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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Hillsboro Summer Concert Series Announcedthejournal-news.net, March 4th
Some evenings include an additional fiddle and lap steel player as well as their beloved friend and pianist, Tim Sullivan. With seven players combined, Old Capital Square Dance Club becomes The Old Capital Orchestra. Bones Jugs N Harmony of Urbana will...Read more
The DIY Musician: How to Build a 2x4 Lap Steel GuitarGuitar World Magazine, March 4th
This is one of the easiest homemade guitars I've ever built, and it took me only an hour to make. This lap steel was made from an extra 2x4 I had in my shed, with just a few saw cuts to the wood. I even used a pre-wired acoustic sound hole pickup, so...Read more
Instrument can be played as a keyboard, guitar AND a drum kitDaily Mail, March 4th
'And if you want to play a violin or pedal steel, slide your fingers along the strings to create sweeping fretless melodies.' The device enables musicians to re-tune it instantly and turn frets on and off, allowing people to slide between notes...Read more
Singing the bluesFlorida Weekly, March 3rd
He's built a reputation, especially up and down the Florida Gulf Coast, for his guitar playing that's been compared to Johnny Winter, Jeff Beck and the late Duane Allman. He's equally as skilled on the six-string, slide guitar, lap steel and Dobro...Read more
Pedal to the Metal: A Short History of the Pedal Steel GuitarPremier Guitar, February 17th
Modern pedal steels typically have 10 or 12 strings and come in single- and double-neck models. Photo by Andy Ellis. For many, pedal steel guitar is synonymous with country music. The instrument's sinuous string bending and crying sound has long ...Read more
Win a Stentor Mahalo surfboard lap steel guitar with Learn To Play DayMusic News, February 10th
The charity Music for All, organisers of the national Learn To Play Day to be held on 21st March 2015, have got together with Music-News.com and Stentor to bring you the opportunity to win a fantastic Mahalo 8655 surfboard lap steel guitar worth £149...Read more
Ville Leppänen: Finnish LinesPremier Guitar, February 5th
Finnish guitarist Ville Leppänen has only visited the United States a few times, though his deep knowledge of American music suggests otherwise. Playing conventional guitar as well as resonator, pedal steel, and lap steel, Leppänen has forged a style...Read more
Robert Randolph: A slide, some steel at Daryl's HousePoughkeepsie Journal, February 4th
With a gospel tinge, Randolph has carved out a niche for himself with the pedal steel guitar — which you sit down to play — among jamband, rock and festival fans. He has collaborated with Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana, delivering a signature sound...Read more