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Non Pedal Steel Guitar

Discussion in 'B-Bender Forum' started by ChrisC, Dec 24, 2007.

  1. ChrisC

    ChrisC TDPRI Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Northern California
    I love the sound of traditional country steel (Lloyd Green, Jimmy Day) and would like to be able to add some of this style to augment my lead Tele playing. I am not ready to take on the challenge of pedal steel at this point but thought I would like to try non-pedal steel.

    With an 8-string lap steel tuned to E9, can you get close to the traditional country steel sound? what make/model would be best for this type of sound as opposed to the fatter, bluesier typical lap steel sound?

  2. markinlondon

    markinlondon Tele-Meister

    Mar 21, 2007
    Kent, UK
    Have a listen to any pre ~1950 country record. No pedals there except in one or two exceptional cases. Often these were E7 or D6 tuned six strings, E9 8 strings were the luxury models. Almost the entire Hank Williams repertoire will give you the idea, a best of CD should be available for a few dollars.
  3. Mojohand40

    Mojohand40 Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 17, 2005
    Don Helms who used to play lap steel with Hank Williams using an eight string E13 tuning but you can play most all of it using an E6 subset (E G# B C# E G#) on a six string lap steel.

    I've been recently delving into non pedal steel a LOT and loving it more and more. I love the old Patsy Cline type stuff. I've been using C6th tuning on a six stringer to get my feet wet.
    It's really a tricky lil bugger, learning to "block" and Slant the Bar and play cleanly is really keeping me busy. But with some practice I've been able to occasionally nail that sound of early steel. Now if I could just do it consistantly, dang it!

    Anyway, just chiming in. A really amazing source for info on this stuff is:
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  5. Don Miller

    Don Miller Tele-Afflicted

    Mar 16, 2003
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Pedal steel as we know it first appeared in 1954,,,Webb Pierces "Slowly"...Guitars had pedals before that but they were used to change tunings, not notes and chords within a song...

    As others noted non pedal was prevalent in the early to mid 50s. It is difficult but not impoosible to copy pedal sounds on a non pedal guitar but it requires pulls behind the bar and finesse in blocking, slants and slides. And then its like playing with a string bender, a single note bend against a chord. You cant cop any othe half step-whole step-contrary motion stuff that defines pedal steel. I have played non pedal for 15 years...and I have a cantankerous old pedal steel...and I have only been occassionaly able to cop pedal licks on a non pedal guitar.

    In many ways, Non pedal has more in common with dobro, that it does with pedal steel...the C6 stuff does transfer between pedal and non pedal...but the Lloyd Green-Jimmy Day stuff is E9.

    Bluesy lapsteel usually has overdrive in the signal chain..or an overdriven pedal steel, with few exceptions is clean as country water...they usually use high headroom amps....
  6. davidge1

    davidge1 Friend of Leo's

    Nov 13, 2006
    It depends on what your idea of traditional country steel is. As far as I'm concerned, the C6 sound is as traditional as the more modern E9 pedal steel sound... maybe more so.

    As others have said, the early country steel sound was the 6th tuning...usually a C6, but sometimes an A6 (more common in western swing), or an E6 (used to get a brighter sound). Pedal steel players continued to use this tuning, and still do to this day...but it's not the "Nashville" sound, heard on most country music since the 60s ...though some artists, like Hank Thompson, continued to use the the C6 steel sound exclusively.

    The best thing is to get aquainted with the C6 sound and determine if this is a sound that's going to work for you. Not only are Hank Williams records a good place to hear this sound, but I'd check out Hank Thompson too.

    I did a little recording of Here Comes Santa can listen to it in the Twanger Centeral section of this site:

    On the recording Im playing some C6 steel on a Fender Stringmaster, along with the guitar parts... you can hear for yourself how it sounds to compliment a Telecaster!

    I like the sound of Fender steel guitars, but I think any brand will give a traditional country sound with a clean amp.
  7. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    I'm not very knowledgeable on the subject, but am very interested, so I hope it's cool if I join in the conversation.

    I'm fortunate to work regularly with a multi-instrumentalist who's a really good lap steel player. He decided to base his tuning approach on dobro, which he played prior to getting into the lap thing. He uses an old Framus 8 string with dobro tuning on the lower six, and he's got the top two strings set up to get the classic western swing 6 and 9 cluster stuff (I keep forgetting to ask him how the top two strings are tuned). We do Patsy Cline's "Walking After Midnight", and he pretty much nails it. He's very adept at the slants and behind-the-bar pulls. Obviously, the mechanical pedal moves are a big part of the sus2 -> resolution and other classic steel sounds, so you can't really get that vibe without pedals. The pedal thing aside, what hasn't been mentioned thusfar is how big a factor volume pedals and ambience are in getting the old school sounds. My mate is very skilled at volume pedal swells, and he uses a BOSS DD-3 delay to create some air around the notes. DD-3 is not exactly old school, but he prefers delay over reverb. The other thing he mentioned is that he abandoned his thumb and finger picks when moving from six string to eight string; with the closer spacing of the eight string, he's more comfortable with thumb and fingers.

    My old friend and partner in a different project recently gave to me a Supro six string lap as a gift. I've been dinking with it off and on for a month or so, and have decided to carry it to a job this coming weekend to get my feet wet. I really wanted to lean more toward the western swing stuff and go for a C or G tuning, but none of the material that this outfit plays immediately lends itself to such. We do however do a blues medley that includes Fred McDowell's "You Gotta Move", that my partner plays in open D on a resophonic guitar. We've been doing a dual slide thing with me on guitar in dropped D, so I'll instead be playing this set on lap in open D for the upcoming job.

    I tried my banjo picks, but so far I'm preferring thumb and fingers. I've been using a cylindrical bar, but most of the steel players that I know prefer the Shubb-Pearce bar.

    Here's a question: what do you guys sit on? I figured that logistically, a collapsable drummer's throne would make sense for tossing into the back of the Toyota. I tried that and hated it. I'm going to be carrying a plastic lawn chair for the Saturday job, but I know this isn't going to work for every venue that I'll encounter.
  8. davidge1

    davidge1 Friend of Leo's

    Nov 13, 2006
    I'd recommend getting used to the collapsable drum stool...that's what I've always used. Who wants to haul a chair around? ...takes up way too much space and looks goofy on stage.

    While there's really no logical reason not to do things your own way, there's a certain amount of tradition that usually goes along with certain instruments. In the case of steel guitar, that generally means a cylindrical bar and finger picks. Shubb or Stevens bars are for Dobro players. There's more than just tradition involved... with steel guitar, it's important to be able to move the bar so that you're not always covering all the strings at once. With a dobro bar, you cant really do that. Pedal steel players almost always use the big, fat steel bars... but everyone I've met who's into the vintage non-pedal steel sound likes the older style slimmer bars, like the Brozophonic... that's what I use.
  9. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    David, thanks for the advice and education.

    I've played the Shubb bar, and I can see where it would have advantages for certain things. Thusfar, I'm not running into any major snags with the slim cylindrical bar, and the parts I'm playing to this point are definitely dependent on not covering all the strings with the bar. I'll go with that for tomorrow night's show and will likely soldier on with it until I run into something that's problematic; maybe I'll use different bars for particular applications, it's too early in the game to say.

    I think the finger picks vs. pure flesh thing will evolve over time as I learn more about the instrument and play different types of music on it. I'm choosing to deflower myself with a basic blues vehicle for my first live outing, so that I can simply get a feel for the instrument without being intimidated by having too much to think about initially. In playing through the tunes here at the shack, I like the sound of the thumb on the low D, so this is how I'm planning to start. Also, I was looking around for another instrument besides bass to poke around on without using any sorts of picks. I'm sure I'll bring in the picks at some point.

    I'll be picking up a drummer's throne shortly, even though I really didn't get on with it. This will mostly be for venues where something like a lawn chair will be inappropriate or inconvenient. This first job is with my duo, and we live for all things campy and goofy, so the white plastic lawn chair will be spot-on perfect. We always carry a big goofy art-deco lamp to our jobs. We refer to it as our light show.
  10. ednew

    ednew Tele-Holic

    Jun 25, 2003
    Whidbey Island, WA
    Tim--Here's something a little different --check it out

  11. jhundt

    jhundt Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 23, 2003
    Tim - I played some lap steel parts on a recording once. I tried several takes sitting, and I couldn't make it work. So I put the guitar on a high table and played standing. It worked much better, for me. Maybe that's an option for you?

    Do you have a picture of that Supro? I have an old 50's Supro too, with little decals of angels that some previous owner put on.
  12. Mojohand40

    Mojohand40 Tele-Afflicted

    Oct 17, 2005
    manassas,va ever seen a Dobro Player? Most I've seen move those Shubbs quite easily and seldom cover all strings at once. Plus do pulloffs, hammer ons, behind the bar pulls and slants pretty efficiently with those big clunky bars. Nothing against bullet bars, I've used both types.
  13. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 21, 2006
    Vienna, Austria
    About the bars: I play lap-steel, not dobro, in C6 tuning, and I've tried regular cylindrical "bullet bars" - but I much prefer the Shupp Pearse SP2, which combines the best features of dobro bars (the grip - much easier to hold than a bullet bar) and bullet bars (the rounded nose - much better for playing single-note lines, or for playing those slants that have two notes on the same fret on top of a single bass note).
  14. Tim Bowen

    Tim Bowen Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 17, 2003
    Atlanta/Rome, Georgia, US
    Ednew, thanks for the link. Looks like a useful piece - and not just for the new lap steel interest. I pretty much hate sitting down to play anyway... but at some of the "acoustic" venues I work, you're a fish out of water unless you're sitting on a stool... the stools are always so tall, it's like somewhere between sitting down and standing up, and plus it's tough to get at my stompers, so my thought is, what's the point...?

    Jhundt, I've posted about this before (on the "Lap Steel Build" thread maybe?) - the guy I mentioned earlier in the thread that plays the Framus can't really get on unless standing up either. He got tired of sitting on a drum stool, so then he built this "boat oar" type of stand. He did that for about a dozen shows, but I guess he ultimately determined that he wanted to be totally mobile with the thing. So he bought some $40.00 knockoff Stratocaster copy, gutted it, removed the bolt-on neck, mounted some right angle metal brackets, applied a platform to that, and secures the Framus to this Frankenstein-approved apparatus with velcro. It still has the wires hanging out of the cavity. He's been playing that for about a year and a half. Hey, whatever gets you through the night.

    I'm not really a pic-poster. The Supro is black and weathered. The serial number is V12363. It has a tan humbucker which is surely a replacement; probably a Dimarzio, from the looks of it.

    Like I said, I'll get a Shubb. For a first outing I was pleasantly surprised, and managed to get on okay with the bullet bar. I found myself doing lots of single note and double stop bits against a droning D bass. My rule for playing a new-to-me instrument live is that if I don't absolutely suck, and people seem to dig it, I'll have at it again. Just getting started here, thanks for the insight.
  15. Big Tony

    Big Tony Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2003
    Sweden, by golly!
    What are your string gauges?

    / Tony
  16. RomanS

    RomanS Poster Extraordinaire

    Jun 21, 2006
    Vienna, Austria
    I get my strings from the online shop at

    For my 6-string I use the Jagwire Steel Guitar Forum C6th/A6th strings:
    E .015
    C .017
    A .020
    G .024w
    E .030
    C .036

    On my 8-string I have the Jagwire Herb Remington "No Pedals" C6 High set:
    G .011
    E .014
    C .018
    A .022w
    G .024
    E .030
    C .036
    A .042
  17. garytelecastor

    garytelecastor Poster Extraordinaire

    Tim-I use my lap for songs that require a distortion or grittier sound and for the real Classic stuff, Hank, etc. I use the pedal for the honky tonk stuff from the 60's and 50's. I use a bar stool when I don't have my pedal with me, and I use a keyboard stool when I do.

    We are doing a new CD and I have been really working on my licks, and mandolin chops.
    People sometimes think that learning the pedal is tough, mainly because of the # of strings and the pedals and levers. In reality you can get a pretty good integration with an E9; the 3 pedal 4 lever models. Once you learn the neck on the 6 string it is not all that difficult to transpose.
    Carter steel put out the video below. Just go there and download.
    You can play it in either Real or Windows.
  18. ironweed

    ironweed Tele-Meister

    Mar 21, 2003
    A fold-up keyboard bench make a good, portable seat for lap steel or for pedal steel, FWIW.

    You can emulate some of the pedal sounds with bar slants and behind-the-bar pulls, even with six-string tunings. You can make I->IV and I>V changes with simple slants, and sus4 and aug7 changes with simple behind-the bar pulls. Those are generally back-of-the book topics.

    I play both types, and -- in many respects -- the pedal steel is easier than non-pedal. The standard 3+4 E9th setup has evolved to the point where most chord inversions and common licks are "right there" without thinking too hard.

    A lot of the traditional non-pedal tunings have a 6th or 13th (6th in high strings, 7th in low strings) sound which is more jazzy, less bakersfield. Think of Don Helms with Hank Williams, or Junior Brown on the guitsteel.

    There are many devotees of the old Fender pedal steels tuned in E9 w/o the high chromatic strings. Simpler guitars, usually not as costly. Very bright and trebly. Think of early Buck Owens, or recent "Dwight Sings Buck" CD.

    Huge topic, check out the Steel Guitar Forum ( for much more in-depth info.
  19. Big Tony

    Big Tony Friend of Leo's

    Mar 17, 2003
    Sweden, by golly!
    Thanks, RomanS!

    / Tony
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