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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The Cadillac Three at Newcastle University in Newcastle, UK on 29-Jan-2016National Rock Review, February 7th
Guitarist Kelby Ray displayed some phenomenal lap steel guitar prowess, particularly on “Whiskey Soaked Redemption.” Drummer Neil Mason backed him up, holding down a powerful groove throughout. The majority of the band's set included tracks off their ...Read more
Art, history and science fuse to bring generations of air guitarists to New MexicoAlbuquerque Journal, February 6th
Those Hawaiian lap steel guitars broke, and Fender, armed with a knack for electronics, repaired them. “More people were beginning to hold the guitar face out,” Newquist said. “So he decided to make them Spanish style.” Fender produced the first solid...Read more
Cha Wa Announces "Funk 'n' Feathers" AlbumGrateful Web, February 6th
Mardi Gras Indian funk band Cha Wa will release their debut album, Funk 'n' Feathers, on April 1, 2016, after years of explosive, thunderous live performances all over the Crescent City. The new recording is a red-hot combination of two of New Orleans' ...Read more
Interviewing Nils Lofgren: E Street Band guitarist answers Springsteen's call ...Allentown Morning Call, February 5th
You play every solo – you don't get to play cool rhythms or pedal steel, bottle neck, dobro, lap steel, six-string banjo. All these instruments I learned – challenged myself to learn in '99, just as a good beginner to throw in the toolbox for the E...Read more
Guitar heroes: "Medieval to Metal"Santa Fe New Mexican, February 5th
Oddly enough, it was because of demand from Hawaiian lap-steel players. “From 1915 to World War II, the most popular music in American was music by Hawaiian lap-steel players, who play the guitar in their lap and use a glass or metal slide,” said H.P. ...Read more
John 5 Shows Some "Behind the Nut Love" in New VideoGuitar World Magazine, February 4th
Directed by Lord Zane, the video shows John 5 sitting in a high-backed chair with a rare 1950 Fender Broadcaster, amazingly playing behind the nut to emulate the sound of a lap-steel guitar. “I always wanted to be a lap steel player because I loved Hee...Read more
5 Women Steel Guitar Players Every Country Fan Should KnowWide Open Country, February 4th
Her steel guitar abilities were discovered early on and she quickly rose to fame and performed with some of country's best-known acts, including Tex Ritter and Johnny Cash. Later, her ... Cashdollar is a multi-instrumentalist, mostly playing lap steel...Read more
stereotank transforms a blank skate deck into lap steel guitarDesignboom, November 19th
the 'lap skate guitar', by new york-based stereotank, is a hybrid instrument that merges music and skateboarding. the custom built piece is made from a single blank skate deck, and is capable of producing mellow sound similar to a lap steel guitar...Read more