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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Virtual gallery: Waxahatchee and The Goodbye Party at Gasa Gasa
NolaVie, April 24th

This past Sunday night, indie pop band Waxahatchee and The Goodbye Party performed at Gasa Gasa. The Goodbye Party started off as a solo project of Michael Cantor who astoundingly played guitar, bass, bowed guitar, lap steel guitar, tambourine, ...Read more

Guitar Shop 101: How to Take Your Les Paul into the Slide Zone
Premier Guitar, April 24th

Unlike a Dobro or lap steel, which is played horizontally with a bar and has its strings jacked up way off the fretboard, a standard 6-string guitar can be set up for both fretting and slide work—if you know what you're doing. Let's explore how to...Read more

On Double Naught Spy Car's Panorama City, Songs Were Made Up on the Spot
LA Weekly, April 23rd

While this gang of good buds can boast some of the finest instrumentalists our town offers — Paul Lacques, guitar and lap steel; Marcus Watkins, guitar; Marc Doten, bass/keyboards; and Joe Berardi, drums — they don't wear their considerable playing...Read more

Dan Bern - Transitions
Huffington Post, April 22nd

jc: Do I hear lap steel and that kind of stuff going on in this record? I also hear banjo and I assumed that was Jordan Katz. Dan: Yeah, and that's Eric Kufs that you hear on steel guitar. The real great electric guitar playing is Eben Grace, who has...Read more

3 Bay Area concerts to check out, April 23-26
SFGate, April 22nd

The tenor saxophonist/multi-woodwindist presents the West Coast debut of his “Wild Man Dance Suite” on Thursday and Friday, leads his quartet on Saturday and plays with guitar wizard Bill Frisell, lap steel maestro Greg Leisz and others on Sunday...Read more

The Cadillac Three 'Go Against the Grain' With New Song 'White Lightning'
RollingStone.com, April 21st

That's one of the reasons we're releasing it," says lap-steel player Kelby Ray, who with drummer Neil Mason round out the band. ... At a format-friendly two minutes and 56 seconds and a guitar break that just screams summer, it's a compact bit of ear...Read more

Bargain evening shows for the first weekend of Jazz Fest
WWL, April 21st

If the daytime offerings during three days at the Fair Grounds aren't enough to quench your thirst for music, and you've spent most of your money to get to or at Jazz Fest, here are a few suggestions for evening shows around town around the first...Read more

The DIY Musician: How to Build a 2x4 Lap Steel Guitar
Guitar 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