How to Play Pedal Steel Guitar, An Introduction: A blog about the history of pedal steel guitars as well as how to learn.
Pedal steel guitar is probably one of the most difficult musical instruments in existence. Just the process of learning how to play is daunting. The tuning can be a nightmare and the technique is complicated. Then there are all those pedals and levers, what do they do?
Most people associate pedal steel with country music and they are right, it is used mainly in country music styles; however it did not originate in country music. The first pedal steel guitar was designed by Bud Isaacs and was introduced in 1949 with only three pedals. Other companies quickly followed suit and by the early 1950’s there were several on the market.
In 1953 Jimmie Webster created a double neck version that enabled players to have two tunings at their disposal. This made it possible for them to play songs in different keys without having to stop and change tuning which gave birth to the modern pedal steel guitar as we know it today.
This is a blog about learning how to play pedal steel guitar. I’ll be writing about the history of the instrument as well as giving tips on how to get started.
Pedal Steel Guitar is a uniquely American instrument. It’s popularity began in the 1940’s and has grown ever since. You can find it in all types of music, but it’s most prominently featured in Country and Western music.
With 10 strings, 3 knee levers, and 3 pedals (hence the name) it is one of the most complex instruments to play. The learning curve is steep, but once you’re up on top it’s a blast!
The pedal steel guitar is a console-type of steel guitar with pedals and levers added to enable playing more varied and complex music which had not been possible with antecedent steel guitar designs. Like other steel guitars, it shares the ability to play unlimited glissandi (slides) and deep vibrati—characteristics in common with the human voice.
Pedal steel guitars are typically plucked with a thumbpick and fingers, or two or three fingerpicks. The distinctive feature of pedal steel guitars are the namesake pedals as well as knee levers. While there are some fairly pedal/lever-less lap steel guitars, such as Ben Harper’s “Resophonic” model, the term “pedal steel guitar” without qualification almost always refers to an instrument with pedals and levers.
The word “steel” comes from a piece of polished steel held against the strings and moved by the player to change the pitch. Tuning systems differ among players: E9 is most common in country, A6 or C6 (i.e., C6th tuning) in pop, rock & roll and Hawaiian music, and B11 in jazz.
Pedal steel guitar is a type of steel guitar which is typically played with pedals and levers instead of the conventional guitar fret board. Now, it is used in many country and rock music bands. Alternate names are pedal steel, lap steel, console steel, and the generic term “steel guitar”.
The pedal steel guitar has its origins in Hawaii where the native musicians added a raised nut to the standard Spanish acoustic guitar in order to raise the strings above the fingerboard for easier playing (slack-key tuning). In later years, after being brought to the United States mainland, this guitar was adapted to be played with a slide (the predecessor to today’s lap steel guitar).
In 1927, Paul Bigsby invented what came to be known as the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece for electric guitars. The Bigsby vibrato tailpiece was an innovation which greatly improved both tone and sustain when used on an electric lead or lap steel guitar. It is not to be confused with a whammy bar or a Floyd Rose tremolo system which is found on solid body electric guitars.
Pedal Steel Guitar is also known as Steel Guitar. It is a slide guitar that uses pedals and levers to alter the pitch of the strings, rather than the player moving the slide (as in lap steel guitar).
The pedal steel guitar was developed from the console steel guitar. The console steel guitar was a patented design by P.A. Beck in 1937 that was later refined and patented by Joaquin Murphey in 1939. The idea behind the console steel guitar was to create a instrument that looked similar to a grand piano, with multiple necks and strings, where the player could control the pitch with his or her feet as well as their hands. But because of its size and cumbersome levers, it wasn’t very popular with musicians.
Paul Bigsby, an innovative craftsman and musician who worked on motorcycles and motorcycles parts before he started making guitars, came up with a smaller version of this console steel guitar in 1948 which used foot-controlled knee levers instead of foot-controlled pedals like those found on a piano. These knee levers could be moved under the players legs to change pitch.
Pedal steel guitar is a type of electric steel guitar that is built on a stand with pedals and knee levers that change the pitch of certain strings as the player “pushes” and “pulls” the steel bar from different positions.
The pedal steel guitar is one of the most versatile instruments in American music because it can be adapted to many different styles, like country, blues, jazz, pop, rock, soul and gospel.
The pedal steel guitar is a very complex instrument to play; hence, it takes much time to learn. Learning takes patience and dedication. It is very important to keep track of your progress by writing down what you are working on and how long it takes you to accomplish each goal.