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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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
Guitarist tours on new albumsVernon Morning Star, July 2nd
Ashby will perform on six different guitars for a show at Lorenzo's Café in Ashton Creek, Friday, July 3. “My show is vocal-song-guitar driven. It's a one-man band show with beats and bass. I play lap steel/ Weissenborn guitar (like a dobro) and twangy...Read more
Music: Bluegrass on the Grass to return to CarlisleThe Sentinel, July 2nd
Most of the group's original music was penned by Anya Hinkle (guitar, fiddle) and Stig Stiglets (bass) who are joined by Aaron Balance (Dobro, pedal and lap steel guitar) and Jed Willis (mandolin and clawhammer banjo). Although the band is new, ...Read more
Slide Guitar Summit &Guitar HeroesChico News & Review, July 2nd
Cindy Cashdollar gives her lap steel a serious workout on “Steel Guitar Rag,” as does Roth, who teams up with the irrepressible David Lindley on lap steel (and vocals) for Professor Longhair's “Her Mind Is Gone.” And so it goes, as Roth and his guests...Read more
Songs Of Their Own | Toby Oler - Alabama GetawayJamBase, July 1st
of fellow Songs Of Their Own participants Midnight North, including composing songs for the band with multi-instrumentalist Elliott Peck. For this taping Oler played lap steel, backed by Jake Alexander on drums and Matt Lundquist on pedal steel guitar...Read more
AJ Ghent's red clay guts shine on debutCreative Loafing Atlanta, July 1st
Ghent uses a pedal steel-type slide over the top of the fretboard of his strapped-on tweaked guitar to coax wailing, shimmering solos that alternately burn, float, and sting. Comparisons to Duane Allman, Derek Trucks and, of course, Robert Randolph...Read more
Junior Brown brings guit-steel prowess to Baton RougeThe Advocate, June 18th
Junior Brown and his world-famous guit-steel — a hybrid of an electric six-string guitar and a steel guitar that Brown invented — are returning to Baton Rouge on Thursday, June 25, for a show at the Manship Theatre. ... Then I bought a pedal steel...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