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how hard is playing a pedal steel in reality?

Discussion in 'Other Guitars, other instruments' started by eddiewagner, May 23, 2006.

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  1. eddiewagner

    eddiewagner Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 6, 2005
    since some pedal steel student model are going down in price i wonder if i could ever get something out of a real steelguitar. i play lapsteel but i am not a real profound music-theorist. from what my feeling tells me, i have no real chance. what do you guys think? how tricky is this instrument?

  2. Dookychase

    Dookychase Tele-Meister

    May 16, 2005
    Near New Orleans
    I have a pedal steel that I bought years ago and never played it. Its a Fender 10 string, 3 pedals and 1 knee lever.
    This young boy had it and never learned to play it, so I bought it for 100.00 dollars with a hard case. I couldn't pass up a great deal. It was a steal(hahahaha).

    The hardest thing I find about it is to pick block with the right hand.
    If you're really interested in one, buy a couple of tapes to see how it works. Tim McCasland and Bruce Bouton has a couple of good vhs tapes out. Also, Jeff Newman has a series of dvd's that are good. YOu can find his stuff at

    Also, check out

    Good luck

  3. endzone

    endzone Friend of Leo's

    Jan 2, 2006
    I grew up around Western Swing players as my dad played that music. Because of that I've always had a fascination with steel guitars. A few years ago, I borrowed a beginner's pedal steel to learn on. I didn't even know how to start tuning one after I changed strings on it. I got a video from Herb Remington and was totally frustrated until I finally gave up. For me, that is the most difficult instrument on earth. I had a chance to talk to Cindy Cashdollar one day and she told me that she had a hard time with pedal steels as well. As a result, she plays the non pedal. She suggested learning Dobro first then seeing if it helped with the steel. Since you already play a lap steel, then maybe you have a better shot at it than me. To me, the knee levers and pedals are what make the steel so complex.

  4. Chris S.

    Chris S. Asst. Admin Staff Member Ad Free Member

    Mar 26, 2005
    Near TELE-Town (Wash. DC)
    Admin Post
    Dreams vs. reality

    In reality, you have:

    - Multiple necks
    - Multiple tuning choices
    - Multiple ways to manipulate the tuning

    While playing (again, in reality) you have to <u>simultaneously</u> use your:

    - Left hand to manipulate a steel bar across multiple strings to produce both perfect intonation AND various types of vibrato
    - Right hand (almost always with a thumbpick and finger picks) to play complex combinations of strings AND picking patterns
    - Left foot to manipulate a series of pedals to change the tuning
    - Left knee to manipulate a series of levers to change the tuning
    - Right knee to manipulate still more levers to change the tuning
    - Right foot to control your volume

    Oh, you might want to occasionally use an effect or two – try to choose a hand or foot that isn't busy at that particular moment. :-|

    (But in my dreams, oh man, I'm Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day and John Hughey and a zillion other great players all rolled into one... ) ;-) CS

  5. Leon Grizzard

    Leon Grizzard Friend of Leo's

    Mar 8, 2006
    Austin, Texas
    It seems to be one of the more difficult instruments, but if you can play in tune on lap steel, you are on your way. I know there are steel players on this forum who can give you voice of experience, and you can also check out

  6. moonshiner

    moonshiner Friend of Leo's

    Well.. since no one is saying it's easy...

    Last year I bought an MSA PSG from BB on this board.. I had never played one until then... To learn how to play it and tune it is easy... to learn how to do these things well is hard... It depends on how your mind works, IMO.. Memorizing the notes on a 10 stringed instrument would be fool-hardy... but if you start to look at the fret boards in numerics (I-II-II-IV) etc... you'll pick up the basics fast... learning the notes in between the notes.. the pass-throughs, learning to be on pitch is the challenge..

    If you don't have a good mind for theory or your ears aren't in tune with little nuances (you don't have to be pitch perfect) you'll find steel more difficult than guitar.

    I'm telling you my opinion.. but I am not a traditional, nor a very good, steeler.. but I can comfortably get on stage and play the steel in any song, or any key and I never toook a lession or read a book... It won't be good... but I can do it...

    Try it... what do you really have to lose except to sanity and some hours noodling around...

  7. GopherTele

    GopherTele Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 1, 2003
    Dang hard

    I got a '57 Fender Stringmaster a while back (2 8 string necks no pedals or knee levers) and just getting the intonation with the bar has been a struggle.

    Right hand took a little while, as did getting used to the fingerpicks, but intonation is hell.

  8. Big Smokey

    Big Smokey Tele-Holic

    Mar 17, 2003
    Nashville TN

    It is far more difficult to learn in my opinion. I have played six string since childhood. I played a Dobro in a bluegrass band for 15 years and took up Pedal Steel about five years ago. I have put in a major amount of time practicing just to become profficient at the instrument. And I still consider myself a novice. There are so many variations of notes and chords, your ear for tuning and intonation needs quite a makover, and your right hand becomes the alpha. Now if you get a double neck you will need to practice and learn two different tunings and approaches, plus learning to mechanically maintain a pedal steel.
    Also no one has mentioned the economics of buying the gear which is much higher than that of six strings.

  9. Michael

    Michael Tele-Holic

    I tried to learn pedal steel...

    ... some years back. I love the sound of pedal steel backing up singers. It fits everywhere, from traditional country to Neil Young to Dire Straits. It's beautiful. Unfortunately for me it was harder than wrestling a bear! It was so much more mechanical than I was prepared for. Knees, feet, hands, fingers, picks, bar, ... Yikes! That the proficient steelers can make it sound so emotional is a tribute to their musicality and taste; I really admire them. A lot of the B-Bender stuff I hear catches the middle ground between lap steel and pedal steel. If I could add another guitar to my "collection" as a frivolous pleasure it'd be a B-Bender. In the right hands they really capture the steel vibe. I just don't know if my hands qualify! It's fun to try the steel, so by all means give it a go if you have the opportunity. Good luck!

  10. jhundt

    jhundt Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 23, 2003
    Go for it Eddie!

    I bought a real beginner's pedal steel several years ago, an MSA Sidekick (?) with 3 pedals and 1 knee-lever. It takes a couple of days to figure it out, then it's real fun.

    I can not play any kind of fast, showy steel guitar solo. I only do slow, easy parts. I like that stuff; I love the way the steel adds to the song. (Same with Teles; I don't care so much for fast and flashy...)

    Tuning was and is difficult. Mine came without an owner's book, so it was hard to figure what to do. Since then I found the manual on-line and learned a lot. Like - you don't tune everything with the tuner keys. Lots of fine-tuning using other screws and things on the instrument. If you get one without a book - be careful that you don't go messing things up by turning screws and stuff if you don't know what you're doing.

    If the price is good, get the thing and try it. I was inspired by Ronnie Wood. I liked his part on "the Girl with Faraway Eyes". He said he used just such a basic beginners model, because anything more advanced would be too confusing. I think he's right, especially for beginners.

  11. Dookychase

    Dookychase Tele-Meister

    May 16, 2005
    Near New Orleans
    Eddie, if you get one, I'd buy one of
    Jeff Newman's dvd. He has several instructional ones.

    I think the first one is called " Up From The Top". it is for beginners. You get a book, 2 dvds, and a cd backing track. He teaches you how to use the A & B pedals only.

    Then his next series moves on to knee levers one at a time. Carter Steel guitars make an entry level unit thats real nice, its called the Carter Starter. Sells here in the U.S. for around 699.00

  12. chickenpicker

    chickenpicker Friend of Leo's

    Jan 25, 2005
    I find it quite easy actually. In fact, I'm teaching my brother a few licks, and while he's obviously a novice, his tone's improving. A few more years and he may even be up to my standard.

  13. Mark Davis

    Mark Davis Telefied Ad Free Member

    Mar 2, 2003
    Bakersfield Ca.
    You never see any good young pedal steel players. Reason why is it takes along time to get good. Robert Randolph is about the youngest guy and he doesnt even use the pedals I dont consider him a pedal steel player like I do Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day.

    Pedal steel is hard to master but once you get good you can make it sound awesome.

  14. guit145

    guit145 Tele-Meister

    Jun 2, 2005
    Madera, CA
    PSG is probably my primary instrument now. It is extremely challenging, but at the same time extremely facinating. Everytime I sit down and play, I learn something. And it's very addictive.

    Stay away from old Fenders and Sidekicks, they are mechanical nightmares. The Carter Starter is a decent ax to get started on, I did. Plus, there's usually a used market for them, and you don't take a bath when you decide to sell/upgrade. ZumSteel makes a good student model, but they are pretty rare. An older single neck GFI can be had for less than $1,000, usually. The is the best place to buy and sell stuff. They run a pretty tight ship.

    Jeff Newman was THE instructor, his material (still available, as posted above) is excellent.

    The BEST thing you could do is to find a player to sit down with and jam or take lessons, or whatever. There are so many bad habits to get into because there are so many things happening, it's really good to have someone watch you who knows what they are doing.

    Don't expect to be good overnight. It's a journey.

  15. eddiewagner

    eddiewagner Poster Extraordinaire

    Nov 6, 2005
    e-9 tuning on my lapsteel

    thanks for the advice gentlemen!
    there is absolutely not steelguitar-player around where i live. i am pretty much the only lapguy as well.
    while checking out steelsites i learned that the country-tuning is e9. i immediately started tuning my lapsteel to e9 (e h fis gis h e) which is alright. specially since i have constructed a lever, to pull my h-string to cis.
    can anyone advice me for a better sounding e9-tuning for my 6-string lapsteel so far that gives me that pedalsteel sound?
    right now a real pedalsteel looks a bit unrealistic for many reasons.

  16. ThermionicScott

    ThermionicScott Poster Extraordinaire

    Dec 3, 2005
    James Hetfield once described it as "trying to play slide guitar and drums at the same time." Sounds about right.

  17. showard44

    showard44 Tele-Meister

    Feb 13, 2004
    St. Louis
    I'm 27 and have been playing pedal steel about 1 1/2 years now. Just about everything said on this post is right. It can be easy for some, hard for others. I played guitar and banjo before I started pedal steel. So I was already used to the finger picks. Sliding the bar around with your left hand is the easy part, the hardest part is all the right hand technique with palm and pick blocking and setting yourself up with your fingers to not have to pick twice in a row with the same one. I have never taken a lesson but do have a good year and I play pedal steel proficiently enough to spend about half my gig night in a new country band on it. I think the easiest way to learn pedal steel is to start out in one position (that could be open without even having the bar on the strings) and learn how to play a I, IV, V with your pedals and knees. For instance, 1 is played with no pedals or knees, IV is played with A, B pedals down, and V (7th) is played with B pedal, and Left inside knee lever. I know it sounds kind of crazy, but the hardest thing I have heard lap players having a problem with is learning that the left hand is the least needed part of sceam. Depend on your A B pedals the most and you will do fine as a beginner.

    ...and the point about thinking in the number system is a good idea. I get to where people start telling me the names of the chords and I have to translate that into the numbers when I'm playing steel.

  18. Rich Rice

    Rich Rice Poster Extraordinaire

    Jul 15, 2005
    Chicago 'Burbs
    I've dreamed of being good on PSG for year, but couldn't afford one. So slide guitar got a hold of me, then lap steels. I tried the Epiphone EZ Bender on a coule of my Gibsons (non invasive B-Bender) and eventually bought a Sho Bud Maverick. Do yourself a favor, do not buy a Maverick. Then I got a beautiful Sho Bud doubleneck (100 lbs) with a lever that switched the pedal mechanisms from one neck to the other.. what a nightmare. I had a Harlin Bros 4 pedal guitar, which was very cool, but not like any other (thus no instructional materials available). Eventually I found a Sierra Artist with 3 pedals and 4 knees. I don't play often enough to be good at it, but at least I was able to fing good instruction DVD and VHS materials for that setup. It is similar to running a six burner stove with a one-track mind... I still love it, but it takes me so long to figure stuff out that I can't justify the time expenditure right now. It's my retirement project, figuring I can sit down all night, don't have to sing, and play where it feels right...

    It's hard, but worth doing. Just don't expect to be smokin' in a week or two. Buy a good one, don't play the "cheapskate" game- it's hard enough when your PSG is working properly.

  19. guit145

    guit145 Tele-Meister

    Jun 2, 2005
    Madera, CA

  20. crawdad

    crawdad Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 19, 2006
    I've been playing pedal steel for about 8 years and I find it harder than electric guitar. The PSG demands such a fine touch and multiple simultaneous skills, where you can make decent sounds pretty quickly on a guitar. Steel has a steeper learning curve.

    At this point, I'm no flash, but I can play simple fills, licks and backup on mine. I even played on my country group's CD and did OK. Just don't ask me to solo on any fast 16th notes and I get by.

    Here's the deal for me: I am a guitarist first, and pedal steel will always be a secondary instrument for me--like mandolin, dobro and piano. Like Mark Davis said, it really takes a long time to master. If you can play guitar and lap steel, you can make some music with pedal steel. Who knows? It might consume you and you could find it easy. If you can stumble into an old Emmons or Sho Bud for a deal, you'll get your money back should you decide that steel is not your thing. Stay away from the Sho Bud Maverick--at least get a Carter Starter or a "real" PSG--3 pedals and four knee levers.

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