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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Recent News: Steel Guitars

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Jesse Winchester- A Reasonable Amount of Trouble (Appleseed)
Elmore Magazine, September 19th

The players are all solid: producer Mac McNally and handles guitars, keys, mandola, and backing vocals; Joel Guzman plays accordion, Jerry Douglas plays lap steel guitar on two cuts, and Jim Horn on a few others. They are not there for their names but...Read more

Matt Turk to Come to Cafe Mezzaluna
Saugerties Post Star, September 19th

Matt sings, plays acoustic guitar, mandolin and lap steel guitar. Cold Revival was produced by David Dobkin, a filmmaker who is known for directing “Wedding Crashers” and who has a forthcoming October film called “The Judge” starring Robert Downey Jr...Read more

ENTERTAINMENT BRIEFS . . . Events this weekend and beyond, including ...
Peninsula Daily, September 19th

And they play fingerstyle guitar, Dobro, banjo, ukulele, lap steel, bass and harmonica: Twisted Roots, the foursome from Port Angeles, will come out to Coyle this Saturday night for another in the Concerts in the Woods series. Marty and Marilyn Kaler...Read more

Guitarist picks career highlights for latest shows
Lasvegasmagazine, September 19th

When I get with the E Street Band I like to get there three hours early and do massive amounts of homework—put my hands on the over 50 instruments I have and things I'm a beginner at like pedal steel, lap steel, bottleneck, dobro, six-string banjo...Read more

Tuning in with Keith Jacques of Maynard
Wicked Local Maynard, September 18th

The guys who play in The Keith Jacques Experience --Tom Sheppard on bass, Chris Renna on keys and lap steel guitar, Alex Thayer on drums and Rob Corneau on trombone-- are the best players around and a lot of fun to hang out with. I met them all ...Read more

Selwyn Birchwood On World Cafe
NPR (blog), September 18th

Today's World Cafe guest is Florida bluesman Selwyn Birchwood. Out of the Tampa area, Birchwood, who plays guitar and lap steel, started out self-releasing his music before winning the 2013 International Blues Challenge with his band. That led to a...Read more

Down East FolkArts Society kicks off season
Carolinacoastonline, September 18th

Todd Hoke will open the Down East FolkArts Society concert series with his unique musical and comedic stylings Friday, Sept. 19, and Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Trent River Coffee Co. in New Bern and Clawson's Restaurant in Beaufort, respectively...Read more

A.J. Ghent was born to play the steel guitar
Charleston City Paper, September 2nd

Although the ladies are indeed key ingredients to the A.J. Ghent Band, the group's signature sound lies in the magic Ghent works with a lap-steel guitar — an instrument that's been in his family for generations. At the church he grew up attending...Read more