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A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākila) is any
guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the full width of the neck. On most modern ...

guitar
played while moving a
steel bar A steel bar, commonly referred to as a "steel", but also referred to as a tone bar, slide bar, guitar slide, slide, or bottleneck, is a smooth hard object which is pressed against strings to play steel guitar A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākil ...
or similar hard object against plucked strings. The bar itself is called a "steel" and is the source of the name "steel guitar". The instrument differs from a conventional guitar in that it does not use frets; conceptually, it is somewhat akin to playing a guitar with one finger (the bar). Known for its
portamento In music, portamento (plural: ''portamenti'', from old it, portamento, meaning "carriage" or "carrying") is a pitch sliding from one Musical note, note to another. The term originated from the Italian language, Italian expression "''portamento d ...

portamento
capabilities, gliding smoothly over every pitch between notes, the instrument can produce a sinuous crying sound and deep
vibrato Vibrato (, from of "", to vibrate) is a al effect consisting of a regular, pulsating change of . It is used to add expression to vocal and instrumental music. Vibrato is typically characterised in terms of two factors: the amount of pitch variat ...

vibrato
emulating the human singing voice. Typically, the strings are plucked (not strummed) by the fingers of the dominant hand, while the steel tone bar is pressed lightly against the strings and moved by the opposite hand. The idea of creating music with a slide of some type has been traced back to early African instruments, but the modern steel guitar was conceived and popularized in the
Hawaiian Islands The Hawaiian Islands ( haw, Mokupuni o Hawai‘i) are an archipelago of eight major islands, several atolls, numerous smaller islets, and seamounts in the Pacific Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, extending some from the Hawaii (island), island o ...
. The Hawaiians began playing a conventional guitar in a horizontal position across the knees instead of flat against the body, using the bar instead of fingers.
Joseph Kekuku Joseph Kekuku (1874–1932) is reportedly the inventor of the steel guitar. Biography Kekuku was born Joseph Kekuku’upenakana’iaupuniokamehameha in Lāie, a village on the island of Oʻahu, Hawaii Hawaii ( ; haw, Hawaii or ) i ...
developed this manner of playing a guitar, known as "Hawaiian style", about 1890 and the technique spread internationally. The sound of Hawaiian music featuring steel guitar became an enduring musical
fad A fad is any form of collective behavior The expression collective behavior was first used by Franklin Henry and employed later by Robert E. , Herbert , Ralph H. Turner and Lewis Killian (1957), and Neil to refer to social processes and e ...
in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century and in 1916, recordings of indigenous Hawaiian music outsold all other U.S. musical genres. This popularity spawned the manufacture of guitars designed specifically to be played horizontally. The archetypal instrument is the
Hawaiian guitar A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākila) is any guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend a ...
, also called a
lap steel The lap steel guitar, also known as a Hawaiian guitar, is a type of steel guitar without pedals that is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position across the performer's lap. Unlike the usual manner of playing a traditional aco ...
. These early acoustic instruments were not loud enough relative to other instruments, but that changed in 1934 when a steel guitarist named
George Beauchamp George Delmetia Beauchamp (; March 18, 1899 – March 30, 1941) was an American inventor of musical instruments. He is known for designing the first electrically amplified stringed instrument to be marketed commercially. He was also a founde ...
invented the
electric guitar An electric guitar is a guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend across the fu ...

electric guitar
pickup. Electrification allowed these instruments to be heard, and it also meant their resonant chambers were no longer essential. This meant steel guitars could be manufactured in any design, even a rectangular block bearing little or no resemblance to the traditional guitar shape. This led to table-like instruments in a metal frame on legs called " console steels", which were technologically improved about 1950 to become the more versatile
pedal steel guitar The pedal steel guitar is a Console steel guitar, console-type of steel guitar with pedals and knee levers that change the pitch of certain strings to enable playing more varied and complex music than any previous steel guitar design. Like all s ...
. In the United States, the steel guitar influenced popular music in the early twentieth century, combining with jazz, swing and country music to be prominently heard in
Western swing Western swing music is a subgenre of American country music Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that originated with blues, church music such as Southern gospel and spirituals, old-time music, old-time, and Am ...
,
honky-tonk A honky-tonk (also called honkatonk, honkey-tonk, or tonk) is both a bar that provides country music Country music is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. The term also in ...
,
gospel Gospel originally meant the Christian message ("the gospel#REDIRECT The gospel In Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Te ...
and bluegrass. The instrument influenced
Blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South of the United States around the 1860s by African-Americans from roots in Plantation-era songs, African-American work songs, and Spiritual (music), spirituals. Blues ...
artists in the
Mississippi Delta The Mississippi Delta, also known as the Yazoo–Mississippi Delta, or simply the Delta, is the distinctive northwest section of the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United ...
who embraced the steel guitar sound but continued holding their guitar in the traditional way; they used a tubular object (the neck of a bottle) called a "slide" around a finger. This technique, historically called "bottleneck" guitar, is now known as "
slide guitar Slide guitar is a technique for playing the guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually ext ...

slide guitar
" and is commonly associated with blues and
rock music Rock music is a broad genre of popular music Popular music is music with wide appeal that is typically distributed to large audiences through the music industry. These forms and styles can be enjoyed and performed by people with little or no ...
. Bluegrass artists adapted the Hawaiian style of playing in a
resonator guitar A resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar that produces sound by conducting string vibrations through the bridge A bridge is a structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a ma ...
known as a "
Dobro Dobro is an American brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising for reco ...

Dobro
", a type of lap steel guitar sometimes played with the musician standing and the guitar facing upward held horizontally by a shoulder strap.


History

In the late 19th century, European sailors and Mexican
vaqueros The ''vaquero'' (, pt, vaqueiro ) is a horse-mounted livestock herder of a tradition that has its roots in the Iberian Peninsula and extensively developed in Mexico from a methodology brought to Latin America from Spain. The vaquero became the f ...

vaqueros
, hired by Hawaii's king to work cattle ranches, introduced Spanish guitars in the Hawaiian Islands. For whatever reason, Hawaiians did not embrace standard guitar tuning that had been in use for centuries. They re-tuned their guitars to make them sound a major chord when all six strings were strummed, now known as an "
open tuning Guitar tunings are the assignment of pitches to the open strings of guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the player's body and played by strumming o ...
". The term for this is "
slack-key Slack-key guitar (from Hawaiian ''kī hōalu'', which means "loosen the uningkey") is a fingerstyle guitar, fingerstyle genre of guitar music that originated in Hawaii after Mexican cowboys introduced Spanish guitars there in the late 19th cent ...
" because certain strings were "slackened" to achieve it. Steel guitar strings, then a novelty, offered new possibilities to the islanders. To change chords, they used some smooth object, usually a piece of pipe or metal, sliding it over the strings to the fourth or fifth position, easily playing a three-chord song. It is physically difficult to hold a steel bar against the strings while holding the guitar against the body (hand supinated) so the Hawaiians placed the guitar across the lap and played it with the hand pronated. Playing this way became popular throughout Hawaii and spread internationally.
Oahu Oahu () (Hawaiian Hawaiian may refer to: * Hawaii state residents, regardless of ancestry * Native Hawaiians, the current term for the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands or their descendants * Hawaiian language Historic uses * things ...

Oahu
-born
Joseph Kekuku Joseph Kekuku (1874–1932) is reportedly the inventor of the steel guitar. Biography Kekuku was born Joseph Kekuku’upenakana’iaupuniokamehameha in Lāie, a village on the island of Oʻahu, Hawaii Hawaii ( ; haw, Hawaii or ) i ...
became proficient in this style of playing around the end of the 19th century and popularized it—some sources say he invented the steel guitar. He moved to the U.S. mainland and became a
vaudeville Vaudeville (; ) is a of born in France at the end of the 19th century. A vaudeville was originally a comedy without psychological or moral intentions, based on a comical situation: a dramatic composition or light poetry, mixed with songs or b ...
performer and also toured Europe performing Hawaiian music. The Hawaiian style of playing spread to the mainland and became popular during the first half of the 20th century; noted players of the era were , Sam Ku West, "King" Bennie Nawahi and
Sol Hoopii Sol or SOL may refer to: Arts, entertainment and media Music * G (musical note) Sol, so, or G is the fifth note Note, notes, or NOTE may refer to: Music and entertainment * Musical note In music, a note is a symbol denoting a musical sound. ...
. Hoopii (pronounced Ho-OH-pee-EE) was perhaps the most famous of the Hawaiians who spread the sound of instrumental lap steel worldwide. This music became popular to the degree that it was called the "Hawaiian craze" and was ignited by a number of events. The annexation of Hawaii as a U.S. territory in 1900 stimulated Americans' interest in Hawaiian music and customs. In 1912, a
Broadway Broadway may refer to: Theatre * Broadway Theatre (disambiguation) * Broadway theatre, theatrical productions in professional theatres near Broadway, Manhattan, New York City, U.S. ** Broadway (Manhattan), the street **Broadway Theatre (53rd Str ...
musical show called ''Bird of Paradise'' premiered; it featured Hawaiian music and elaborate costumes. The show became quite successful and, to ride this wave of success, it toured the U.S. and Europe, eventually spawning the 1932 film '' Bird of Paradise''. Joseph Kekuku was a member of the show's original cast and toured with the show for eight years. In 1918, ''
The Washington Herald ''The Washington Herald'' was an American daily newspaper in Washington, D.C., from October 8, 1906, to January 31, 1939. History The paper was founded in 1906 by Scott Cordelle Bone, Scott C. Bone, who had been managing editor of ''The Washingt ...
'' stated, "So great is the popularity of Hawaiian music in this country that 'The Bird of Paradise' will go on record as having created the greatest musical fad this country has ever known". In 1915, a world's fair called the
Panama–Pacific International Exposition The Panama–Pacific International Exposition was a world's fair held in San Francisco, California, United States, from February 20 to December 4, 1915. Its stated purpose was to celebrate the completion of the Panama Canal, but it was widely se ...
was held in San Francisco to celebrate the opening of the
Panama Canal The Panama Canal ( es, Canal de Panamá, link=no) is an artificial waterway in Panama Panama ( , ; es, link=no, Panamá ), officially the Republic of Panama ( es, República de Panamá), is a List of transcontinental countries#Nor ...

Panama Canal
and over a nine-month period introduced the Hawaiian style of guitar playing to millions of visitors. In 1916, recordings of indigenous Hawaiian instruments outsold every other genre of music in the U.S. Radio broadcasts played a role in fueling the popularity of Hawaiian music. '' Hawaii Calls'' was a program originating in Hawaii and broadcast to the U.S. mainland west coast. It featured the steel guitar,
ukulele The ukulele ( ; from haw, ukulele , approximately ) is a member of the lute family of instruments of Portuguese origin and popularized in Hawaii. It generally employs four nylon strings. The Tone (musical instrument), tone and volume of the ...

ukulele
, and Hawaiian songs sung in English. Subsequently, the program was heard worldwide on over 750 stations. Sol Hoopii began broadcasting live from KHJ radio in Los Angeles in 1923. By the 1920s, Hawaiian music instruction for children was becoming common in the U.S. One of the steel guitar's foremost virtuosos,
Buddy Emmons Buddy Gene Emmons (January 27, 1937 – July 21, 2015) was an American musician who is widely regarded as the world's foremost pedal steel guitarist of his day. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981. Affectionately known by t ...
, studied at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in
South Bend, Indiana South Bend is a city in and the county seat of St. Joseph County, Indiana, St. Joseph County, Indiana, on the St. Joseph River (Lake Michigan), St. Joseph River near its southernmost bend, from which it derives its name. As of the 2020 United S ...
, at age 11. The acceptance of the sound of the steel guitar, then referred to as "
Hawaiian guitar A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākila) is any guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually extend a ...
s" or "
lap steel The lap steel guitar, also known as a Hawaiian guitar, is a type of steel guitar without pedals that is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position across the performer's lap. Unlike the usual manner of playing a traditional aco ...
s", spurred instrument makers to produce them in quantity and create innovations in the design to accommodate this style of playing. In the early twentieth century, steel guitar playing branched off into two streams: lap-style, performed on an instrument specifically designed or modified to be played on the performer's lap; and bottleneck-style, performed on a traditional Spanish guitar held flat against the body. The bottleneck-style became associated with blues and rock music, and the horizontal style became associated with several musical genres, including Hawaiian music, country music, Western swing, honky-tonk, bluegrass and gospel.


Use in musical genres


Blues music

Solo African-American blues artists popularized the bottleneck-style (
slide guitar Slide guitar is a technique for playing the guitar The guitar is a fret (in the background, coloured white) and first four frets A fret is a space between two fretbars on the neck (music), neck of a stringed instrument. Frets usually ext ...

slide guitar
) near the beginning of the twentieth century. One of the first
southern The name Southern may refer to: * South South is one of the cardinal directions or compass points. South is the opposite of north and is perpendicular to the east and west. Etymology The word ''south'' comes from Old English ''sūþ'', from earl ...
blues musicians to adapt the Hawaiian sound to the blues was
Tampa Red Hudson Whittaker (born Hudson Woodbridge, January 8, 1903March 19, 1981), known as Tampa Red, was an American Chicago blues musician. He is best known as a blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originated in the Deep South ...
, whose playing, says historian Gérard Herzhaft, "created a style that has unquestionably influenced all modern blues". The
Mississippi Delta The Mississippi Delta, also known as the Yazoo–Mississippi Delta, or simply the Delta, is the distinctive northwest section of the U.S. state In the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United ...
was the home of
Robert Johnson Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911August 16, 1938) was an American blues Blues is a music genre A music genre is a conventional category that identifies some pieces of music Music is the art of arranging sounds in time to produce ...

Robert Johnson
,
Son House Edward James "Son" House Jr. (March 21, 1902His date of birth is a matter of some debate. House alleged that he was middle-aged during World War I and that he was 79 in 1965, which would make his date of birth around 1886. However, all legal rec ...

Son House
,
Charlie Patton Charley Patton (April 1891 (probable) – April 28, 1934), also known as Charlie Patton, was an American Delta blues Delta blues is one of the earliest-known styles of blues Blues is a music genre and musical form which was originate ...
and other blues pioneers, who used a prominent tubular slide on a finger. The first known recording of the bottleneck style was in 1923 by Sylvester Weaver, who recorded two instrumentals, "Guitar Blues" and "Guitar Rag".
Western swing Western swing music is a subgenre of American country music Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that originated with blues, church music such as Southern gospel and spirituals, old-time music, old-time, and Am ...
pioneers
Bob Wills James Robert Wills (March 6, 1905 – May 13, 1975) was an American Western swing Western swing music is a subgenre of American country music Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that originated with blue ...

Bob Wills
and
Leon McAuliffe William Leon McAuliffe (January 3, 1917 – August 20, 1988) was an American Western swing guitarist who was a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during the 1930s. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a memb ...
adapted his song, "Guitar Rag", in 1935 for the influential instrumental "". Blues musicians played a conventional Spanish guitar as a hybrid between the two types of guitars, using one finger inserted into a tubular slide or a bottleneck with one finger while using frets with the remaining fingers (usually for rhythm accompaniment). This technique allows the player to finger the frets on some strings and use the slide on others. Slide players may use open tunings or traditional tunings as a matter of personal preference. Lap slide guitar is not a specific instrument but a style of playing a lap steel guitar usually referring to blues or rock music.


Country music

The earliest record of a Hawaiian guitar used in country music is believed to be in the early 1920s when cowboy movie star
Hoot Gibson Edmund Richard "Hoot" Gibson (August 6, 1892 – August 23, 1962) was an American rodeo Rodeo () is a competitive equestrian sport The word equestrian is a reference to Equestrianism, horseback riding, derived from Latin ' and ', "horse" ...
brought Sol Hoopii to Los Angeles to perform in his band. In 1927, the acoustic duo of Darby and Tarleton expanded the audience for acoustic steel guitar with their
Columbia Columbia may refer to: * Columbia (personification), the historical female national personification of the United States, and a poetic name for the Americas Places North America Natural features * Columbia Plateau, a geologic and geographic regio ...

Columbia
recording of "Birmingham Jail" and "Columbus Stockade Blues". Jimmie Rodgers featured an acoustic steel guitar on his song "Tuck Away My Lonesome Blues" released on January 3, 1930. In the early 1930s, acoustic lap steel guitars were not loud enough to compete with other instruments, a problem that many inventors were trying to remedy.


Resonator guitars

In 1927, the Dopyera brothers patented the
resonator guitar A resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar that produces sound by conducting string vibrations through the bridge A bridge is a structure A structure is an arrangement and organization of interrelated elements in a ma ...
, a non-electric device resembling a large inverted loudspeaker cone attached under the bridge of a guitar to make it louder. The name "Dobro", a portmanteau of DOpyera and BROthers, became a generic term for this type of guitar, popularized by Pete Kirby ("
Bashful Brother Oswald Beecher Ray "Pete" Kirby (December 26, 1911 – October 17, 2002), better known as Bashful Brother Oswald, was an United States, American country music, country musician who popularized the use of the resonator guitar and Dobro. He played with ...
") on Nashville's
Grand Ole Opry The ''Grand Ole Opry'' is a weekly American country music Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that originated with blues, church music such as Southern gospel and spirituals, old-time music, old-time, and Ame ...

Grand Ole Opry
for 30 years with band. He played the instrument while standing with the guitar facing upward held horizontally by a shoulder strap. Oswald's Dobro attracted interest and fascination; he said, "People couldn't understand how I played it and what it was, and they'd always want to come around and look at it."
Josh Graves Josh Graves (September 27, 1927 Tellico Plains, Monroe County, Tennessee Tennessee (, ), officially the State of Tennessee, is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is th ...
(Uncle Josh) further popularized the resonator steel guitar into Bluegrass music with
Flatt and Scruggs Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys was an American bluegrass band. The band was founded by guitarist Lester Flatt and banjo player Earl Scruggs and is viewed by music historians as one of the premier bluegrass groups in the history of ...
to the extent that this type of lap steel became an established and familiar fixture in this genre. Dobro fell out of favor in mainstream country music until a bluegrass revival in the 1970s brought it back with younger virtuoso players like
Jerry Douglas Gerald Calvin "Jerry" Douglas (born May 28, 1956) is an American Dobro Dobro is an American brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of ot ...

Jerry Douglas
whose Dobro skills became widely known and emulated.


Electrification

In 1934, a steel guitarist named
George Beauchamp George Delmetia Beauchamp (; March 18, 1899 – March 30, 1941) was an American inventor of musical instruments. He is known for designing the first electrically amplified stringed instrument to be marketed commercially. He was also a founde ...
invented the electric guitar pickup. He found that a vibrating metal string in a magnetic field generates a small current that can be amplified and sent to a loudspeaker; his steel guitar was the world's first electric guitar. According to music writer Michael Ross, the first electrified stringed instrument on a commercial recording was a steel guitar played by Bob Dunn on a Western swing tune in 1935. Dunn recorded with
Milton Brown Milton Brown (September 8, 1903 – April 18, 1936) was an American band leader and vocalist who co-founded the genre of Western swing Western swing music is a subgenre of American country music Country (also called country and western) is ...
and his Musical Brownies.


Western swing

In the early 1930s, the newly-electrified lap steel guitar was adopted by musicians type of dance music known as "
Western swing Western swing music is a subgenre of American country music Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that originated with blues, church music such as Southern gospel and spirituals, old-time music, old-time, and Am ...
", a sub-genre of country music combined with jazz swing. The design of this instrument and the way it was played underwent continual change as the music of the genre evolved. In the 1930s,
Leon McAuliffe William Leon McAuliffe (January 3, 1917 – August 20, 1988) was an American Western swing guitarist who was a member of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys during the 1930s. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a memb ...
advanced steel guitar technique while playing in the western swing band
Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys James Robert Wills (March 6, 1905 – May 13, 1975) was an American Western swing musician, songwriter, and bandleader. Considered by music authorities as the co-founder of Western swing, he was known widely as the King of Western Swing (altho ...
. In october, 1936, McAuliffe recorded "Steel Guitar Rag" with Wills' band on a Rickenbacker B–6 lap steel with phenomenal record sales. Steel guitarists felt a need to change tunings for different voicings, so leading players added additional necks with different tunings on the same instrument. The added bulk meant that the instrument could no longer be managed on the player's lap and required placement in a frame with legs and marketed as a "console" steel guitar. Prominent layers of that era, including
Herb Remington Herbert Leroy Remington (1926–2018) was an American lap steel guitarist who played Western swing music with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1946 to 1949. A member of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame (1 ...
and Noel Boggs, added more necks and eventually played instruments with up to four different necks.


Honky-tonk

By the late 1940s, the steel guitar featured prominently in "
honky-tonk A honky-tonk (also called honkatonk, honkey-tonk, or tonk) is both a bar Bar or BAR may refer to: Food *Bar (establishment) A bar is a long raised narrow table or bench designed for dispensing beer or other alcoholic beverage, alcoholic d ...
" style of country music. Honky-tonk singers who used a lap steel guitar in their musical arrangements included
Hank Williams Hiram "Hank" Williams (September 17, 1923 – January 1, 1953) was an American singer, songwriter, and musician. Regarded as one of the most significant and influential American singers and songwriters of the 20th century, he recorded 35 singl ...
,
Lefty Frizzell William Orville "Lefty" Frizzell (March 31, 1928 – July 19, 1975) was an American country music Country music is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. The term also inclu ...
and
Webb Pierce Michael Webb Pierce (August 8, 1921 – February 24, 1991) was an American honky-tonk A honky-tonk (also called honkatonk, honkey-tonk, or tonk) is both a bar that provides country music Country music is a blend of popular musical forms origin ...

Webb Pierce
. Most recordings of that era were made on a C6 neck (guitar tuned in a C6 chord), sometimes called a "Texas tuning". Using tunings with sixths and became common and identifiable with the steel guitar sound.


Modern country music and pedal steel

The original idea for adding pedals to a console guitar was simply to push a pedal and change the tuning of all the strings into a different tuning and thus obviate the need for an additional neck, but these early efforts were unsuccessful. Around 1948,
Paul Bigsby Paul Adelburt Bigsby (1899–1968) was an American inventor, designer, and pioneer of the solid body electric guitar. Bigsby is best known for having been the designer of the Bigsby vibrato tailpiece (also mislabeled as a tremolo arm) and propr ...
, a motorcycle shop foreman, designed a pedal system. He put pedals on a rack between the two front legs of a console steel guitar to create the
pedal steel guitar The pedal steel guitar is a Console steel guitar, console-type of steel guitar with pedals and knee levers that change the pitch of certain strings to enable playing more varied and complex music than any previous steel guitar design. Like all s ...
. The pedals operated a mechanical linkage to apply tension to raise the pitch of certain strings. In 1953, musician
Bud Isaacs Forrest "Bud" Isaacs (1928–2016) was an American steel guitarist A steel guitar ( haw, kīkākila) is any guitar The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six string instrument, strings. It is held flat against the play ...
used Bigsby's invention to change the pitch of only two of the strings, and was the first to push the pedal while notes were still sounding. When Isaacs first used the setup on the 1956 recording of Webb Pierce's song called " Slowly", he pushed the pedal while playing a chord, so certain notes could be heard bending up from below into the existing chord to harmonize with the other strings, creating a stunning effect which had not been possible with on a lap steel. It was the birth of a new sound that was particularly embraced by fans of country and western music, and it caused a virtual revolution among steel players who wanted to duplicate it. Almost simultaneously, an entire musical subculture took a radical stylistic tack. Even though pedal steel guitars had been available for over a decade before this recording, the instrument emerged as a crucial element in country music after the success of this song. When the lap steel was thus superseded by the pedal steel, the inherent Hawaiian influence was brought into the new sound of country music emerging in
Nashville Nashville is the Capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Tennessee, most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee, Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. ...

Nashville
in the 1950s. This sound became associated with American country music for the ensuing several decades.


Gospel music

In the United States in the 1930s, the steel guitar was introduced into religious music, a tradition called " Sacred Steel". The congregation of the House of God, a branch of an African-American
Pentecostal Pentecostalism or classical Pentecostalism is a Protestant Protestantism is a form of that originated with the 16th-century , a movement against what its followers perceived to be in the . Protestants originating in the Reformation reje ...
denomination, based primarily in
Nashville Nashville is the Capital city, capital and List of municipalities in Tennessee, most populous city of the U.S. state of Tennessee. The city is the county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee, Davidson County and is located on the Cumberland River. ...

Nashville
and
Indianapolis Indianapolis (), colloquially known as Indy, is the List of U.S. state and territorial capitals, state capital and List of U.S. states' largest cities by population, most-populous city of the U.S. state of Indiana and the county seat, seat of ...

Indianapolis
, embraced the lap steel guitar. The steel guitar often took the place of an organ and its sound bore no resemblance to typical American country music. Darick Campbell (1966–2020) was a lap steel player for the gospel band, the , who took the musical tradition from the church to international fame. Campbell played an electric Hawaiian lap steel: a
Fender Fender may refer to: Places * Fender, Arkansas, a community in the United States People * Fender (surname), a surname Transport * Fender (boating), a bumper used to keep boats from banging into docks or each other * Fender (vehicle) or wing, a p ...
Stringmaster 8-string (Fender Deluxe-8). Campbell was skilled at mimicking the human singing voice with his guitar. The idea of Campbell's recordings with the
Allman BrothersAllman may refer to: Music * The Allman Brothers Band, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame southern rock band, formed by Duane and Gregg Allman *The Allman Joys, an early band formed by Duane and Gregg Allman *The Gregg Allman Band People * Allman (surnam ...
and other Blues and Rock artists was not well-received by church leaders. In the 1980s, a minister's son named Robert Randolph took up the pedal steel as a teenager, popularized it in this genre and received critical acclaim as a musician. Neil Strauss, writing in ''
The New York Times ''The New York Times'' is an American daily newspaper based in New York City with a worldwide readership. Founded in 1851, the ''Times'' has since won List of Pulitzer Prizes awarded to The New York Times, 132 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of a ...

The New York Times
'', called Randolph "one of the most original and talented pedal steel guitarists of his generation".


Indian music

The steel guitar's popularity in India began with a Hawaiian immigrant who settled in Calcutta in the 1940s named Tau Moe (pronounced mo-ay). Moe taught Hawaiian guitar style and made steel guitars, and helped popularize the instrument in India. By the 1960s, the steel had become a common instrument in Indian popular music—later included in film soundtracks. Indian musicians typically play the lap steel while sitting on the floor and have modified the instrument by using, for example, three melody strings (played with steel bar and finger picks), four plucked drone strings, and 12 sympathetic strings to buzz like a
sitar The sitar ( or ; ) is a plucked stringed instrument Plucked string instruments are a subcategory of string instrument String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instrument A musical instrument is a device cr ...

sitar
. Performing in this manner, the Indian musician
Brij Bhushan Kabra Brij Bhushan Kabra (1937 – 12 April 2018) was an Indian musician who popularized the guitar as an instrument in Indian classical music. Kabra was born in 1937 to Goverdhanlal Kabra in Jodhpur where he spent his youth. He was interested in sport ...
adapted the steel guitar to play ''ragas'', traditional Indian compositions and is called the father of the genre of Hindustani classical music, Hindustani Slide Guitar.


Lap steel guitars

Early lap steel guitars were traditional guitars tuned to a chord and modified by raising the strings away from the frets. After the electric pickup was invented, lap steels no longer needed any resonant chamber, thus newer designs began to resemble the traditional guitar shape less and less. These instruments were played resting across musicians' knees. George Beauchamp's invention, which he nicknamed the "Frying Pan (guitar), Frying Pan", was officially called the "Rickenbacker Electro A–22", an electric lap steel guitar produced from 1931 to 1939. It was the first electric stringed instrument of any kind and was the first electric stringed instrument to be heard on a commercial recording. Steel players, including Noel Boggs and Alvino Rey, immediately embraced the new instrument. The
Dobro Dobro is an American brand A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising for reco ...

Dobro
is a type of acoustic lap steel with a resonator; the word is commonly used as a generic term to describe bluegrass resonator lap steels of any brand. Bluegrass dobro players often use a "Stevens bar" which has a deep groove in it to allow the steel to be grasped more firmly so it can be lifted and angled vertically downward slightly for playing single notes. The technique also allows for hammer-on or pull-off notes when there is an adjacent open string. Dobro players often slant the bar horizontally when playing to change an interval between two or more notes played simultaneously on different strings.


Console steel guitars

The console steel is any type electric steel guitar that rests on legs in a frame and is designed to be played in a seated position. The console steel usually has multiple necks—up to a maximum of four—each tuned differently. In the evolution of the steel guitar, the console steel is intermediate between the lap steel and the pedal steel.


Pedal steel guitars

The pedal steel guitar is an electric console instrument with one or two necks, each typically with ten strings. The neck tuned to C6 (Texas tuning) is closer to the player and the Chord letters, E9 (Nashville tuning) neck is further from the player. It may have up to ten pedals and a separate volume pedal, and up to eight knee levers are used to alter the tuning of various strings, allowing more varied and complex music than any other steel guitar. As an example, use of the pedals and knee levers in various combinations allows the player to play a major scale without moving the bar. The invention of the instrument was set in motion by the need to play more interesting and varied music that was not possible on previous steel guitars and to obviate the need for additional necks on console steels.


Steels and slides

A "steel" is a hard, smooth object pressed against guitar strings and is the reason for the name "steel guitar". It may go by many names, including "Steel bar, steel", "tone bar", "slide", "bottleneck" and others. A cylindrical-shaped steel with a bullet-shape on one end is typical in console steel and pedal steel playing. Lap steel and Dobro players often use a steel bar with squared-off ends and a deep groove for firmer grip. It has a cross section that resembles a railroad track. Another type of steel is a tubular object around a finger then referred to as a "slide"; that style of playing is called "slide guitar".


See also

*Lap steel ukulele *Slack-key guitar


Notes


References


External links


Steel Guitar Forum
A forum where steel players and enthusiasts get together and discuss steel guitar.
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association
An organization which promotes the development of steel guitar with worldwide membership. {{DEFAULTSORT:Steel Guitar Steel guitar, Acoustic guitars Electric guitars Guitar performance techniques Continuous pitch instruments American musical instruments