This page gives you a variety of resources and articles, which will help you understand and provide information about where to obtain publications and teaching materials for the pedal steel guitar. If you are an intermediate or advanced player, check out our links page, which contains more pedal steel guitar resources, and steel guitar web sites of interest.
As an aid for you in selecting and purchasing any brand of steel guitar, we've developed a set of practical guidelines, which many steel guitar players have found useful.
What do you need?
If you're just starting out, there are a few items you'll need. If you're a 6-string guitar player, you may already have some of them. You'll need a pedal steel, of course, along with:
- Lessons or a teacher
There are lots of options available for students of all levels. First, check YouTube for free video lessons from noted teachers such as Mickey Adams and others. Just search for "steel guitar" and you'll find lots of info. You can also find a large selection of video or tab courses from Jeffran Music, Herb Steiner, Herby Wallace, Jim Loessberg, Maurice Anderson, Joe Wright, and more.
There is also a huge amount of information on the Steel Guitar Forum. In the grand Internet fashion, much of the Forum info can be contradictory and argumentative, but there are some gems to be found if you have an open mind. The Forum has an entire section devoted to tablature, and you can alos post questions in other sections if you have specific questions about the mechanics of your steel, or about how to play it.
But probably the best thing you can do is to find a good teacher. Videos, tab, and recordings are great tools but they can't replace the eyes and ears of an experienced player, especially when preventing you from developing bad habits that are difficult to unlearn. Spending time with a good teacher is probably the single best thing you can do to help you become proficient on pedal steel.
Steel bars come in several lengths, weights, and diameters, and are usually made of stainless steel or are chrome plated steel. BJS bars are very popular, as are Dunlop. There are also bars made of other materials, such as the Tribotone. Common diameters are 7/8" and 15/16". Length depends on whether you are playing a 10-string or 12-string steel. You want a bar that is heavy enough to provide good tone and sustain, but not so much as to slow you down or cause discomfort in your hand.
Note that Robert Randolph plays pedal steel with a blunt-nosed Stevens-type bar, more commonly used on dobro. This is unusual for pedal steel players and not recommended for beginners. The blunt nose makes movement across the strings difficult to control. You want a round-nosed bar instead.
- Volume Pedal
Yes, you need a volume pedal. But it's used differently with steel. Besides controlling volume, a volume pedal becomes part of your technique, letting you alter the attack of notes and providing the singing sustain that is characteristic of the instrument. Steel guitar great Maurice Anderson prefers to call it an "expression pedal" because it's so critical to his style and touch.
You'll also probably want a pedal made specifically for steel. Those made for guitar tend to be too tall to allow your leg to fit comfortably under the guitar. Their pivot point is different because they're designed to be used while standing up. Also, they tend to have the input/output jacks in the front of the pedal rather than the side, sometimes creating placement problems under the guitar.
- Guitar or steel guitar amplifier
Yes, you can use a guitar amplifier. However, depending on your style you may not like the tone you get on steel, even though the amp sounds good for 6-string. Most steel amps are high-powered (to produce the steel's naturally wide dynamic range without distortion) and tend to be solid state. They usually contain a 12" or 15" speaker. There are amps and preamp/amp combos specifically made for steel from a variety of manufacturers. That said, many player prize silverface Fender amps for their lush, warm sound. Really the choice is up to you and what works best for your music.
You'll need a minimum of two: one to connect from your steel to the volume pedal, then from the pedal to your amp. Steelers often favor the solderless connector products from Bill Lawrence or George L. Aside from the convenience of the connectors, they are low-capacitance cords and don't roll off the highs in your sound like some other brands.
- Something to sit on
You can sit on a chair, stool, bench, or specially designed steel seat. Sneaky Pete Kleinow used to sit on his steel's case (ouch). While literally anything will work as long as it's a comfortable height, your seat should be comfortable enough to sit on for hours and be easily transportable. Many steel players prefer a custom pak-a-seat which has folding legs and storage space for your volume pedal, strings, and cables. Two popular brands are Steeler's Choice and steelseat.com.
What's the next step?
You're going to need a guitar. Obviously, not many of the big-name guitar stores carry steels or, if they do, know much about them. So unless you have a friend (a really good friend) who will loan you one, you'll need to buy a pedal steel. Where? Which brand? Double or single neck? New or used? Well, before you do anything, we recommend you read the PSG Buyer's Guide, which presents several important points to consider before making the big leap.
You should also take a look at the What's this part? section, to familiarize yourself with the terminology and components of a pedal steel. You can't converse knowledgeably with a seller unless you're both speaking the same language. This section will also help you see what a properly set up guitar should look like from top to bottom.
The debate over whether to buy new or used can go on forever. It really depends on your budget and comfort level buying something expensive from someone you may not know. Also, a used guitar may need some setup or tweaking to fit your style and physical size. If you buy a used instrument from a dealer, this can often be included at little or no extra charge. Some individual sellers will also do a basic setup change for you before shipping the guitar.