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.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Guitars Info

Vintage Guitars Info

This great reference site features detailed sections on vintage guitar makers, including Gibson, Fender, Martin, Gr… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Vintage Guitar and Bass

Want to see all the old brochures and ads for your favorite vintage axe? Check out this great site, which showcases… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage 1950's National Lap Steel Guitar With Legs1945 Gibson Br-3 Lap Steel Guitar, Banner Model, Original! Case! Shipped!Vintage 1950's Or 60's Fender Champ Lap Steel Nice Conditioin No Reserve!Vintage Msa Micro Inc. Semi-classic Pedal 10 String Steel Guitar & AccessoriesVintage 1950s Fender Champ Lap Steel Tweed Hardshell Case1939 Gibson Eh-100 Lap SteelLindy Fralin Steel Pole Sp43 Tele Bridge Telecaster Pickup - P90 Tone50s Vintage Magnatone Lap Steel Guitar Maroon Pearloid Mother Of Toilet Seat -nrPedal Steel Guitar Carter Starter With George L E-66Vintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Pickup 6.06kVintage Ventura Electric Guitar Steel Adjustable Neck Wide Whammy Bar!!!Carvin 8-string Double-neck Steel Guitar VintageHarmony Lap Steel Guitar--vintage Harmony Lap Steel--maybe Gibson P-13 P/u??Artisan, 6-string, Lap Steel, Music, Black Metallic, Electric Guitar. 29".Benson Custom Esquire Telecaster Hot 12k Bridge Pickup W/ Steel PlatePeavey Nashville 400 Steel Guitar AmpVintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Body ProjectVintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Bridge PlateUsed Callaham Neck Plate And Screws Steel With Serial #Vintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Red Astron Cap Capacitor .05Clearwater Lap SteelVintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Tuner PanFender 6 String Deluxe Lap Steel Guitar 1970'sVintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel NutBlack Lap SteelVintage Vega Vitar Lap Steel Guitar 1940's Gretsch Electromatic Tobacco Burst Lap Steel W/gig Bag & SlideVintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel Bridge CoverGraph Tech String Saver Classics Strat And Tele " Brushed Steel Resonator Guitar - Republic Steel Duolian W Schatten PickupLr Baggs Lyric Steel String Acoustic Guitar Active Tru Mic & Preamp Vintage 1950s 1958 Fender Champ Lap Steel KnobsVintage Hawaiian Slide Tone Bar Guitar Lap Steel Unmarked Diamond PatternSanta Rosa 30" Steel String GuitarLap Steel Slide Unused Great Quality Never Use As I Couldn't Play Slide BargainVintage 70's Mci / Emci Pedal Steel Guitar Oem Adhesive Fingerboard / MarkerKit To Mount Vox Amp Stand Trolley Cabinet Plates: 24 Pcs - Stainless Steel Display Black Dome Knobs With Set Screws For Tele, Bass And Lap Steel Guitars 6 String Silent Steel String Guitar, Hollow Body, With A Padded Bag 010x-u-es Vintage Sho-bud Pedal Steel Guitar 10 String Headstock Headpiece 0366-111113 Dobro® Tombro Capo I For Dobro®, Lap Steel,hawaiian Or Weissenborn2 Pcs Guitar Bass Luthier Tool Plated Steel String Action Ruler Gauge Diy ToolChrome Barrel Knobs With Set Screws For Tele, Bass, & Lap Steel GuitarsVintage Sho-bud Pedal Steel Guitar 10 String Headstock Headpiece 0366-111107Vintage Sho-bud Pedal Steel Guitar 10 String Guide Roller Nut 0366-35" Blue Acoustic Guitar Steel String Backpacker Hawaiian Travel With Gig BagHandmade Black Carbon Steel Guitar Rolling Glider Capo For 6-string Guitar5pcs 0.3mm Stainless Steel Pick Plectrums Supplies For Electric Guitar Bass Gift