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

Source: Google News

Blitzen Trapper, All Across This Land (Vagrant)
Willamette Week, November 24th

Earley is accompanied by the empathetic sounds of heartbroken Americana, played on the harmonica, lap steel and carefully plucked acoustic guitar. Lyrically, the message tends toward classic country mantras: the regret of taking things for granted...Read more

Moods and attitudes: Thoughtful artistry gives each Robinette guitar its own ...
Gladwin County Record & Beaverton Clarion (registration), November 24th

One day, around six years ago, Russ was looking at guitars in Elderly Instruments down in Lansing and after seeing the expensive price tags on some of the more boutique style acoustic guitars his wife Amy had convinced him that he could make a lap...Read more

Vintage Vault: 1974 Rickenbacker 362/12
Premier Guitar, November 23rd

When Rickenbacker codesigned and marketed the first “Frying Pan” electrified lap steel guitar, he helped usher in the sound of modern music. F.C. Hall, owner of Radio & Television Equipment Co. (Radio-Tel), purchased the Electro String Company, which ...Read more

Mandolin Brothers on Staten Island Angles for Graceful Exit
New York Times, November 22nd

Upstairs, in the main room, were classics like a Taylor 914ce acoustic-electric guitar and relative oddities, like a 1947 National Grand Console Model 1050 double-neck lap steel guitar. A few feet away was a climate-controlled room for particularly...Read more

Tips, upbeat attitude keep 1-man band from singing blues
San Francisco Chronicle, November 21st

Folk musician Brian Belknap playing his harmonica and steel guitar during his afternoon session at the 16th Street BART station on November 19, 2015. He plays several instruments including the accordion, mandolin, harmonica, lap steel, slide & acoustic ...Read more

stereotank transforms a blank skate deck into lap steel guitar
Designboom, November 19th

the 'lap skate guitar', by new york-based stereotank, is a hybrid instrument that merges music and skateboarding. the custom built piece is made from a single blank skate deck, and is capable of producing mellow sound similar to a lap steel guitar...Read more

Q&A: Fabi Reyna, Founder of She Shreds Magazine
Willamette Week, November 18th

The way I find these women is, it'll be in someone's Wikipedia page, and their name is really quickly said, and I'll click on it and be like, "Whoa, this woman was a steel guitar player the first year the guitar was created. I wonder how much impact...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