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Buying a guitar: Steel Guitars

Prepared by Alan Humm

This is not really my 'thing' as it were, so these comments will tend to be brief and generally informative, rather than helping you purchase anything. Steel guitar playing, (not the same as steel-string guitar playing) probably had its origins in Hawaii in the 19th century. Hawaiian music crossed the ocean to America in the early 20th century, and steel playing caught on here.

steel slide
Shubb-Pearse Steel Guitar Slide.

It is called 'steel' guitar, not because the guitars are metal (although they can be), but because the slides are big old chunks of (usually chrome plated) steel. You can play 'slide guitar' on any guitar, usually using a bottle-neck slide. But true steel players don't use frets (except as markers) and usually the steel guitar is held on their lap, or resting on a table of some sort.

1 In that sense, they are in the same category as resonator guitars, when they are played in the lap format.
lap steel
Gretsch Lap Steel Guitar.

The guitar itself can be just an ordinary guitar with the strings lifted off the fingerboard using some sort of insert. This allows the slide to rest on the strings without pushing them down to the frets.1 But they can be specifically made for the purpose like the electric steel in the image on the right. What look like frets are just marks to tell the player where the fret would have been, if they existed.

pedal-steel guitar
GFI Student Model Pedal Steel Guitar.

Later, pedals were added (originally by Gibson) to stretch individual strings, allowing to player to essentially change the tuning of the guitar on the fly, in the middle of a song. Here are a couple of samples (be sure to watch both to get the full effect):

David Hartley: The Blame by Highway 101
Guido Ambrosi: Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore

 

© 2013 Alan Humm