F:59, A:46, C:42, E:34, G:26, B:21, D:15, F#:13
I’ve been tweaking my tuning for over 15 years and probably will continue to do so for the rest of my life. As my playing evolves so too do my needs. That said, I’m pretty happy with this current configuration (maybe my search is over? . . . ). The sequential series of major 3rd – minor 3rd make line playing extremely comfortable for two reasons: 1. Because the strings are arranged in a simple and symmetrical pattern the same shapes recur all over the neck making it very easy to transpose to different keys or register. 2. Since the strings are arranged in a series of alternating major and minor arpeggios, chords and scales fall quite naturally under the bar. Harmonically there’s a lot to play with as well. The bottom seven strings produce a Major7 (9,#11,13) chord and the top seven a minor7 (9,11,13) chord. Another way to think about it is that if you group the strings in batches of four you alternate between Major7 and Minor7 chords. And those are just the possibilities with a straight bar. If you do a slant on any of the triads (keeping the same bottom voice) you go up a forth. So there are a lot of nice full chords all over the place making it very comfortable to play a myriad of styles. Sure seems like my journey’s over (please, please, please!).
I’m extremely proud to have teamed up with master builder Chris Fouke from Fouke Industrial Guitars to create a signature model, The Freedman 8.
One of the my favorite characteristics of his steels is that they’re completely hollow. While not specifically designed to be played acoustically they actually have a relatively decent volume when unplugged. I once did a gig in a large sanctuary with no amp. It was a super duper quiet set of mostly vocal music plus me, but I was well heard and my tone was great. That said, the aluminum sheets that make up the top and bottom of the body are so dense that even at extremely loud volumes feedback is not an issue. I’ll never forget a show I did on the bed of an 18 wheeler in Vermont. I sat on a Blues Junior cranked to 10 that was one channel from my volume pedal while at my feet was my Laney, also at 10. At the time I remember thinking two thing, this is probably the best tone I’ll ever have in my entire life, and, I can’t believe I’m not feeding back!
Early design of the Freedman 8
One of the custom features we’ve added is a killswitch. A rare option completely unidiomatic to the steel. It’s as contrary to the long, lush, swelling sounds associated with the instrument as you can get. The dramatic electric interruptions to the pitches coupled with the microtonal possibilities transport the familiar timbres of the steel to those of an analog synth. Or, at least, it can among other effects!
I’m extremely proud of this instrument and am honored to have it share my name. I can’t wait to hear what others do with it.
Ten Rules of the lap steel:
1. If you accompany a guitar player who’s out of tune, you’ll take the fall.
2. The lap steel is an instrument that loves community. It wants to be played in as many different contexts as possible. This means you must take yours with you everywhere you go on the off (or likely) chance you’ll get to play with someone else when in the world. If anyone asks what’s in the case, don’t tell them, show them.
3. A well played steel spends a lot of time emitting sound waves in close proximity to your baby making organs. This carries a lot of weight for future generations. Even if you think no one is listening, you must always play with love in your heart.
4. Accept that “Proper” intonation is an illusion.
5. Don’t accept that the perfect tuning doesn’t exist.
6. Never change your strings. If you ever break one, make sure to treat the new one with enough of your sweat so that it sounds like it’s yours as soon as possible (definitely before your next gig). In dire circumstances this may require spending time on treadmill for a few hours with your steel near by.
7. Play like you’re in a religious band, no matter what.
8. Keep your main steel out of its case and in plain sight when at home.
9. Lap steel players often don’t know too many tunes but lap steels know thousands of them. Spend enough time with yours every day to coax those melodies out.
10. The country musicians were right: this is the Wild West. There are no rules. If you wanna play the thing upside down because you think it sounds better or makes more sense, DO IT! The golden age of the steel hasn’t gone, it’s coming.
My Fouke Industrial Guitar Family: