is a type of guitar
and/or the method of playing the instrument.
The name steel guitar
comes not from the material of which
the guitar is made, but from the name of the
, a slide
held in the left hand.
Steel guitar can describe:
- 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 action, as well as instruments produced
specifically for the purpose.
- A specialised instrument built for playing in steel guitar
fashion. These are of several types:
refers to a method of playing on a
held horizontally, with the strings
uppermost and the bass strings towards the player, and using a type
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 ofit.
technique was invented and popularized in Hawaii.
Thus, the lap steel guitar
is sometimes known as the
, particularly in
documents from the early 1900s, and today any steel guitar is
frequently called a Hawaiian steel
. However, in Hawaiian music
, Hawaiian guitar
means slack string
, played in the conventional or Spanish
Bottleneck guitar may have actually developed from Steel guitar
technique. It is similar, with the exception that the guitar is
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
- Resonator guitars, particularly
the square-necked variety which can only be played in
steel guitar fashion.
Lap steel guitar
The lap steel typically has 6 strings and is tuned to either
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
- 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
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
The Rickenbacker frying pan
an electric lap steel guitar produced from 1931 to 1939, was the
first commercially successful solid body
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Some cautions on terminology
The term steel guitar
should not be confused with
, 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
to compensate for the much higher tension of steel
strings. The steel guitar
takes its name from the type of
used, not from the material of
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
See also slide