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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Beck's 'Midnite Vultures': 11 Songs Ranked for Its 15th Anniversary
Music Times, November 23rd

Today, Nov. 23, marks the 15th anniversary of Beck's seventh studio album Midnite Vultures, which abandoned nearly all the singer's folk influences in favor of deliriously psychedelic funk, hip-hop and R&B. It is Beck's most fun album and arguably his...Read more

LeAnn Rimes: The music superstar reveals why her life has been 'one big ...
Daily Mail, November 22nd

When I was four or five, my dad put me in his lap and taught me how to steer the car. By the time I could reach the .... There's a Dolly Parton song, 'Hard Candy Christmas' – I cut it with steel guitar so it has an ethereal sound. That song is...Read more

Live music in New Orleans for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014: Jazz singer Alex ...
NOLA.com, November 22nd

Jazz pianist, singer and composer Alex Bosworth, who is building a name for herself on the New Orleans, celebrates the release of her debut CD, "Here for You," with two sets at Snug Harbor. The disc was produced by veteran jazz guitarist Brian Seeger...Read more

Lord of the strings
Winnipeg Free Press, November 22nd

He started out as a banjo picker in 1960s southern California; now, his arsenal includes not only acoustic and electric guitar, upright and electric bass guitar, lap steel guitar, mandolin and zither, but exotic instruments he's picked up from around...Read more

Wilco's Nels Cline brings duo to VT
BurlingtonFreePress.com, November 19th

Friday evening, the New York-based Cline returns to Burlington for a concert of largely improvised duets with the young jazz guitar virtuoso, Julian Lage. A heads-up: Purists likely will encounter aspects of their favorite composers and performers...Read more

Guitarist Shonn Hinton conquers the world; next stop, Milwaukee
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 19th

Who's who: Shonn Hinton, 35 (guitar); Olen Franklin, 33 (drums); Alex Julien, 30 (bass); Darrien Williams, 30 (guitar); Sean Williamson, 32 (lap steel). Hinton's other gig: When I'm not on the road with Jill Scott, I work at my old school, Milwaukee...Read more

Cowboy Christmas Concert
Sierra Star, November 19th

Black is a world renowned master of the pedal steel and lap steel guitar, and he was inducted into The Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2004. Over the years, he has performed with a number of musical artists including: Barbara Mandrell, Dolly Parton, Ray...Read more

Made in Port Townsend: Resonator guitars
Port Townsend Leader, November 19th

Hawai'ian steel-guitar music was "huge in the '20s and '30s, it went all over the world," said Morton, "was played behind Louie Armstrong and Jimmy Roberts. That sound was really hip at the time." Hawai'ian steel guitar was played lap-style on tri-cone...Read more