from the old days. I remember my dad used to repair tube televisions and radios. This was in the 1970's, which was still a magic time in America. What an awesome time to live in! No credit cards. No microwaves. No internet. No cellphones. And music was music back then. It all ended after the 1970's.

Anyway, I bought a dozen tabs directly from Jerry while he was still alive. I cherish the hand-written letters from Jerry. The best instruction course available is Jerry's music itself. Jerry Byrd recorded a couple dozen albums and did studio work with thousands of country singers in his early career.

By using the pedals you take advantage of the full chord voicings available to you on the C6th. If you don't want to use a bar slant, then you can use the pedals (which I would definitely use if I were playing pedal steel). Yet, the very nature of the pedals tends to promote a whole different style of Pop, Swing and Jazz rather than melodic Hawaiian music. Most C6th players play all sorts of songs, but avoid Hawaiian. They've just never had it presented to them. I can't think of even one C6th pedal steel course for Hawaiian, because Hawaiian players don't use a pedal steel. The striking paradox is that it's all there on the C6th pedal steel (and then some). Give it a try, you might be surprised.

Using a High E Note on Top Instead of a D or G

The following pedal steel C6th tuning was used by Stu Basore. I don't have Stu's pedal setup (copedent). I heard Stu say in an interview that he uses an E note on top of his C6th instead of the popular D or G note that nearly all players use. Stu Basore puts his D note on the 9th string instead. I personally like the D note on top.

Stu Basore's pedal steel C6th tuning:

# note
1  E 
2  C 
3  A 
4  G 
5  E 
6  C 
7  A 
8  F 
9  D 
10 C 
Simplicity of the Standard Pedal Steel C6th Copedent
Buddy Emmons uses a high D; Jimmy Day used a high G. The G note gives a western swing sound (C-E-G providing a higher 
major chord), exactly as Herb Remington's A6. In fact, if you tune everything 3 tones lower you'd have the A6th note-for-note. 
The D note is great for passing between chords (and gives a nice unison sound if used with pedal 7). Notice that pedal 8 
provides the C# for all you Jerry Byrd lap steel fans. So if you're used to playing C6th lapsteel with a C# on bottom, just 
use pedal 8 instead on the pedal steel C6th. 
# note   4    5    6    7    8   LKL   LKR   RKL  RKR 
1  D ________________________________________________
2  E ______________+F________________________________
3  C ___________________++D__________________-B___+C#
4  A ___++B_____________++B______-Ab___+Bb___________
5  G _________-F#____________________________________
6  E ______________-Eb_______________________________
7  C ________________________+C#_____________________
8  A ___++B__________________________________________
9  F _________+F#____________-E______________________
10 C _________++D__________---A______________________
Not all players use all of the preceding knee changes. Buddy Emmons has them all (which is great for picking out melodies). 
Jimmy Day only lowered string 3 from a C to a B with a knee lever (RKL). The B note is great for songs such as 
UNFORGETTABLE, and also for working out melodies. I highly recommend learning to play C6th lapsteel to help you 
understand the pedal steel C6th changes and why they are setup the way they are. 
For Playing Hawaiian you wouldn't need any of the C6th pedal steel changes (if you do bar slants), so don't worry if 
you don't have a bunch of knees. If you can just lower string 3 from C to B, that would be great. Pedal 7 is more of an 
expression pedal to me, and is not something that you have to have to play Hawaiian music; but it'll enrich your playing 
with new sounds not inherent to Hawaiian itself. 
Of course, to play traditional Hawaiian you want to try and play without the listener knowing that you're using pedals. 
Myself, I love the pedal sound and don't try to hide them. I play whatever sounds good, pedal or no pedal. 
All of the tabs I've written for C6th lapsteel are played on the first 6 strings, so you're probably wondering what 
to do with the bottom 4 strings on your pedal steel. Right? If you study the tuning, you'll see that the notes are simply 
repeated. You've got the same notes, just on bigger strings and an octave lower. 
Pressing pedal 5 lowers string 5 but raises string 9 to give you an F# note. I call pedal 5 the F# pedal. It is by far the 
mostly used pedal for Hawaiian Playing. Here is some tab from C6th lapsteel...
Your 5th pedal on the C6th pedal steel will lower G to F# for you, so you won't need to do a bar slant. Now you see 
why I call pedal 5 the F# pedal (because it lowers G to F#).
Look at (consider) the bottom strings on your pedal steel C6th as mere extensions of the basic chords. I view the C6th 
pedal steel as a 6-string lap steel with 4 extra strings on the bottom to expand the depth of my chord voicings. A lot 
of steel players get frustrated quickly and give up steel guitar because they aren't taught properly (which to me 
means simplicity). Keep it simple. A lot of players just go buy a bunch of C6th tablature and memorize the songs (which is ok); 
but you may never learn what is going on that way. Why not learn what's happening from the start, the right way. 
Learn your chords and what each pedal does to change that chord into another. I highly recommend learning to play lapsteel
on any tuning, just to help you get a good understanding of why pedals were invented in the first place. If you watch 
the old timers, the pros who started out playing lap steel and non-pedal steel decades ago when dinosaurs 
roamed the earth, you'll notice that many of them still use bar slants. They learned to play steel before their were any
pedals or knee levers. 
New players who start out with pedals and knees risk being lazy and not learning why those pedals and knees were added 
in the first place. They'll learn to play, very well if they stick with it; but you'll miss out on a lot of great things that only
knowing your instrument will give you. There are at least a half dozen different ways to play any one chord on a steel guitar. 
My opinion is this: If you truly understand your instrument, you should be able to play without pedals or knees. If your steel 
guitar suddenly broke in the middle of a performance, could you keep playing the song? Could you compensate by doing 
bar slants instead? I don't raise my 2nd string on my E9th pedal steel. I always use a forward bar slant, picking strings 4 and 2, 
which gives me two E notes when my bar slant is complete. I like the sound of the bar slant going into the chord change. 
Who needs a pedal? If you use string 2, an Eb, then you don't need to lower string 4 a half tone. I challenge every steel player 
who uses pedals to try and play without the pedals. You'll learn many new things, and enrich your playing. Besides, using 
bar slants makes it look like you know what you're doing. That a big plus for me...lol. 
Raising A Notes to Bb Instead of B
Jeff Newman did something very interesting with his pedal steel C6th by only raising the A note on strings 4 and 8 
to a Bb instead of an B. So Jeff's 4th pedal raised strings 4 and 8 a half-tone instead of the standard full tone. Pretty 
cool if you're used to playing C6th lapsteel with a low Bb. Curly Chalker's (1931-1998) distinct sound is greatly attributed to 
using the A to Bb change. Some players just use it on pedal 4 instead of the standard A to B change; but others, like John 
Hughey (1933-2007), put it on pedal 9; or like Buddy Emmons on a knee lever (LKR). Paul Franklin also uses a knee (RKR). 
If you raise your A's to Bb and then slide up 12-frets from say, fret 3, picking a handful of strings (8 through 2), you'll 
immediately recognize Curly Chalker's and Stu Basore's sound. 
On C6th lapsteel I tune my 6th (bass) string back-n-forth from C# to Bb, and less of the time just C. By only raising pedal 
4 a half tone you've got a really nice dominant 7th chord (high and low). Pedals 5 and 6 pressed together give you the 
B11th tuning (but watch out for that high F change on string 2). A few players choose to raise string 2 from an E to an F 
note with a knee instead (to enable them to play a full B11th tuning with pedals 5 and 6 down). Pedal 5 gives you the 
D9th tuning. The B11tuning is really a Diminished Chord. So I view pedals 5 and 6 used together as my Diminished pedals. 
Diminished chords repeat every 3 frets up or down the neck, which is very important to are to make full use of the 
C6th tuning. Stu Basore really shows the pretty things that can be done with these combined pedals 5,6, and 7 starting 
at 3:03 in this video. Remember, Stu has a E on top, not a D or G as most do. I like the E, which makes it like a lap steel. 
Stu put the D on the bottom instead, on string 9 between the C on 10 and the F on string 8. 
Amazing C6th Pedal Steel 

Chord Structures

  1   3   5 6 7  
Key of C: C D E F G A B C
Key of A: A B C# D E F# G# A
Key of B: B C# D# E F# G# A# B
Key of C: C D E F G A B C
Key of D: D E F# G A B C# D
Key of E: E F# G# A B C# D# E
Key of F: F G A Bb C D E F
Key of G: G A B C D E F# G

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