Pedal Steel Guitar is most commonly thought of as a purely country
instrument, and whilst it fills this role perfectly, it is worth
noting that it also appears in many other musical genres.
Artists as diverse as Cheryl Crow, Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, The Verve, Yes, The Carpenters, Robbie Williams, and Led Zeppelin are great examples…… worth keeping in mind next time you are thinking of a “country twang”………
One of the great things about playing a guitar, (or rather a guitar-like instrument) with a steel tube or bar is that you can slide from one pitch to another, rather like bending strings, but without limits…
The problem with this is that you have to play note combinations that fall in a straight line, i.e. your tuning dictates what chords you can play - a big limitation.
The idea behind Pedal Steel originates from the desire to be able
to move the pitch of one note, without altering any of the other
Effectively it’s a means of re-tuning the guitar instantly, and returning it to its original state just as quickly.
To take an example: we are tuned as follows (3 strings only for this)
G B D (a Chord of G) If we have a pedal that lowers the G string to F# then we have a chord of Bm………. If we have a pedal that raises the G string to G# then we have a chord of E7th…
It isn’t too much of a surprise therefore that before very long several pedals were being added to what was originally a “Lap Steel guitar”, the Pedal Steel had also grown four legs by this time to accommodate the floor pedals.
There is only so much room for floor pedals, so next came another set of devices (with the same functional possibilities as the floor pedals), these are known as “Knee Levers”
With five knee levers, even more possibilities arise, (a knee lever either side of each leg, and one above the left knee).
Added to this we also have two necks to choose from – one tuned to what is commonly known as C6th (the original lap steel tuning), and the other tuned to E9th (Nashville tuning).
With ten strings on each neck, in the region of fifty-four available “pulls” or “pushes”, a range from G# above the top E on a standard guitar down to the A string on a Bass guitar, and a twenty –six fret neck (you can play beyond this right up to the pickup), the possibilities are endless…
The use of a solid steel bar gives a rare combination of long sustainable notes with a crystal clear sound, and in combination with a volume pedal under your right foot creates some stunning “violining” sounds.
Playing a Pedal Steel is very similar to driving two cars at once, whilst playing a tune at the same time…but brilliant fun!