The future of the steel guitar

Frank Black (formerly known as Black Francis, lead singer/frontman of the Pixies) has been using steel guitar on a lot of his albums with his band the Catholics. Here is the band’s page; if you’re looking to get one of this albums, Dog in the Sand is a good place to start.

(Honeycomb is the newest one; it’s not on that page, so I guess he must have jumped labels or something, but it’s really, really good. Not where I’d suggest you start though.)

And re. Hawaiian music, King Bennie Nawahi and Sol Ho’opi’i are two of the acknowlegded Old Masters. Because of the different tuning, Hawaiian Guitar is sometimes called slack-key guitar as well.

I’m just popping in to mention my favorite local pedal steel guitar player, the lovely and talented (and certainly not old) Cindy Cashdollar, who frequently backs the inimitable Redd Volkaert.

Just to add another name to the list; David Gilmour plays a pedal steel on “One Of These Days” and “High Hopes”. This would be much easier to confirm if Delicate Sound of Thunder and P.U.L.S.E. would be released on DVD.


I realize that the pedal steel can be used in a variety of musical settings and can display a number of moods.

But, as the first posters said, the pedal steel is one of the best instruments at projecting a sad – even weepy – sound. Why is that ??

I’d imagine a big part of the reason for this (the pedal steel player being the oldest member of the band) is the difficulty of mastering the instrument. Not that it’s particularly more difficult than learning any other instrument, but there is a lot of coordination required that you don’t need to learn with almost any other instrument; you need both hands, both feet, and one or both knees if you’re going to play it to its full potential.

Not to mention they’re also extraordinarily expensive. A full setup will easily run you $1000 to start, going up to many times that. If you’re a budding musician, a hundred bucks on an acoustic guitar at the local pawn shop looks a whole lot more accessible.

This thread is a zombie. The future of the steel guitar was five years ago.

I concur with this, and give some additional reasons (see post #16).

True this. When I was a kid, my mother said no to my interest in learning pedal steel for this reason. If I could go back in a time machine, I would suggest pedal-less lap steel to my young self (which I did learn, albeit a good many years later). You can develop a lot of the requisite pedal steel skills (picking, scales, tunings, etc.) on a lap steel, and you could buy used ones back then for under fifty bucks. For that matter, you can reversibly convert any guitar to lap style play with a five-dollar nut riser.

As for the question of why the pedal steel is good at sounding sad, I think that the portamento nature of the instrument - the continuous slide between pitches - enables it to sound more voice-like, and thus, more expressive. Note that the term ‘portamento’ derived from the Italian phrase for, ‘carriage of the voice’.

My dad was the steel guitar player for Eddie Rabbitt before he was Eddie Rabbitt. Still have his pedal steel with cig burns and moisture rings all over the top of it.

I was told it was a 67’ Fender 400. Set it up and tried to learn several times but not gonna happen. I know he added a kick lever and some other modifications. Was told it ain’t worth shit by a few enthusiast.

Oh man, they opened here for Trombone Shorty and nearly upstaged him. Tore the fookin’ roof off the place, they did. I always wanted to learn to play steel guitar, but I don’t know if it’s possible to find a teacher hereabouts.

Kacey Musgraves is one mainstream country artist who still has a pedal steel in her band.

Example track: “Dime Store Cowgirl”

Ashley Monroe is another. Example track: “I’m Good At Leavin’”

CMA Male Vocalist of the Year Chris Stapleton is a third. Example track: “Fire Away”

The Luke Bryans and Florida-Georgia Lines of the world may be performing bad rock music, but there’s still a rich pool of traditional country, pedal steel and all, out there.

Pop country don’t have no steel guitar because it doesn’t have any soul!

As others have said outlaw country, alt -country and traditional all have a lot of realy good Steel players.

Wouldn’t traditional country use resonator guitars, not steel? I’d think a pedal steel guitar would sort of out volume the acoustic mandolin, fiddle, guitar, banjo, and upright bass.

:: considering firing up Will The Circle Be Unbroken? Vol 1. ::

It looks like Portland Music Company has Mark Shark available for lessons. There seem to be others available in your area.

If you’re serious about playing, I advise lessons. Pedal steel is hard. I can play several stringed instruments, and I think I’m pretty OK on slide guitar. I’ve owned a pedal steel for about 2 years now, and have been teaching myself, and I’m still barely workable on it. There’s so much available via the pedals and knee levers in each position, even on my very limited student guitar, it’s kind of dizzying.

Also, know that Randolph plays in a non-standard tuning. If you want to play his style exclusively, I’d consult an experienced player about getting a student model that’s capable of the “sacred steel” tunings (ETA: IIRC, Randolph is using the E9 tuning). Mine’s not really capable of them.

Well, the amp has a volume knob, and almost every pedal steel player also has a volume pedal. So, there’s no technical reason why they couldn’t play together (vs., say bagpipes and a lute). But yeah, square necked resonators are more common in bluegrass. Steel guitar entered country through western swing in the '40s. So, it depends a little bit on what you consider “traditional” country.

Heh, should have looked that up. It looks like he’s using a variation on E7.

I am watching this thread, but not sure what to say, either when the zombie was alive or again today. Near as I can tell, the pedal steel is still used, and slide guitar in general has never been stronger.

I agree wholeheartedly. When I was learning guitar in the 80’s, information on anything besides standard tuning was very hard to come by. I figured out how to tune a guitar for slide after reading an article about Sonic Youth, and realized “wow, that must be how the blues guys do it!”.

I played in open E and D for years. After web access became common, you can find info on everything. I can even halfway play Jerry Byrd tunings now. I would have never figured out the tunings without someone telling me what they were. This page has enough tunings to keep anyone occupied for a lifetime, and it doesn’t include what’s considered the “standard” blues tunings.

But the future of the steel guitar might lie in Eno’s zero gravity country music, which is ages old.