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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The Black Keys pack Chicago's United Center on 'Turn Blue' tour, September 29th

Auerbach constantly changed guitars between songs, the various makes and models add to the breadth of his play. From a worn lap steel during the solo of "Gotta Get Away" to a gorgeous, brass-bodied resonator that emerged for the opening acoustic...Read more

Page Hamilton (Part I): 'When I Was Starting Helmet, I Found Out That Maybe ...
Ultimate-Guitar.Com, September 29th

Page Hamilton has seen his New York-based band withstand a lot of changes. Over the course of the group's 25-year history, guitar players, drummers and bass players have come and gone; labels have been switched; and dark cycles have been weathered...Read more

Exclusive stream: Steve Gunn's 'Way Out Weather'
FasterLouder, September 29th

The album grew from “skeletal solo demos” into something more widescreen, with Gunn adding lapsteel, banjo and synth players to “longtime musical brothers” Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and ...Read more

Amy Black Duo Visits Charles And Myrtle's Oct. 11
The Chattanoogan, September 26th

on Music Row (formerly historic RCA Studio A.) Joining Amy (acoustic guitar/vocals) in the studio for the album were Will Kimbrough (Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell) on acoustic and electric guitars, Oliver Wood (Wood Brothers) on electric guitars...Read more

Musician steels away at back of Barrie bus, September 26th

Singing a Song … , as he plays on his lap-steel guitar from the back of a bus. “I think it's a great idea,” said Thompson, a retired trucker-turned musician the Barrie Folk Society is bringing to town as a bus busker. He gets his stage moniker from...Read more

Pedal steel guitar at Friday music evening, September 25th

But the real star of the night, what really got people talking, was Shawn Brown's pedal steel guitar and its haunting, melodic sounds. One of the best known and most commonly heard instruments in American country music, the pedal steel guitar has a...Read more

Mike Argento: Bluett Bros. Violins started with a guitar thrown in the fireplace
York Daily Record/Sunday News, September 25th

He's built one-off instruments, such as a viola d'amore, a viola with a course of sympathetic strings running under the fingerboard; a bouzouki, a long-necked mandolin-like instrument, and a Weissenborn, a hollow-necked lap steel-style guitar that he...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