Pedal Steel Guitar

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The pedal steel guitar is an oblong steel-string chordophone consisting of between 8 and 12 strings. The player uses a pedal to influence the wailing sound of the instrument while the strings are played with thumb and finger picks above the player’s lap. The pedal steel guitar sound is most strongly associated with blues, country and Hawaiian music.
History of the Pedal Steel Guitar
The pedal steel guitar is thought to have originated in Hawaii where its earliest ancestor is the first 6-string lap guitar. The guitar arrived in Hawaii via European travellers in the 19th century. In the late 19th century, legend has it that a young musician named Joseph Kekuku created a steel bar and metallic picks through the help of his teacher. He developed a style by using these components on a small steel-string guitar played on his lap. This metallic, sliding sound had a wailing effect that very quickly became popular among guitar players in Hawaii. This steel-string guitar style made its way to the United States where, by the 1930s, an oblong shape was developed by musical instruments producers. Electrification of this instrument began in the same decade with early models by Ro-Pat-In (later Rickenbacher). This louder sound introduced the steel-string sound to bands.Pedals were developed during the 1940s in order to allow the instrument to play a major scale without moving the bar up or down the neck. At this time larger instrument makers such as Gibson entered the market with models like the Electraharp. Originally, multiple necks had to be used to enable different tunings, however, these models became less popular as the pedal steel guitar design was improved. By the 1950s and 60s, country and western had adopted the pedal steel guitar which catapulted its popularity in the United States. Today, the instrument can be heard on thousands of popular recordings in rock, country, folk, bluegrass and many other genres.
Inventor: Joseph Kekuku

Where to Buy

$1,000 - $5,000

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How to Play

A type of guitar that is played using foot pedals and knee levers to change the pitch of the strings. Often used in country music.

In Popular Music

The pedal steel guitar is an extremely popular instrument with guitarists and particularly in the genres of blues, country and rock. A pedal steel string guitar can be heard in songs such as ‘Tangerine’ by Led Zeppelin when a player performs a solo towards the end of the song.

Famous Players

Buddy Emmons, Jerry Douglas, Robert Randolph

Close Relations

Lap Steel Guitar, Dobro
Video Credit: Doug Beaumier
Understanding the Pedal Steel Guitar
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