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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Second windArkansas Online, August 2nd
Mize learned how to play guitar, and brought that talent with him when he left home as a teenager and joined the Army. At Fort Campbell, Ky., and during his time in Germany, he spent as much time playing in bands as he did honing his marksmanship...Read more
Buddy Emmons, Virtuoso of the Steel Guitar, Dies at 78New York Times, August 1st
The electric pedal steel guitar looks nothing like a conventional guitar. Rectangular, it sits on a stand or legs and is equipped with knee levers and foot pedals, which alter the pitch. So does a steel bar, which the guitarist slides over the strings...Read more
Sunsets in the Garden features live music and tastingsStatesman Journal, July 31st
Kaiser plays Parisian Americana, which is a melding of western lap steel guitar, dirty roadhouse blues and traditional French music stylings. Born in Paris, the troubadour has called Portland home since 2006. A traveller, his music is infused with...Read more
Whitney Rose Presents "Heartbreaker Of The Year" — Exclusive Song PremiereGuitar World Magazine, July 31st
Malo contributes vocals, guitar and percussion throughout, accompanied by Mavericks Jerry Dale McFadden (keyboards), Paul Deakin (drums) and Jay Weaver (bass), as well as Burke Carroll (steel guitar, dobro, lap steel) and Drew Jurecka (strings), plus ...Read more
Remembering Patsy: Actress was eager for role in Paramount Acting Company showBurlington Times News, July 30th
Page 2 of 2 - The production also will include a live band, The Fabulous Bobcat Band, featuring Keith Shimfessel (Joe Bob) on keyboards, Dee Simmons (Roberta Bob) on steel pedal guitar, Earl Overman (Billy Bob) on guitar, Derek Simmons (Jay Bob) on ...Read more
Conscious party: Selwyn Birchwood benefit concertMountain Xpress, July 18th
“Selwyn is a young African-American who is a truly authentic talent,” Anton says, calling the Tampa-based electric and lap steel guitarist a rising star in the musical sphere. “He represents the future and continuity of the blues.” Visit tressas.com...Read more
Steeled and ready: Guitar player's fingers weaken, so he makes music a ...Shelbyville Times-Gazette, July 4th
Unlike a regular guitar, a lap steel guitar is laid flat in the player's lap; the strings are raised from nut to bridge. Because of these differences, the lap steel is played with a glass or metal slide held between the thumb and middle finger and...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