The Tunings that I use:
Tunings are a heavily discussed topic in the steel guitar world. Unlike standard guitar you have to pick a tuning before you even get started. I receive many questions in regards which tunings I use, why I use it, what's the best tuning for Hawaiian Music, etc.
My standard advice is that you should ask yourself what kind of style you want to play. If you are interested in the early style of Sol Hoopii use the tuning he used, Highbass A, if you want to sound like Jerry Byrd use C6. The best way learning this instrument is by learning songs, in the longterm you should be able to lift parts of your favourite players directly from the recordings. If you use the same tuning this makes it way more simple. I have two tunings that I mainly use:
A-Highbass is the early version of the infamous Dobro tuning that is very popular these days. It is the very same tuning only tuned up a wholestep. It looks like this (High to Low):
Highbass vs Lowbass
The Highbass tuning is constructed in stacking two Major Triads on each other, the Lowbass Tuning is different for the Bassstrings 5 and 6:
That means that you have a wider bass-range, very useful if you like bluesy sounding Powerchords, and it is very useful if you play the self accompaniment style.
But, single notes are more far apart in the lower register and you miss some very nice chordal options, great thing about having the symetrical Highbass tuning is that strings 1-3 are the same as 4-6, it is a bit easier to learn the notes on the fretboard.
A vs G tuning
This is another questions that I get quite often. Why are you using that weird A-Tuning ? Thing is, I started out as a Dobro player and used G, when I played more and more Hawaiian tunes and switched from a Dobro to a Tricone I still played G, almost all of the teaching material that was available was written in G, most probably to get the Dobro players on board. After a while I thought there might be a reason why all the greats used A instead of G, (in a similar way that Hendrix and Van Halen tuned down a halfstep) and so I ordered strings that would be more suitable for the higher notes. I liked it quite a bit, the Tricone cut through the band a bit better, and, when I transcribe songs from the masters I don't have to detune the songs a wholestep first before I get started. When I use my 2nd main tuning C#minor I have to detune two strings a halfstep, you could do the same thing using G-Tuning and tuning it to B-Minor,
but that sounds too dark to my ears. Deciding to switch to A was no effort from my side, but my band complained since they all had to relearn our repertoire one wholestep up : ) .
To sum it up, the only real difference is a slightly tonal one, you are perfectly fine using G for playing Hawaiian Style, Ken Emerson is using it and sounds fantastic. That is why if offer all my Tabs in A and G, the Downloads contain both versions, so you can experiment with it and decide what you like better.
When Sol Hoopii changed from his Tricone to Electric he developed a new tuning, called C#Minor.
The great thing about it is, that it is very easy to get there from Highbass A-Tuning, you only lower strings 3 and 6 by an halfstep. It is spelled out like this:
This tuning offers you a total different world of sounds and chords, it has a very distinctive lush and pure sound, I absolutely love it. Sol used a slightly different version of it (Hi to lo) E C# G# E B E but with my version I can play 90% of the stuff Sol and Dick McIntire was using, so two very different and powerful tunings using only one guitar. C#minor was a very hip tuning in the 40s, besides Hoopii and McIntire it was used by Sol K Bright, King Bennie Nawahi, Andy Iona and many others.
For A and C#minor I use the same set of strings:
I use 16/18/22 (all plain) and 30/39/47 (wound). I order the plains as single strings (rather cheap) and use the the lowest 3 basstrings from this set:
Daddario EFT 15
What I like about these stings is that they sound quite warm and produce less bar noise.
On my Electric Steel Guitars I use very similar gauges, it really depends on you personal preferences and the scale length of the instrument that you are using.
John Ely has a Strings Gauge Chart on his excellent website:
That is a great starting point, order some single strings in different gauges and try out what you like best.
For Electrics I use standard roundwound strings.
Steelbar and Fingerpicks
I use a Bullet type Steel bar, the Dunlop 918 and Dunlop plastic finger and thumbpicks size L