Lubrication is an important part of steel guitar maintenance. Your steel guitar is a musical instrument containing a mechanical system for operation. This mechanical system typically consists of various metals and plastics. Lubrication ensures that the parts move freely and that metal-to-metal wear from movement is minimized as much as possible. Moving freely means that the pedals, knee levers, and strings all move to their intended pitch. Minimizing metal-to-metal wear means that your steel guitar will last longer and maintain its playability and accuracy over time.
NOTE: A few pedal steels use new, non-migrating lubricants and do not require any additional oil. In fact, on such steels, adding oil can wash away the non-migrating lubricants. If you want to find out whether you have such a steel, we recommend that you check the "Lubrication" section of your owner's manual or contact your manufacturer for specific instructions.)
What Type of Lubricant to Use
There is no universal agreement on the type of lubricant you should use. The two most commonly used are lightweight machine oils (such as sewing machine or gun oil) and teflon-based products (such as Tri-Flow). A few manufacturers use other lightweight petroleum-based products, such as automatic transmission fluid (ATF), or premium-grade synthetic lightweight oils such as those made for the auto/aviation industries.
One thing is certain: do not use WD-40 to lubricate your guitar. WD-40 is a cleaner, not a lubricant. Worse, it leaves behind a sticky residue that will build up and attract dirt. PSG repairmen have seen many guitars come through their repair shops that required extensive work to be brought back to a smooth playing condition after being "lubed" with WD-40. The product has legitimate uses but lubing a pedal steel guitar is not one of them. And be sure that whichever lubricant you choose, it leaves behind no carrier, propellant, or additive. All you want left behind is clean, pure lubricant.
Whichever lubricant you choose, it's a good idea to purchase a container that lets you easily direct where the product is applied. Some oils have extendable spouts (like Zoom oil) or a long tip so you can lubricate in tight spots. If you prefer Teflon-based products, Tri-Flow makes a version with a long flexible tip. Spray products tend to be difficult to control and may cause overspray on your guitar's finish, leading to cleaning hassles or possible finish damage.
How Often to Lubricate
There is no hard and fast rule here, as it really depends on your playing frequency and environment. A general guideline is every 6-12 months. If you're playing 4-5 nights a week, or often outdoors in dusty conditions, the lower end of that range is recommended. If you play only on weekends or in controlled evnironments, once a year is likely enough. Be aware of how your guitar feels as you play it. If you sense resistance in the pedals and knee levers, or if strings are not returning true, be sure there is sufficient lubrication.
Which Parts to Lubricate
Lubricating a pedal steel guitar is a relatively easy process. All parts that move and/or have metal-to-metal contact, including rollers and pedals on the pedal shaft, should be lubricated. Pay attention to the following parts or areas:
- Changer mechanism
- Pedal axles
- Cross shafts
- Pulling fingers
- Pull pins or barrel nuts
- Between the stop bars and lower fingers
TIP: If your lubricant doesn't have an extendable/flexible spout, you can use a rod to get oil to the places that seem inaccessible (like between the raise and lower fingers). Dip the rod in the oil and direct it to the desired area. You can also gently pour the oil down the rod directing it towards the desired area.