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Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups
Asher Guitars WD Music Products Amplified Parts Mod Kits DIY Nordstarnd Pickups

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. PJ55

    PJ55 Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 27, 2003
    Philadelphia, PA
    It's really not that intricate an instrument, but it's not all that intuitive to a six-string player, either. Think of it as a 10-string B-Bender, with (alot) more bending options. It's tuned to an open chord and the pedals get you to other lead or chording positions, easily to the 4-chord from the root you're playing and minor chords. I got mine about 10 years ago and I can get around OK on it, but I'm no Buddy Emmons. What is really fun, though - is to play along with backing tracks, your favorite tunes or with other guitar players. It's a lead or rhythm instrument and really not all that tough to pick up, especially if you've played some slide on your six-string. The same rules apply for dampening, bar positioning - all that stuff. For the (reasonable) prices for some really nice steels, every guitar player who appreciates country music, will enjoy it. I can sit at mine for hours at a time and have a blast with it. That said, I've only played-out with it once, but it was a lot of fun. I'd highly recommend it. One thing it will definitely do for you, is make you a (much) better finger picker on 6-string. It forces you to develop your right hand. And that, has been the most beneficial to me. It requires pick & fingers technique, by design. So, if you want to strengthen that part of your playing, while learning a new "guitar," it's about as much fun as you can have with some wood and strings.

  2. TampaGuitar

    TampaGuitar TDPRI Member

    Nov 29, 2012
    Tampa, Florida
    One of the better gigging lead players I have known dedicated himself to it a couple years back and is pretty solid at this point, to where he could probably sign on with a band on it.

    I am also pretty quick on the uptake of stringed instruments, but after just fiddling with it I know that it would take a while even for a "natural" stringed instrument player to really feel confident on it.

    What a couple previous players wrote about it being "Not very intuitive" is right. I can sit with most stringed instruments and figure out the part pretty fast, even if I don't play them. Even drums and piano make good sense after a few beers and hours on them. But not a pedal steel.

  3. tele salivas

    tele salivas Poster Extraordinaire

    Sep 5, 2008
    After a whole four months on the pedal steel I have to say I have learned more applicable music theory than almost 30 years on the electric guitar. I can't imagine being able to relax with a doobie before a show playing steel, or a few scotches. Nope. But one thing I have found is that playing simple melodies in time and with confidence is really impressive to the average listener. The steel provides a lot of emotive power.

  4. jermar

    jermar NEW MEMBER!

    Sep 29, 2012
    Bieber, California
    Guys, I am a newbee at playing a pedal steel. I have a standard Carter E9th 10 string single neck with three floor pedals and five knee levers. I am trying to learn how to use the knee levers playing with tabs, but I do not know what the levers are labeled. AB&C floor pedals I use mostly, but do not know which or what lever is DEF-G and never knew what to call the upper left horizontal lever. Looking at them from the back left to right how are they labeled. Three levers left knee, two levers right knee. Can someone Help? J L

  5. jguitarman

    jguitarman Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 14, 2003
    No CA
    I have a Magnum which was made by the same guys that made Carter. Mine is also E9th, 10 string with A,B,C pedals and five levers. I will look at mine when I get home tonight and get back to you. It's my understanding that any steel can be set up in order to make different levers do different things but ours are hopefully the same.
    I was near Bieber last month. I played a gig in Alturas of all places.

  6. jmiles

    jmiles Friend of Leo's

    Nov 29, 2003
    Join the Steel Guitar Forum. Different players may refer to the levers in different ways. I haven't used steel tabs in 30 years, so I don't know today's standard.
    Join, you won't regret it!

  7. jguitarman

    jguitarman Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 14, 2003
    No CA
    jermar, I spent quite a while looking and I don't have an answer for you. Maybe TPRIOR or someone could help out here.

  8. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

    Welcome to TDPRI, J L. :)

    This page should help you make sense of your tabs.

    There's no conventional single-letter name for "the upper left horizontal lever," but it's usually called a vertical lever, because it's actuated by a vertical motion of your knee. It's customarily abbreviated LKV (left knee vertical). You'll also see references to RKR (right knee right), RKL (right knee left), LKL (left knee left) and LKR (left knee right).

    These descriptions of the levers identify where they are on the guitar and how they are actuated, but there is no standardized correspondence between particular levers and the changes designated by single letters. Because of the way pedals and levers are used together, someone who plays the Emmons pedal setup would probably prefer LKL for the F change and LKR for the E change, while someone who plays the Day pedal setup would be more likely to use LKR for the F change and LKL for the E change. And there are some players who prefer to make both the E and F changes with the right knee, and others who prefer one change on each knee.

    I'm afraid it's up to you to determine whether your steel is in the Emmons or Day setup and what each of the levers does. But with the help of the chart linked above, it shouldn't take too long.

    I strongly concur with jmiles' suggestion to check out the Steel Guitar Forum.

  9. Larry F

    Larry F Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Nov 5, 2006
    Iowa City, IA
    You know, what's missing is the musical element from this discussion. In classical music composition for orchestras, there are two elements. The first is the melody and harmony, the themes and variations, etc. The second is the orchestration. Usually, orchestration is thought of in terms of voicing chords. But it can also include adding little filigrees and figures in the strings and other instruments. A better example, is a big band arrangement of a well-know song. You can hear the melody and harmony, but a good arrangement can include a lot of little background activity and fills. It can get pretty elaborate sometimes, starting to sound like its own composition.

    This is how I hear a lot of good pedal steel playing. These guys go ****ing insane, with weird, weird, weird melodic figuration, arpeggios, runs, and chromatic stuff. This stuff is as intricate and intense as anything Mozart writes in a symphony, to my mind. I can't believe how acceptable this off-the-wall stuff is, as if it is just accepted as a standard part of what steel playing is. It also explains why steel players look like someone's grandfather and don't seem like guys who hang out in the alley smoking doobies during breaks.

    OK, I know that these are all stereotypes and not technically an accurate portrayal, but, admit it, I'm getting close to something, though, right?

  10. syrynx

    syrynx Tele-Afflicted

    That's because it's off topic for this discussion, which is focused on the difficulties of initially coming to grips (literally, as well as figuratively) with what to many guitarists is an alien machine. IMO, it would be completely appropriate, though, in The Steel Guitar Thread, which is much wider in scope and oriented more toward music than mechanics. I do hope you'll post it there. I'd certainly welcome some video or audio examples of the kind of playing you describe.

    With respect to the thread title question, I found pedal steel much easier to learn than fretted guitar, which was (and frankly still is) quite difficult for me, or lap steel, which was easier for me than fretted guitar.

    I never had the opportunity of guitar lessons, so I immediately developed counterproductive habits. Some of these I eventually overcame, with difficulty, but some persist and cripple me to this day.

    I was set to repeat this pattern after acquiring my first lap steel, but a friend suggested that I call Western Swing legend Herb Remington, who lived near me, and ask if he'd teach me. He did, and I quickly learned appropriate right and left hand conformations and blocking technique, along with some harmonic concepts which dovetailed with independent autodidactic efforts I was pursuing at the time.

    When I acquired my first pedal steel, I gigged with it the first weekend I owned it. I'd been gigging with a three-neck Fender Stringmaster, and the pedal steel I bought was a Fender 400, with the same string spacing. I had nothing to unlearn, my right and left hand techniques required no changes, and I was working with my familiar principal tuning. Over about three years of learning on stage as well as off, I refined the pedal setup (and added knee levers) to suit my evolving objectives.

    For me, besides opening up harmonic possibilities unavailable on a non-pedal instrument, assigning interval changes to gross motor movements of feet and knees proved to be vastly less demanding for me than the hyper-fine motor control required of my left hand in slanting the bar. Expressing the music I imagined was easier for me on those Fender 400s (I bought a second one) than on any other instrument.

    This is not to say that I ever approached the sort of complexity described by Larry F. I'm just saying that the path I happened to follow (which was, as much as anything else, the path of least resistance) was much easier for me than it seems to be for many.

  11. DrumBob

    DrumBob -------------------------

    Jul 23, 2009
    Highland Lakes, NJ
    I was in Nashville in 1980 for the country DJ's trade show. On the last day, an older man sat me down behind a Sho-Bud and taught me two licks with the pedals and levers. I played those two licks for about 45 minutes, and probably drove everyone crazy. I was enthralled with the instrument. With a drumming background, it seemed easier than I thought, given the fact that I already had four-limb independence down cold by that time. I never pursued playing steel though, even though I do play blues on a lap steel.

    One of these days, I would like to try the pedal steel again.

  12. sloppychops

    sloppychops TDPRI Member

    Nov 16, 2010
    Great question!

    Ever since I was a kid I've had a thing for pedal steel. Nothing else makes the hair on your neck stand on end or makes you feel like partying or even like crying in a corner like a pedal steel. I never was much of a country music fan, but I always loved the pedal steel parts in them.

    Over the years, I've often thought of getting one, but never did because of a strong suspicion that it would be like trying to fly a 747. And at this point, I just don't have the time to invest in something with such a steep learning curve.

    So, for the most part, the answers in this thread pretty much confirm my decision that pedal steel would be a frustrating, and expensive, dead end for me.

    Lately, though, I've been looking into getting a Will Ray hipshot for the CV 50s that I was thinking about selling. Just being able to mimic some pedal steel sounds would probably do it for me.

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