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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Recent News: Steel Guitars

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Tanner Young Wins 'Rising Legend' award for country music
Durant Daily Democrat, October 21st

Tanner has been playing and singing old country, bluegrass and gospel music for about seven years and has taught himself play guitar, mandolin, dobro, fiddle, banjo, bass and lap steel. Among his musical influences are country music legends Marty ...Read more

Wilco at The Cap: What to expect; listen to lohud playlists
The Journal News | LoHud.com, October 21st

Central songwriter Jeff Tweedy and his collective have expanded the rock genre's palate by deconstructing radio-friendly guitar riffs with layered atmosphere and swelling arrangements. Wilco has also released some of the catchiest indie songs of both...Read more

Junior Brown @Randy Wood's Pickin Parlor Concert Hall
Connect Savannah.com, October 21st

Junior Brown, dubbed “#1 House Rocker” by Guitar Player Magazine, has spent his career pushing the boundaries of Country-Western music, throwing in rock 'n' roll, Hawaiian, and Western Swing influences. A beloved fixture of the Austin scene, Brown...Read more

The Muse November Sampler
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Like a folk song trapped inside a computer, “Home (Leave the Lights On)” – one of the brighter sounding tracks from Field Report's sophomore album, Marigolden – mixes the trebly strum of acoustic guitars with the burbling beat of digital drums...Read more

Larkin Poe grows up with 'Kin'
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All of the original components are still there: great vocals and harmonies, Rebecca's precise mandolin and guitar work, Megan's rich dobro and lap steel, and the songs. But something is different; there's a maturity in the words, after all, they aren't...Read more

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Playing electric and acoustic guitars, lap steel, mandolin and backing vocals on these releases, Williams also tabs him to produce this record. Leisz doesn't make jarring changes to Don Was' handling of Blessed, which basically hit the mark in putting ...Read more

Grammy-winning in concert
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Gerhard will share an evening of exquisite guitar music, performing material from his new CD as well as concert favorites. Performing on 6-string, slide guitar and Hawaiian lap steel, Gerhard combines rare compositional depth with inspired virtuosity...Read more

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www.ottawacommunitynews.com/, September 25th

But the real star of the night, what really got people talking, was Shawn Brown's pedal steel guitar and its haunting, melodic sounds. One of the best known and most commonly heard instruments in American country music, the pedal steel guitar has a...Read more