Strictly speaking, a steel guitar is any guitar made out of metal, which means it can be a resonator guitar used for the blues and Americana music, a lap steel guitar popular with those who play Hawaiian music, or a venerable pedal steel, which is what gives country-western music and Texas swing their distinctive sounds.
While the first resonator guitars made in the 1920s only featured an aluminum amplifying cone where the guitar's sound hole would be, subsequent resonators had all-aluminum bodies. Resonators grew out of the popularity of the acoustic guitar in the 1920s—the amplification helped them be heard over louder instruments such as banjos.
The invention of the resonator is widely credited to John Dopyera who, in the mid-1920s, developed an amplifying system for ukuleles. He founded the National String Instrument Corporation in August 1926 with his brothers Rudy, Robert, Louis, and Emil, and their company would use John’s system to produce “ampliphonic” or “self-amplifying” guitars, known today as resonators. But Dopyera was frustrated with the sound his uke-sized resonator produced when fitted on guitars so, in 1929, he left National and founded Dobro Manufacturing.
Lap-played steel guitars produced by Gibson, Epiphone, and National were produced in the 1930s to cash in on the craze at the time for Hawaiian music. Fender and Gretsch also produced lap-steel guitars (some of which were misnomers since they had stands), but not until the 1940s. Because these guitars lacked sound holes for natural amplification, even the earliest models were electric—Gibsons like the E-150 and Roy Smeck Special, both of which had Charlie Christian pickups, are especially prized by collectors today.
Finally there are pedal steel guitars, single neck or double, which are mounted on stands and fitted with anywhere from four to 10 pedals, each of which can change the pitch of selected strings. Vintage Fender steel guitars, with or without pedals, are favorites of players and collectors alike, as are Sho-Bud instruments—the fingerboards of Sho-Buds are known for their inlay of diamonds, spades, hearts and clubs.
Regardless of the type of steel guitar played, one thing they all have in common is that the player needs to be adept at finger picking—these instruments are not meant to be strumed. In addition, instead of using the non-picking hand to push down the strings to produce chords, the player holds a tube—sometimes made of steel, sometimes glass—lightly against the strings. The tube is slid up and down the fingerboard, which is why the technique is also known as slide guitar.
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Live music in New Orleans for Fri., April 18, 2014: Jo 'Cool' Davis, Helen GilletThe Times-Picayune, April 17th
Colin Lake is an incendiary, blues-based guitarist who does much of his wailing on a lap-steel guitar. Helen Gillet, Carrollton Station, 9:30 p.m.. Since 2003, cellist Helen Gillet has lent her idiosyncratic talents to the local music scene. Drawing on...Read more
Lib at Large: Rediscovering Jesse DeNatale, 'the Bard of Tomales Bay'Marin Independent Journal, April 17th
He was backed by a quartet of Tom Heyman, guitar and pedal steel; Kirk Charles Heydt, tenor saxophone and guitar; bassist Paul Olguin and drummer Andrew Griffin. It was the first time I'd seen him onstage in a long time. He played a new, as yet...Read more
Stagecoach: There's a Lot of Classic Rock in The Wild Feathers' Classic ...Coachella Valley Independent, April 17th
The Wild Feathers are Ricky Young (vocals, guitar), Joel King, Taylor Burns (vocals, guitar), Preston Wimberly (lead guitar/pedal-steel guitar) and Ben Dumas (drums). “Me and Ricky knew each other in Nashville,” King said. “We got together and wrote...Read more
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to play in CharlotteCharlotte Observer, April 17th
“I never ask when,” says Lofgren, 62, who switches up between pedal steel, banjo, and bottle neck guitar with four guitarists on stage, “I just think, 'Wow. I'm exhausted. Maybe someone should get me a double espresso.' “We're all taking our cue from...Read more
Junior Brown headlining 280 BoogieAuburn Villager, April 17th
Junior Brown will fashion his signature “guit steel” double neck guitar, an electric and lap-steel guitar hybrid, to his country music stylings as this year's headliner. “He's going to lay some people out,” says Standard Deluxe owner Scott Peek, who is...Read more
Chuck Ragan and his Camaraderie combo head for Asbury ParkAsbury Park Press, April 17th
On Saturday, April 19, Ragan returns to Asbury Park as part of the inaugural American tour with his Americana combo, the Camaraderie: guitarist/pedal steel player Todd Beene, fiddler Jon Gaunt, bassist Joe Ginsberg and drummer David Hidalgo Jr. of...Read more
Baptized in BluesKankakee Daily Journal, April 17th
her band will be playing a Friends of the Blues show at 7 p.m. today at the Moose Lodge in Bradley. Mack is from Rochester, Minn., and her band's guitar work is fresh and captivating, and the vocals are extraordinary with background harmony...Read more
ISSUE 84: Spinning Steel Into GoldOxford American, April 15th
The space was dimly lit, but I immediately saw what I had come for—in a semi-circle stood five pedal steel guitars, two double-necks and three singles, each a waist-high oblong box on four metal legs topped with what resembled a guitar neck, except...Read more