Steel guitar is a type of guitar or the method of playing the instrument. Developed in Hawaii by Joseph Kekuku in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a steel guitar is usually positioned horizontally; strings are plucked with one hand, while the other hand changes the pitch of one or more strings with the use of a bar or slide called a steel (generally made of metal, but also of glass or other materials).
Steel guitar became visible outside of Hawaii in the early 20th century as Hawaiian steel guitarists such as Frank Ferera and Sol Hoʻopiʻi brought the instrument to North American theaters and nightclubs. On commercially records released through the 1920s and early 1930s, Hawaiian steel guitarists such as Ferera, Ho'opi'i, "King" Bennie_Nawahi, Sol K. Bright and others recorded a mix of Hawaiian folk music standards, such as "Wahine Ui" and "Tu-Tu-E-, Tu-Tu-Hoi", and North American popular songs, which often had Hawaiian- or tropical-themed lyrics. These guitarists performed on either traditional acoustic guitars played as lap steel guitars, or on acoustic resonator guitars, which were prized for the extra volume they could produce. As electric lap steels became widely available in the mid-1930s, some artists like Ho'opi'i switched to the new electric instruments.
North American popular music had included hits with Hawaiian-themed English lyrics as early as 1905, when Sonny Cunha had his first hit song, "My Honolulu Tomboy". Hawaiian-themed popular songs (referred to by some Hawaiian musicians as "hapa haole" music, meaning "mixed" or "half-foreign" music) continued to be successful in North America into the 1930s and 1940s, and often featured steel guitar in the musical arrangements. For example, the 1933 hit "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii" was recorded by a number of artists, including the Noelani Hawaiian Orchestra, which featured steel guitar. Popular singers such Louis Armstrong (e.g. "On A Coconut Island" from 1936), Fats Waller (e.g. "Why do Hawaiians sing Aloha" from 1937), and Bing Crosby (e.g. "Blue Hawaii" from 1937) recorded Hawaiian-themed popular songs during the 1930s featuring steel guitar.
Steel guitar began showing up in country music as early as the 1920s. For example, Jimmie Rodgers featured acoustic steel guitar in his song "Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues" (1929).
The earliest use of an electrified steel guitar was in the early 1930s by Bob Dunn of Milton Brown and His Brownies, a western swing band. In the mid- to late-1930s, Leon McAuliffe advanced steel guitar technique while playing in the western swing band Bob Wills. McAuliffe's 1936 composition "Steel Guitar Rag" helped to popularize the steel guitar in the context of 1930s and 1940s country and western music. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the steel guitar was prominently featured in the emerging "honky tonk" style of country music. Honky tonk singers who used steel guitar in their musical arrangements included Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Webb Pierce. Steel guitar continued to be associated with country music throughout the rest of the 20th century, in country styles including countrypolitan, bluegrass, outlaw country, and others.
Steel guitar has been incorporated into songs and compositions across many genres of music. Steel guitar has been featured in swing music (e.g., the work of bandleader Alvino Rey), rock (e.g., Steely Dan's "Razor Boy", and Beck's "Sissyneck"), soul (e.g., The Spinners' "Sadie"), reggae (e.g., Toots & The Maytals' "Beautiful Woman"), jazz (e.g., Bill Frisell's Blues Dream album), Indian classical music (e.g., the music of guitarist Shrikrishan Sharma), gospel music (particularly in the sacred steel tradition), and in many other genres of music.
Steel guitar can describe:
Steel guitar refers to a method of playing on a guitar held horizontally, with the treble strings uppermost and the bass strings towards the player, and using a type of slide called a steel above the fingerboard rather than fretting the strings with the fingers. This may be done with any guitar, but is most common on instruments designed and produced for this style of play, typically with painted lines instead of frets, since the strings are much too high to be fretted. Playing a steel guitar with a steel can be quite challenging, and great (non-pedal) steel players are few and far between, because of some of the techniques involved such as slanting the bar, palm damping, thumb damping, and unique styles of picking are not easily mastered.
The technique was invented and popularized in Hawaii. Thus, the lap steel guitar is sometimes known as the Hawaiian guitar, particularly in documents from the early 20th century, and today any steel guitar is frequently called a Hawaiian steel guitar. However, Hawaiian guitar often refers to slack key guitar, played in the conventional or Spanish position, using a conventional fretted guitar in various open tunings, generally with the strings tuned considerably lower than usual. Steel guitar tunings tend to feature close intervals (2nds and 3rds) whereas slack key tunings more often contain 4ths and 5ths.
Dobro is a brand of resonator guitars, but the word is most often used to describe bluegrass instruments of several different brands. Tunings and techniques are similar to acoustic Hawaiian steel guitar playing, but have evolved somewhat differently in the bluegrass idiom, which generally involves faster picking and changes than Hawaiian music does.
Bottleneck guitar may have actually developed from Steel guitar technique. It is similar, with the exception that the guitar is held in the conventional position, and a different, tubular form of slide is slipped over the middle or ring finger or pinky to accommodate this playing position. The slide is almost never slanted. Common bottleneck tunings are open D and E chords.
A steel guitar is one designed to be played in steel-guitar fashion.
Historically, these have been of many types, but two dominate:
The lap steel guitar typically has 6 strings (and sometimes 8) and may have various tunings. Originally the 'standard' EBGDAE tuning was changed to allow 'open' i.e. major chord tunings to accommodate using the straight steel bar and not require changing string gauges. Currently a new generation of musicians use open tunings (e.g. Open D), but typically, Hawaiian music for virtually the last 100 years has used more complex tunings once musicians could manipulate bars to execute diagonal barrings, both forward and back. Hawaiian tunings evolved from A Major and E Major to E7, C sharp Minor, C sharp Minor 9th, F sharp Minor 9th, B11th and the popular E 13th. Jerry Byrd is credibly the originator of the C6+A7 tuning ECAGEC sharp(CA) which allows a wider ranging of chording for Hawaiian and many other forms of modern music. (Reference Needed) It differs from a conventional or Spanish guitar in having a higher action and often a neck that is square in cross section. The frets, unused in steel style playing, may be replaced by markers.
There are three main types:
Early lap steel guitars were Spanish guitars modified by raising both the bridge and head nut. The string height at the head nut was raised to about half an inch by using a head nut converter or converter nut. This type of guitar is claimed to have been invented in about 1889 by Joseph Kekuku in Hawaii.
Some lap slide guitars, particularly those of Weissenborn and their imitators, have two 6-string necks, but electric and resonator lap steel guitars are normally single neck instruments.
Square-necked resonator guitars are always played in lap steel fashion, and so are specialized lap steel guitars. Round-necked varieties can be played in lap steel fashion, with some restrictions on the available tunings, but can also be played in Spanish position.
The console steel guitar is an electric instrument, intermediate between the lap steel from which it developed and the pedal steel which in turn developed from the console steel. There are no pedals, so the player has only as many tunings available as there are necks.
The development of the lap steel guitar into the console steel guitar saw the introduction of amplification as standard, multiple necks, and additional strings on each neck, first to seven, and eight strings per neck is now common. One, two, three and four neck instruments are not uncommon. The two neck, eight string per neck configuration is particularly favored in Hawaiian music.
The distinction between console steel guitar and lap steel guitar is fuzzy at best, and some makers and authorities do not use the term console steel guitar at all, but refer to any steel guitar without pedals as a lap steel guitar even if playing it in lap steel position would be quite impossible.
The pedal steel guitar is an electric instrument normally with 8 to 14 strings per neck, and one or two necks, each in a different tuning. Up to ten pedals (not counting the volume pedal) and up to eight knee-levers are used to alter the tunings of different strings, which gives the instrument its distinctive voice, most often heard in country music.
The extra strings and use of pedals gives even a single neck pedal steel guitar far more versatility than any table steel guitar, but at the same time makes playing far more complex.
The type of slide, called a steel, which gives the technique its name, was probably originally made of steel. There is a legend that the first steel was a railroad track.
Another traditional and popular shape is a cylindrical-shaped steel bar balanced between the thumb and the middle finger. The forefinger provides varying degrees of pressure on the string. The cylindrical bar is most often used with the pedal-steel guitar.
The term "steel guitar" should not be confused with "steel-string acoustic guitar", which is a standard acoustic guitar that has steel rather than the nylon, catgut or brass/nickel strings used for classical guitar, and is built with extra bracing, a stronger neck, and higher-geared machine heads to compensate for the much higher tension of steel strings. The steel guitar takes its name from the type of slide used, not from the material of the strings.
Also, the term "steel guitar" does not describe what the guitar itself is made out of. Acoustic steel guitars used in Hawaiian music are made out of wood, and some resonator guitars are made out of steel or brass but aren't steel guitars due to the manner in which they are played.
The term "Hawaiian guitar" is often used for various types of steel guitar, but in Hawaiian music Hawaiian guitar means slack-key guitar, a way of tuning a steel stringed acoustic guitar which is then played in the conventional position.
See also: slide (guitar).
Buddy Gene Emmons (January 27, 1937 – July 21, 2015) was an American musician who is widely regarded as the world's foremost pedal steel guitarist of his day. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981.
Affectionately known by the nickname "Big E", Emmons' primary genre was American country music, but he also performed jazz and Western swing. He recorded with Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, The Everly Brothers, The Carpenters, Roger Miller, Ernest Tubb, John Hartford, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ray Price, Judy Collins, George Strait, John Sebastian, and Ray Charles and was a widely sought session musician in Nashville and Los Angeles.
Emmons made significant innovations to the steel guitar, adding two additional strings and an additional pedal, changes which have been adopted as standard in the modern-day instrument. His name is on a US patent for a mechanism to raise and lower the pitch of a string on a steel guitar and return to the original pitch without going out of tune. He won the Academy of Country Music's "Best Steel Guitarist" nine times, beginning in 1969.In 2013, two years before his death, he was honored by the Country Music Hall of Fame in a tribute called "The Big E: Salute to Buddy Emmons" featuring testimonials and performances by eminent musicians and hall of fame members.C6 tuning
C6 tuning is one of the most common tunings for steel guitar, both on single and multiple neck instruments. On a twin-neck, the most common set-up is C6 tuning on the near neck and E9 tuning on the far neck.
On a six-string neck, for example, on lap steel guitar, C6 tuning is most usually C-E-G-A-C-E, bass to treble and going away from the player. Some other six-string C6 tunings are:
C-A-C-G-C-EOn an eight-string neck, for example, on table steel guitar, popular C6 tunings are:
High C6 tuning A-C-E-G-A-C-E-G.
Low C6 tuning either:
F-A-C-E-G-A-C-E.On a ten-string neck, typical of pedal steel guitars, a popular C6 tuning is C-F-A-C-E-G-A-C-E-G, adding two bass strings to the high eight-string tuning, or one string on either side of the F-bass low tuning. This is sometimes called the "Texas tuning". Another frequent variant is the re-entrant C-F-A-C-E-G-A-C-E-D.
Kayton Roberts, a famous steel guitar player, used a modified C6 on his steel guitar's inside neck: A(low)-A-C#-E-G-A-C-E. On the outside neck he had F-C-Eb-G-F-A-C(though sometimes D)-F.Dan Dugmore
Dan Dugmore is an American session musician known primarily for playing the pedal steel guitar
Dugmore was raised in Pasadena, California. Influenced by the Flying Burrito Brothers, he learned to play steel guitar after Flying Burrito Brothers member Sneaky Pete Kleinow sold him one. Dugmore then joined John Stewart's road band, and then Linda Ronstadt's; he also played for several James Taylor albums. In the 1990s, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he began playing steel guitar on country music albums. He self-released a Beatles cover album in 2003 titled Off White Album.Dugmore also plays Dobro, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin.E9 tuning
E9 tuning is a common tuning for steel guitar necks of more than six strings. In particular, it is the most common tuning for the far neck on a two-neck table steel guitar or pedal steel guitar, most often combined with C6 tuning for the near neck, and also a popular tuning for single neck instruments of eight or more strings.
The E9 tuning has evolved to support optimal chord and scale patterns across a single fret on the 10-string pedal steel guitar.
Corresponding tunings for a six string lap steel guitar are the E6 tuning E-G#-B-C#-E-G#, or E7 tuning B-D-E-G#-B-E.
A popular E9 tuning for eight string table steel guitar is the western swing tuning E-G#-B-D-F#-G#-B-E, low to high and near to far.
The standard Nashville E9 tuning for ten string pedal steel guitar is B-D-E-F#-G#-B-E-G#-D#-F#.John Hughey
John Hughey (December 27, 1933 – November 18, 2007) was an American musician. He was known for his work as a session pedal steel guitar player for various country music acts, most notably Vince Gill and Conway Twitty. A member of the Pedal Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, Hughey was known for a distinctive playing style called "crying steel", which focused primarily on the higher range of the guitar.KAMO-FM
KAMO-FM (94.3 FM) is a radio station broadcasting a Country music format. Licensed to Rogers, Arkansas, United States, it serves the Fayetteville (North West Arkansas) area. The station is currently owned by Cumulus Media. KAMO was once owned by Leon McAuliff who played steel guitar for Bob Wills, leader of the Texas Playboys.Lap steel guitar
The lap steel guitar is a type of steel guitar which is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position on the performer's lap or otherwise supported. The performer changes pitch by pressing a metal or glass bar against the strings as opposed to a traditional guitar where the performer's fingertips press the strings against frets. The bar placed against the strings is called a "steel" or "tone bar".
There are three types of lap steel guitars:
Acoustic lap steel guitar: The body resembles a traditional Spanish guitar. These were originally called "Hawaiian guitars", after the "slack-key" playing technique was popularized there in the late 1800s. These instruments are specifically designed to be played horizontally; i.e., the strings are higher off the fingerboard than a traditional guitar. Traditional guitars can be modified to play this way by using a "nut extender", a device to raise the strings.
National or Dobro-type guitars, which typically have reinforced square necks and feature a large aluminum cone, called a "resonator", to increase volume.
Electric lap steel guitars: These guitars are designed to be played horizontally and feature an electric pickup so they do not require any resonant chamber. Guitars in this category may differ markedly in external appearance and include instruments made from a rectangular solid block of wood. In addition to the lap-played model, a closely related version called a "console steel guitar” often featured more than one neck which made it too heavy to be played on the performer's lap. It is supported on legs (but does not include the pedals or knee levers of the pedal steel guitar). Electric lap steels typically have six, eight or up to ten strings.Music of Polynesia
Polynesia is a group of island chains spread across much of the Pacific Ocean, and includes many countries and territories. Internationally, Polynesian music is mostly associated with twinkling guitars, grass skirts and beautiful relaxing sounds, Hawaiian hula and other tourist-friendly forms of music. While these elements are justifiably a part of Polynesian history and Polynesian culture, there is actually a wide variety of music made in the far-flung reaches of Polynesia.National String Instrument Corporation
The National String Instrument Corporation was a guitar company that formed to manufacture the first resonator guitars. National also produced resonator ukuleles and mandolins.Norm Hamlet
Norm Hamlet is an American steel guitarist and a member of Merle Haggard's The Strangers band for the past 43 years.Hamlet was born on February 27, 1935 in Woodville, California. He began playing guitar in his teens and played throughout North Central California for a number of years with several groups, before going to Bakersfield, California in 1965 where he became an influential part of the Bakersfield sound. He has won many awards, including induction into the Western Swing Society hall of fame in Sacramento, California and the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.In 2005 Hamlet had quadruple heart bypass surgery and recovered well at his home in Bakersfield, California. As of October 18, 2015, Hamlet continued to tour with Haggard until Haggard's death in April 2016 and is now touring with Haggard's sons, Noel and Ben.Paul Franklin (musician)
Paul V. Franklin (born May 31, 1954) is an American multi-instrumentalist, known mainly for his work as a steel guitarist. He began his career in the 1970s as a member of Barbara Mandrell's road band; in addition he toured with Vince Gill, Mel Tillis, Jerry Reed and Dire Straits. He has since become a prolific session musician in Nashville, Tennessee, playing on more than 500 albums. He has been named by the Academy of Country Music as Best Steel Guitarist on several occasions. In addition to the pedal steel guitar and lap steel guitar, Franklin plays Dobro, fiddle, and drums, as well as three custom-built instruments called the Pedabro, The Box, and the baritone steel guitar.Pedal steel guitar
The pedal steel guitar is a console-type of steel guitar with pedals and levers which enable playing more varied and complex music than other steel guitar designs. Like them, it can play unlimited glissandi (sliding notes) and deep vibrati—characteristics it shares with the human voice. Pedal steel is most commonly associated with American country music.
Pedals and knee levers were added to a steel guitar in the 1950s, allowing the performer to play scales without moving the bar and also to push the pedals while striking a chord, making passing notes slur or bend up into harmony with existing notes. The latter creates a unique sound that has been particularly embraced by country and western music—a sound not previously possible on a non-pedal steel guitar of any type.
From its first use in Hawaii in the 19th century, the steel guitar sound became popular in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and spawned a family of instruments designed specifically to be played with the guitar in a horizontal position, also known as "Hawaiian-style". The first instrument in this chronology was the Hawaiian guitar also called a lap steel; next was a lap steel with a resonator to make it louder, first made by National and Dobro Corporation. The electric guitar pickup was invented in 1934, allowing steel guitars to be heard equally with other instruments. Electronic amplification enabled subsequent development of the electrified lap steel, then the console steel, and finally the pedal steel guitar.
Playing the pedal steel has unusual physical requirements in requiring simultaneous coordination of both hands, both feet and both knees (knees operate levers on medial and lateral sides of each knee); the only other instrument with similar requirements is the American reed organ. Pioneers in development of the instrument include Buddy Emmons, Bud Isaacs, Zane Beck, and Paul Bigsby. In addition to American country music and Hawaiian music, the instrument is common in sacred music (called Sacred Steel), jazz, Nigerian Music, and Indian music.Pete Drake
Roddis Franklin Drake (October 8, 1932 – July 29, 1988) professionally known as Pete Drake, was a Nashville-based American record producer and pedal steel guitar player.One of the most sought-after backup musicians of the 1960s, Drake played on such hits as Lynn Anderson's "Rose Garden", Charlie Rich's "Behind Closed Doors"' Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay"' and Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man".Poco
Poco is an American country rock band originally formed by Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Rusty Young. Formed following the demise of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Poco was part of the first wave of the West Coast country rock genre. The title of their first album, Pickin' Up the Pieces, is a reference to the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. Throughout the years Poco has performed in various groupings and is still active.Ralph Mooney
Ralph Mooney (September 16, 1928 – March 20, 2011) was a well-known steel guitar player. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1983. He was the original steel guitarist in the Strangers.
A native of Duncan, Oklahoma, Mooney became a key figure in the country music scene around Bakersfield, California. He played on many records associated with the
Bakersfield sound, including Wynn Stewart's "Wishful Thinking", Buck Owens' "Under Your Spell Again" and Merle Haggard's "Swinging Doors". He and guitarist James Burton released an instrumental album called Corn Pickin' and Slick Slidin' in 1968.Mooney played with many other country artists and was a member of Waylon Jennings' band for two decades. Jennings would often transition to Mooney's instrumentals with the lyrics, "Pick it, Moon".
Though best known for his instrumental work, Mooney co-wrote "Crazy Arms" with Chuck Seals; the song was Ray Price's first No. 1 country hit in 1956. Mooney said he wrote the song in 1949 while living in Las Vegas, getting the idea after his wife left him because of his drinking problem.Tyler Mayhan Coe dedicated a full episode of his podcast Cocaine & Rhinestones to Mooney.Resonator guitar
A resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar that produces sound by conducting string vibrations through the bridge to one or more spun metal cones (resonators), instead of to the guitar's sounding board (top). Resonator guitars were originally designed to be louder than regular acoustic guitars, which were overwhelmed by horns and percussion instruments in dance orchestras. They became prized for their distinctive tone, however, and found life with bluegrass music and the blues well after electric amplification solved the problem of inadequate volume.
Resonator guitars are of two styles:
Square-necked guitars played in lap steel guitar style
Round-necked guitars played in conventional guitar style or steel guitar styleThere are three main resonator designs:
The tricone, with three metal cones, designed by the first National company
The single-cone "biscuit" design of other National instruments
The single inverted-cone design (also known as a spider bridge) of Dobro brand instruments and instruments that copy the Dobro designMany variations of all these styles and designs have been produced under many brand names. The body of a resonator guitar may be made of wood, metal, or occasionally other materials. Typically there are two main sound holes, positioned on either side of the fingerboard extension. In the case of single-cone models, the sound holes are either both circular or both f-shaped, and symmetrical. The older tricone design has irregularly shaped sound holes. Cutaway body styles may truncate or omit the lower f-hole.Slide guitar
Slide guitar is a particular technique for playing the guitar that is often used in blues-style music. The technique involves placing an object against the strings while playing to create glissando effects and deep vibratos. It typically involves playing the guitar in the traditional position (flat against the body) with the use of a tubular "slide" fitted on one of the guitarist's fingers. The slide may be a metal or glass tube, such as the neck of a bottle. The term "bottleneck" was historically used to describe this type of playing. The strings are typically plucked while the slide is moved over the strings to change the pitch. The guitar may also be placed on the player's lap and played with a hand-held bar and is then referred to as "lap slide guitar" or "lap steel guitar".
Creating music with a slide of some type has been traced back to primitive stringed instruments in African culture and also to the origin of the steel guitar in Hawaii. Near the beginning of the twentieth century, blues musicians in the Mississippi Delta popularized the bottleneck slide guitar style, and the first recording of slide guitar was by Sylvester Weaver in 1923. Since the 1930s, performers including Robert Nighthawk, Earl Hooker, Elmore James and Muddy Waters popularized slide guitar in the electric blues genre and influenced later slide guitarists in the rock genre including the Rolling Stones, Duane Allman and Ry Cooder. Lap slide guitar pioneers include Oscar "Buddy" Woods, "Black Ace" Turner and Freddie Roulette.Sol Hoʻopiʻi
Sol Hoʻopiʻi (Hawaiian pronunciation: [ˌhoʔoˈpiʔi]) (1902–16 November 1953) was born Solomon Hoʻopiʻi Kaʻaiʻai in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was a Native Hawaiian guitarist, claimed by many as the all-time best lap steel guitar virtuoso, and he is one of the most famous original Hawaiian steel guitarists, along with Joseph Kekuku, Frank Ferera, Sam Ku West and "King" Bennie Nawahi.Teach Your Children
"Teach Your Children" is a song by Graham Nash. Although it was written when Nash was a member of the Hollies, it was never recorded by that group in studio (a live recording does exist), and first appeared on the album Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released in 1970. The recording features Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar. Garcia taught himself how to play the instrument during his tenure with the New Riders of the Purple Sage. He told Lon Goddard of the British music newspaper Record Mirror in an interview that he recorded a series of pieces on the steel guitar and spliced them together in the studio to create the backing and solo. Garcia had made an arrangement that in return for his playing steel guitar on "Teach Your Children," CSNY would help members of the Grateful Dead improve their vocal harmony for their upcoming albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty. Released as a single, the song peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts that year. On the Easy Listening chart, "Teach Your Children" peaked at #28. In Canada, "Teach Your Children" reached number 8.Nash, who is also a photographer and collector of photographs, has stated in an interview that the immediate inspiration for the song came from a famous photograph by Diane Arbus, "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park." The image, which depicts a child with an angry expression holding the toy weapon, prompted Nash to reflect on the societal implications of messages given to children about war and other issues.