Steel guitar

Steel guitar

Steel guitar is:

* A method of playing slide guitar using a steel. Resonator guitars, including round necked varieties, are particularly suitable for this style, but other types are also used, usually with modified high actions, as well as instruments produced specifically for the purpose.

* A specialised instrument built for playing in steel guitar fashion. These are of several types:
** Lap steel guitar, which may be:
*** Lap slide guitar, with a conventional wooden guitar box.
*** The square-necked variety of resonator guitar.
*** Electric lap steel guitar.
** Electric console steel guitar.
** Electric pedal steel guitar.

The name "steel guitar" comes not from the material of which the guitar is made, but from the name of the "steel", a slide held in the left hand.


Steel guitar refers to a method of playing on a guitar held horizontally, with the strings uppermost and the bass strings towards the player, and using a type of slide called a "steel" above the fingerboard rather than fretting the strings with the fingers. This may be done with any guitar, but is most common on instruments designed and produced for this style of playing.

The technique was invented and popularized in Hawaii, thus the "lap steel guitar" is sometimes known as the "Hawaiian guitar", particularly in documents from the early 1900s, and today any steel guitar is frequently called a "Hawaiian steel guitar". However in Hawaiian music, "Hawaiian guitar" means "slack string guitar", played in the conventional or Spanish position.

Steel guitar technique also developed from bottleneck guitar, which is a similar technique to steel guitar but with the guitar held in the conventional position, and using a different form of slide to accommodate this playing position.


A Steel Guitar is one designed to be played in steel guitar fashion.

Historically, these have been of many types, but two dominate:

* Resonator guitars, particularly the square-necked variety which can "only" be played in steel guitar fashion.

* Electric instruments, starting with electric lap steel guitars and developing through the console steel guitar to the pedal steel guitar.

Lap steel guitar

The lap steel typically has 6 strings and is tuned to either standard guitar tuning, or an open chord. It differs from a conventional or Spanish guitar in having a higher action and often a neck that is square in cross section. The frets, unused in steel style playing, may be replaced by markers.

There are three main types:

* Lap slide guitars, which are acoustic instruments but may have electric pickups for amplification in addition.
* Resonator guitars, which are also acoustic instruments but may have pickups for amplification in addition.
* Electric lap steel guitars, which are normally solid body.

Early lap steel guitars were Spanish guitars modified by raising both the bridge and head nut. The string height at the head nut was raised to about half an inch by using a "head nut converter" or "converter nut". This type of guitar is claimed to have been invented in about 1889 by Joseph Kekuku in Hawaii.

Some lap slide guitars, particularly those of Weissenborn and their imitators, have two 6-string necks, but electric and resonator lap steel guitars are normally single neck instruments.

Square-necked resonator guitars are always played in lap steel fashion, and so are specialised lap steel guitars. Round-necked varieties can be played in lap steel fashion, with some restrictions on the available tunings, but can also be played in Spanish position.

The Rickenbacker "frying pan", an electric lap steel guitar produced from 1931 to 1939, was the first commercially successful solid body guitar.

Console steel guitar

The console steel guitar is an electric instrument, intermediate between the lap steel from which it developed and the pedal steel which in turn developed from the console steel. There are no pedals, so the player has only as many tunings available as there are necks.

The development of the lap steel guitar into the console steel guitar saw the introduction of amplification as standard, multiple necks, and additional strings on each neck, first to seven, and eight strings per neck is now common. One, two, three and four neck instruments are not uncommon. The two neck, eight string per neck configuration is particularly favoured in Hawaiian music.

The distinction between console steel guitar and lap steel guitar is fuzzy at best, and some makers and authorities do not use the term "console steel guitar" at all, but refer to any steel guitar without pedals as a "lap steel guitar" even if playing it in lap steel position would be quite impossible.

Pedal steel guitar

The pedal steel guitar is an electric instrument normally with 10 to 14 strings per neck, and sometimes two or even three necks, each in a different tuning. Up to eight pedals (not counting the volume pedal) and up to eight knee-levers are used to alter the tunings of different strings, which gives the instrument its distinctive voice, most often heard in country music.

The extra strings and use of pedals gives even a single neck pedal steel guitar far more versatility than any table steel guitar, but at the same time makes playing far more complex.


The type of slide called a "steel" which gives the technique its name was probably originally made of steel, or the name may come from the legend that the first steel was a railroad track.

Many materials are used, but nickel-plated brass is popular for the highest-quality slides, which are shaped to fit the hand and as a result have a cross-section not unlike a railroad track. Another traditional and popular variety is a cylindrical shaped steel bar that needs to be balanced between the thumb and the middle finger with the forefinger providing for varying degrees of pressure on the string.

ome cautions on terminology

The term "steel guitar" should not be confused with "steel-strung guitar", which is a standard acoustic guitar that has steel rather than the nylon, cat-gut or brass/nickel strings used for classical guitar or standard acoustic guitar, and is built with extra bracing, a stronger neck, and higher-geared machine heads to compensate for the much higher tension of steel strings. The "steel guitar" takes its name from the type of slide used, not from the material of the strings.

The term "Hawaiian guitar" is often used for various types of steel guitar, but in Hawaiian music "Hawaiian guitar" means slack-key guitar, a way of tuning a steel stringed acoustic guitar which is then played in the conventional position.

See also "slide (guitar)".

ee also

*Slide guitar
*Resonator guitar
*Lap steel ukulele
*Lap slide guitar
*Lap steel guitar
*Pedal steel guitar

External links

* [ Custom made steel guitars]
* [ Central Illinois Steel Guitar Association] Information about central Illinois steel guitar players, events, and shows.
* [ Steel Radio] A Web radio station dedicated to the steel guitar.
* [ 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.
* [ Steel Guitar Nashville]
* [ Gerald Ross' Ukulele & Hawaiian Steel Guitar Website]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • steel guitar — steel′ guitar′ n. 1) mad an acoustic, hand held guitar having a metal resonator and producing a wailing, variable sound 2) mad pedal steel guitar 3) mad Hawaiian guitar • Etymology: 1925–30 …   From formal English to slang

  • steel guitar — n. a type of guitar, now esp. an electric guitar, with raised metal strings, held on the lap or mounted on legs and played by plucking while sliding a steel bar across the strings to change the pitch …   English World dictionary

  • steel guitar — steel gui tar also pedal steel guitar n a musical instrument with ten strings that is played using a steel bar and a ↑pedal (=a bar you press with your foot) …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Steel guitar — La steel guitar es un tipo de guitarra eléctrica, perteneciente por tanto a la familia de los instrumentos electrófonos. Contenido 1 Descripción 2 Historia 3 Tipos de steel guitars 3.1 …   Wikipedia Español

  • steel guitar — noun guitar whose steel strings are twanged while being pressed with a movable steel bar for a glissando effect • Syn: ↑Hawaiian guitar • Hypernyms: ↑guitar * * * noun : hawaiian guitar 1 * * * 1. an acoustic, hand held guitar having a metal… …   Useful english dictionary

  • Steel Guitar — Als Steelguitar oder Steel Guitar werden folgende Arten von Gitarren bezeichnet: Die Hawaii Gitarre (engl. lap steel guitar) Die Pedal Steel Guitar, ein auf Beinen stehendes Instrument ähnlich der Lap Steel Gitarre, bei dem zusätzlich die Tonhöhe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • steel guitar — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms steel guitar : singular steel guitar plural steel guitars a guitar with ten strings that you play while pressing the strings with a metal bar …   English dictionary

  • steel guitar — /stil gəˈta/ (say steel guh tah) noun 1. → pedal steel guitar. 2. → Hawaiian guitar. {from the steel slide held in the left hand} …  

  • steel guitar — 1. an acoustic, hand held guitar having a metal resonator and producing a wailing, variable sound. 2. a pedal steel guitar. 3. a Hawaiian guitar. [1925 30] * * * …   Universalium

  • steel guitar — steel gui tar noun count a guitar with ten strings that you play while pressing the strings with a metal bar …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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