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Pedal steel / lap steel

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Does anyone know anything about pedal steel and lap steel? I have questions!

I've always loved the sound of pedal steel; in the right hands it can break your heart. 

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7 hours ago, KK Jale said:

I know a little bit. I have two 50s lap steels and a Sho-Bud S10. Can I help?

Very nice. 

Thank you. I’m very interested in pedal steel but the cost of buying one is prohibitive for me. Lap Steel is more realistic price wise. I know a lap doesn’t have the pedals and levers that are a big part of the pedal steel sound but I’m wondering how close you can get without them? I understand you can’t do the bends without them but do some laps have a mechanism similar to Fender’s B-Bender that allow bending of one string within a chord?

I only ever seem to see six string laps and I’m wondering if 8 or 10 string laps exist? I’m guessing E9 tuning over 10 strings is pretty crucial for country or roots music? 

If that’s the case can a fair replication of E9 be achieved with six strings? 

Pedal steel seems such a niche instrument in the UK it’s difficult to find information or anywhere you can try one.

Thanks again. 

Edited by BrunoBass

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Very good questions! I'll try. 

This will be a bit long :-)

Yes, the cost of pedal steels is high, and sadly cheap "beginner" models can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Back in the day, newbies used to start on basic models with "pull-release" changers (as opposed to all-pull, eg. pro-level Sho-Bud and a hundred other brands, or push-pull, eg. Emmons) steels to keep costs down. Vintage examples (such as the pull-release Sho-Bud Mavericks) used to be gettable for about £500 but they're a bit of a pain, to be honest. Stay away from the Carter Starter, the mechanism is made of cheese and the knee lever stop design is a joke… they're bad enough to put you off playing for good. TL;DR; buy a pro-level pedal steel or be prepared to want to throw the thing out of the window. 

Yes, 8-string laps exist (as do 10-strings, though they're uncommon). A six-string is probably the best way to start. You can easily and cheaply experiment with tunings… open E or A for rock, blues and some Americana, then maybe a C6 tuning for traditional '50s country/roots, then, oh, about a hundred others. Eight strings really expand your options and make other tunings such as 11ths worthwhile. With any tuning, though,  pros are balanced by cons… you just need to pick one (or two, hence double-neck lap or "console" steels). 

The E9 sound on lap steel conundrum… players have been battling this for decades. On lap steels with no levers at all, it IS possible to partly replicate the E9 PSG sound, and this is done by a combination of selecting certain voicings to trick the ear and by slanting the bar (bloody difficult). But really, lap steel is potentially so much greater (and better) than just a pale E9 imitator. It's a brilliant instrument - and it also encourages the player to understand and use the whole fretboard, as opposed to pedal steel, which tempts you with so many (often corny) licks via pedals and levers without moving the bar. But I digress…

B-bender type rigs can be found. The off the shelf solution is the Duesenberg Pomona lap steel, which costs nearly as much as a very used pedal steel. Luckily, the bridge, the Duesenberg Multibender, is available separately for about £200, and can be fitted to a regular six-string lap steel (as long as it has enough body behind the bridge… the Gretsch lap is a popular victim for this mod). Main problem: having levers sticking out over the bridge slightly hampers your picking, and also your blocking (the art of silencing unwanted strings). 

The Multibender comes with two levers that can be applied to any two strings. It's raise-only, no drops. Three levers can be rigged up, but that makes it much trickier to operate; two is enough to replicate the basic "classic pedal steel move", which is to raise the 5th to a 6th (this also gives a relative minor chord) and to raise the 3rd to a 4th. Used together, these change the open (no-bar) I chord to a IV and, like a pedal steel, give you a I chord at the 7th fret. Bingo.

There are a few Multibender demos on YouTube, but bear in mind that you may very likely be better starting on a plain six-string lap steel and thinking about a bender later. There's so much to learn and have fun with in terms of bar control alone. 

Am I making sense?! Happy to try again if not. 

Edited by KK Jale
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Some great information here.

I think the advice to start with a six-string lap steel is spot on. I've just bought a cheap Weissenborn, inspired by seeing Martin Harley at Red Rooster, and KK is dead right that there's a lot to get to grips with just to get started.

Edited by pete.young

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+1 to KK's post.

I play lap steel. I have an 8 string and two 6 strings all tuned differently. The 8 is tuned to E13 right now but I may return it to A6 as I seemed to gel more with that tuning. One 6 string has a multibender and is tuned C6. I use this one the most as it has humbuckers, the other lap steels hum to no end.

A great resource for info and advice is The Steel Guitar Forum

Pedal steel, whilst amazing, is not for the faint hearted. Costly and heavy but worth the effort if you put in the time. The British Steelies often has pedal steels for sale and is another great source for info and advice.

The hardest thing I've found is picking a tuning and going with it. There are sooo many options.

Get stuck in and enjoy :)

Edited by TPJ
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1 hour ago, KK Jale said:

Very good questions! I'll try. 

This will be a bit long :-)

Yes, the cost of pedal steels is high, and sadly cheap "beginner" models can be as much of a hindrance as a help. Back in the day, newbies used to start on basic models with "pull-release" changers (as opposed to all-pull, eg. pro-level Sho-Bud and a hundred other brands, or push-pull, eg. Emmons) steels to keep costs down. Vintage examples (such as the pull-release Sho-Bud Mavericks) used to be gettable for about £500 but they're a bit of a pain, to be honest. Stay away from the Carter Starter, the mechanism is made of cheese and the knee lever stop design is a joke… they're bad enough to put you off playing for good. TL;DR; buy a pro-level pedal steel or be prepared to want to throw the thing out of the window. 

Yes, 8-string laps exist (as do 10-strings, though they're uncommon). A six-string is probably the best way to start. You can easily and cheaply experiment with tunings… open E or A for rock, blues and some Americana, then maybe a C6 tuning for traditional '50s country/roots, then, oh, about a hundred others. Eight strings really expand your options and make other tunings such as 11ths worthwhile. With any tuning, though,  pros are balanced by cons… you just need to pick one (or two, hence double-neck lap or "console" steels). 

The E9 sound on lap steel conundrum… players have been battling this for decades. On lap steels with no levers at all, it IS possible to partly replicate the E9 PSG sound, and this is done by a combination of selecting certain voicings to trick the ear and by slanting the bar (bloody difficult). But really, lap steel is potentially so much greater (and better) than just a pale E9 imitator. It's a brilliant instrument - and it also encourages the player to understand and use the whole fretboard, as opposed to pedal steel, which tempts you with so many (often corny) licks via pedals and levers without moving the bar. But I digress…

B-bender type rigs can be found. The off the shelf solution is the Duesenberg Pomona lap steel, which costs nearly as much as a very used pedal steel. Luckily, the bridge, the Duesenberg Multibender, is available separately for about £200, and can be fitted to a regular six-string lap steel (as long as it has enough body behind the bridge… the Gretsch lap is a popular victim for this mod). Main problem: having levers sticking out over the bridge slightly hampers your picking, and also your blocking (the art of silencing unwanted strings). 

The Multibender comes with two levers that can be applied to any two strings. It's raise-only, no drops. Three levers can be rigged up, but that makes it much trickier to operate; two is enough to replicate the basic "classic pedal steel move", which is to raise the 5th to a 6th (this also gives a relative minor chord) and to raise the 3rd to a 4th. Used together, these change the open (no-bar) I chord to a IV and, like a pedal steel, give you a I chord at the 7th fret. Bingo.

There are a few Multibender demos on YouTube, but bear in mind that you may very likely be better starting on a plain six-string lap steel and thinking about a bender later. There's so much to learn and have fun with in terms of bar control alone. 

Am I making sense?! Happy to try again if not. 

Thanks for that! I really appreciate you taking the time and effort to give me such an informative response. Lots to get into there! 👍🏻

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I have a cheapo six lap steel I'm intending to convert for bass strings and pups - probably three strings.  Mostly just to see what it sounds like, but you never know - I'm a Sandman/Morphine fan :)

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Well, I've been listening to this, and trying to work it out. I've just reached the point of reaching for the matches and kindling, and adding my Weissenborn to the fire! Perhaps things will seem better tomorrow|

 

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I have a lap steel that I never use, you are welcome to borrow it for as long as you like, in the spirit of exploration so to speak.

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On 26/09/2018 at 21:15, pete.young said:

Well, I've been listening to this, and trying to work it out. I've just reached the point of reaching for the matches and kindling, and adding my Weissenborn to the fire! Perhaps things will seem better tomorrow|

 

Have you got his tuning? That's the biggest obstacle when watching these kinds of vids. So many players use their own blend of tunings and unless you know what it is, it's hard to learn the song. I didn't see mention of his tuning on youtube.

Edited by TPJ

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On 26/09/2018 at 21:27, Frank Blank said:

I have a lap steel that I never use, you are welcome to borrow it for as long as you like, in the spirit of exploration so to speak.

Frank,  that is a magnificent offer. I can feel a trip to Sarfend coming on, I will ping you a PM and see if we can get together for a chat some time.

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On 28/09/2018 at 18:21, TPJ said:

Have you got his tuning? That's the biggest obstacle when watching these kinds of vids. So many players use their own blend of tunings and unless you know what it is, it's hard to learn the song. I didn't see mention of his tuning on youtube.

Yes, it's open D, but dropped a tone to open C - CGCEGC . I think they call this Vestapol in the former colonies 🙂 He seems to use the same trick of tuning down a whole tone for some of his acoustic guitar vids as well. Like the great Nic Jones also did.

I was in Eagle Music this weekend and tried an Asher which has a solid koa wood top and laminated sides. It sounded a whole lot better than my entry-level box, but not quite enough for me to buy it on the spot. I think a trip to Anderwood is on the cards first to see what they have.

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39 minutes ago, pete.young said:

Frank,  that is a magnificent offer. I can feel a trip to Sarfend coming on, I will ping you a PM and see if we can get together for a chat some time.

No worries, happy to meet you half way or whatever you wish. Nothing annoys me Like an instrument that isn’t getting played.

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Well, it looks like I have an Anderwood solid Koa wood Type 1 incoming, in the next few days.

TPJ - can you explain something to me - how do you play a harmonic with a steel slide, without it just 'fretting' the note?

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TJP will probably have a different and better answer to me but a good way to play left hand harmonics is to momentarily lift the bar off the strings and touch the strings with the edge of your pinky finger. 

You probably know this already, but right-hand harmonics really come into play a lot - either with the edge of the palm, a knuckle, a fingertip - whatever feels easiest that lets you strike the string at the same time. I tend to use the edge of the palm, it makes picking easier and you can sweep several harmonics at once. I always found the knuckle really difficult. Check out Speedy West at 0.20!

 

 

Edited by KK Jale

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I don't play too many left hand harmonics and I'd do it the way KK Jale described. I use the palm edge too for right handed harmonics.

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I'm in the process of moving house and have the lap steels all in one place. I broke open the 8 string tuned E13 and remembered why I both love and loath the tuning :). It's great for melodic lines, soloing and rich chords but I miss the country/Hawaiian thing with all the 6ths. The C6/A6 tuning seems to offer more variety, for me any way. I may revert the 8 string to A6. The only issue is that you can't really do E13 on a 6 string and it would leave me with three instruments tuned the same. Wonder if I'll miss E13?

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