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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Blue Ribbon Blues Fest SaturdayFairfield Ledger, July 27th
He incorporates a variety of guitars in his show from electric, lap steel, fingerpicks and slides on the dobro creating a sound uniquely down home, rocking and friendly. In 2008, Trampled Under Foot won first place at the International Blues Challenge...Read more
The Fentons to perform in Edmonds City Park SundayMy Edmonds News, July 25th
Rounding out the group is Steve Pearce on lap steel and electric guitar, Chas. Bronson on drums and Kent Caldwell on bass. In 2013 they released their first CD, an EP titled, “Twist In The Twine.” Their second EP, “Little Window” was released in June...Read more
'Dream gig' brings talented guitarists to BakersfieldThe Bakersfield Californian, July 25th
Rick Kreiser has put together a solid lineup of talented artists with many different styles from fingerstyle, slide and lap steel, to electric, and gypsy jazz. ... He's transferred that passion into The Guitar Master Series, which has been going strong...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: The 2x4 Lap Steel, Part 2 — Cool ModsGuitar World Magazine, March 12th
Instead of just drawing the fret markers on with a Sharpie like I did with the first lap steel, I used a common wood-burning pen and burned the fret lines into the wood. I had some decorative furniture tacks in my shop, so I used them as my fret dots...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
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