How to Tune the Knee Levers on a Pedal Steel Guitar

Learn how to tune the knee levers on a pedal steel guitar in this Howcast video.

Okay, now, about tuning the knee levers. As we discussed previously with the pedals, everything goes on over here when it comes to tuning the things that change the pitch of the strings. So, in this case, we’ve got five knee levers, and the first one we’re going to work on is the one affecting raising the E strings.

Okay, you’ve got two E strings, and this left knee lever going left raises them to F. Now here’s the big shocker about this whole kind of temperament situation. You’re E’s are 442 1/2. Your F’s are going to be 435 1/2. That’s a huge, that seven cents difference. It just happens to be that if you tuned the F to 440, it would sound bad. And this is the compromise, the temperament compromise that we make, and it sounds pretty good, so that using a combination of the A pedal and the E lever, you have a, if you’re playing a G chord [plays guitar], move up three frets, raise the E to F, and engage the A pedal [plays guitar], so that sounds fine. And that is at 435 1/2.

So, let’s just make sure that we actually do have that. My E is coming in just a tiny bit sharp. Yeah, 442 1/2, okay, that’s good. All right. The E lever is engaged. All right. It’s actually a tiny bit sharp. Now, remember what I told you, that these things, when you increase the effect of something, you’re not necessarily going higher, you’re not raising anything. You’re increasing the amount of effect that the pedal has.

So, in this particular case, you are raising the string, and you just want less of that effect to occur. So we’re going to lower this a little bit. These increments are subtle, and you should never do a whole 360, I mean, that should have a very very significant effect. Okay, just this very slight tweeze I did is giving us the 435 1/2 that we want. And we’re going to go now, while we’re at it, to the low E, because it has the same effect. And we want the same result, and you want it to be 435 1/2. And there we go. Okay. So that’s the F, that’s the E to F, this is called the F lever, because that’s what it does.

The next lever over here is going to lower the strings. So the first thing we’ve run into that actually has a lowering effect. And this is going to lower the Es to D sharp. So, because we want to increase the lowering effect we are going to go clockwise, because we’re sharp. And this D sharp should be, actually, no, actually, it’s exactly right on the money. It’s just ever so slightly… No, it’s fine. Now let’s see what happened. Okay, this one is also perfect.

So, the next knee lever is the, this is the effect several strings. So it has several different roles. The first thing is does is lower your sixth string a whole step. So, our sixth string is supposed to be around 439, and that’s exactly where it is. So, now, if we lower it, this chart actually does not have a feature for this, so I’m just sort of basically tuning it to the next string, which is a whole step down, G sharp down to F sharp. Hey, we have an F sharp right here. Got a pretty respectable unison going on here. So that works for me. Another thing you want to keep in mind is that this last knee lever is the right knee lever going right. And this has an effect on the second and ninth strings. It’s a rather unusual arrangement, the second string is the first to experience a change. And it goes down to D. But what you can also do if you just keep going, both strings go down to a C sharp. So, the first half of the trip is done only by the second string as it meets the ninth string. You start with this very discordant half step interval, suddenly they’re in unison, and you keep going if you need to, and go all the way down.

That pretty much handles the tuning of the knee levers and, again, there’s different tuning approaches, your ear is going to be your guide, ultimately. But this is according to the Newman chart, and it works for me.