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StartUp Steel

krusty the klown heartily endorses everything above this line...and down at the bottom.....yeah, and the popups...krusty loves popups....and poptarts....and popovers.....and......



This is an attempt to answer a number of questions that arise when someone discovers that they are a little different from their friends and acquaintances. When you first think to yourself, then whisper the words to your cat, then your clergyman, your therapist, your lover, the Jehovah's Witness at the door--

" I a steel player?"


Well, bud, that's your problem and none of mine. But here are a few things that might be useful---the answers to some questions you might not know to ask yet. Hopefully this will get you to the point of being ready to start asking more questions and start thinking about what sort of steel guitar might suit you the best.


Click here to see some pedals

Pedals are used to raise and lower the pitch of individual strings. Knee levers do exactly the same thing, merely adding to the number of moves a person with only two feet can make.
In the beginning there was the Steel Guitar, no pedals, just player and bar (steel). The only ways a player could deviate from the fixed tuning of the guitar were to slant the bar and to pull a string with the finger. Or to jump to another differently tuned neck. The first pedals were used to change the tuning of the steel so that the player could have more options at his disposal. The birth of the modern Pedal Steel Guitar occurred when someone (Bud Isaacs in particular but no doubt many others in their living rooms) used the sound of bending the string with the pedal as a musical sound. The PSG arrived.

Check out Dave Van Allen's TIMELINE


The StartUp Steel:

There are several options in lower priced instruments to get you started. There are older student models such as the Sho-Bud Maverick and there are the new guitars--although GFI and, I believe Zum make entry level models, the only steel that I have personally played and can comment on is the Carter-Starter from Carter. Simply, it is an excellent option. It shares no elements with its pro models and is not to be mistaken for a fine master instrument. But it does the most important thing--it stays in tune and it has all of the pedals and knee levers that one needs to get started on the modern E9 10 string pedal steel guitar. And it sounds and plays like a steel---it's real.
Although there is much difference of opinion about the Mavericks, here are MY opinions--
There are more starting steel guitarists who started with Mavericks, got inspired and frustrated and went on to higher level steel guitars than there are starting steel guitarists who started with a Maverick, got frustrated, and quit.
If you can afford more than a Maverick, by all means do so because if you do get serious, you will need more guitar, sooner rather than later.
But if a Maverick is what the checking account tells you is all you can afford, it is a LOT more than nothing. Be aware that they only have one knee lever and there are certain basic things that a 3 pedal 1 lever guitar cannot do. But remember that there was a day when steel guitars had no knee levers at all.

Gibson Pedal steels (Electraharp, Multiharp) and Harlin Brothers (Multikord) are antique curios that don't really figure into purchasing considerations for the modern day steel guitarist.

Fender pedal steels are phenomenal sounding guitars modern standards; by standard standards they are almost their own sub-category. Way, way cool. But for various reasons they are off on their own railroad siding of evolution and are played and loved by a cult of Fender steel freaks. I hope to join the club one day but it will never be my #1 axe.

The following is the list of mainstream choices in modern steel configurations:

img Single neck 10 string (S-10) E9
img Double neck 10 string (D-10) E9 + C6
img Single neck 12 string (S-12) ext. E9 (extended E9)
img Single neck 12 string (U-12) Universal


3 pedals and 4 or 5 knee levers is the standard configuration. 3+5 is better than 3+4. But 3+4 is fine. In general, maybe more is better. Definitely more is more. BTW, a single neck with a double body (with a pad) is often called an SD-10 (single-double)


8+4 is basic, 7+5 is sometimes seen, 8+5 is becoming increasing common.

S-12 Ext. E9

This is an S-10 with two low strings added. It has the same basic setup as the standard E9 with personal tweaks and additions as the player sees fit.

U-12 E9/B6

This is an ever-evolving tuning with an arguable basic setup of 7+5. Or 8+5. Or 7+6. Or have it your way. I've got 8+8 and I'm looking to grow new limbs.

Single Neck with a Pad?


The extra body mass enhances tone and sustain
It's comfortable to lean on when you're not playing
The extra body width allows more room underneath for the mechanicals
The extra width allows more room for your knees
It looks boss


What are you doing, showing off?
Encourages bad form/posture
The extra body mass adds to the weight

OK So What Should I Get?

Chances are that if what caught your attention when you first heard pedal steel and lit your passion was something cryin', something chicken pickin', something classic, then what you heard was the E9 pedal steel guitar. This is Lloyd Green. This is Jerry Garcia. Hey, don't look at me like that. Jerry is the first steel guitarist that many, many people ever heard.
This is the so-called Nashville neck (although don't be fooled by the name, it has been seen and heard in a couple of other places). Many players have chosen the S-10 E9 as all the guitar they need or want. It can even find some vintage sounds such as the Don Helms Hank Williams licks and the groove of western swing but.....

.....If swing is what catches your heart, you will be searching for that sound until you find the C6 neck of the D-10 which has the same E9 neck as above in front and a C6 neck closer to you. This has a tuning evolved down from the non-pedal steels that created the sound of Texas, with larger gauge strings for that fat, juicy sound like nothing else. This is the best choice unless..... think about the U-12 E9/B6. This is an ingenious merging of the E9 with a C6 tuning transposed B6 so that it meshes seamlessly. With the standard E9 lever engaged to lower your E strings to D#, you can now play anything you would have played on the C6 neck, using the same pedals you would have used on a D-10. Some U-12 guitars have a locking mechanism on that lever so that you can switch over from one tuning to another. Other players consider this unnecessary. There are many personal variations on the U-12 setup but the same can really be said about all the setups. One feature that some players object to is the elimination of the 9th D string, replaced with B, with G# E & B added (10, 11, 12). A couple of pedal and lever changes restore the missing D to the tuning but some players will not accept this compromise. I strongly recommend Larry Bell's discussion of this tuning in the link below.

The S-12 Extended E9 is an enhanced S-10 E9. It has two lower strings, G# & E (11 & 12). The S-12 does everything the S-10 does and more, with the extended range allowing the steel player to fully share the sonic range with a guitar, allowing the steel to cover rhythm duties as it swaps roles with the guitar.


There is a fair amount of material out there for the beginner player. Both video and audio courses are available but the only item that I can, from personal experience, speak of, and hell--I simply can't recommend this strongly enough--is the book Pedal Steel Guitar by Winnie Winston and Bill Keith published by Oak Publications. I suspect that more steel players have used this book than any other instructional program. The appendix contact info is pretty well obsolete but that's where this here internet comes in handy. Look through the Bobby Lee links for dealers who carry this book as well as the other courses. Amazon et al, too.

New or Used?

This is a golden age for steel players. There is a remarkable number of guitar makers who are making top-notch modern, reliable, stay-in-tune, great sounding steels. The choices are difficult and great.
This also means that there are a bunch of good used steels on the market. You might face the choice of spending a little more than you might have for a good intermediate level guitar. Let's look at a very loose price structure--

imgUsed intermediate steel---$500--$800
imgUsed Pro guitar---$800 & up.

MSA Guitars

This deserves a special mention because there are many of them on the used market. The MSA has the rep of being the only other thing besides the cockroach to be likely to survive the BIG ONE, they are so solidly made. They were produced in relatively huge numbers and hence the used market. The world seems to be divided into those who like the sound and those who just don't. What can I tell you? There are some deals to be had.

More thoughts about the Universal tuning

I play a U-12 E9/B6 guitar. I changed over from an S-10 E9.
I think the Universal tuning is the greatest thing since sliced cheese but it does have a couple of problems worth considering.

The basic U-12 has a pedal and knee setup that would be very familiar to a D-10 player. But innovations in thinking--mainly departing from the premise that this must resemble the D-10--have improved the tuning and made it a more comprehensive single tuning. The problem is, it also makes it more difficult to follow tab and instruction for the C6 neck. (Remember, C6 is transposed to B6 for the Uni tuning, another difficulty if you are reading notation or tab). Although this is not an insurmountable problem, it is a hinderance. I know players who have tried the U-12 and gone back or gone on to S-10 or D-10.

So in other words, much as I endorse it, it is not a no-brainer. There are pros and cons.

Some Thoughts

This page is intended to answer some of the many questions that have been asked on the Steel Guitar Forum by beginners and inquiring minds. If any questions remain in your mind I'd be happy to try to help.
The links below will direct you to very comprehensive sources for information, from dealers to manufacturers to all sorts of knowledge.

There is no source more remarkable, helpful, informative, and entertaining than Bobby Lee's Steel Guitar Forum. This is open to any and all with questions, answers and comments. It is THE international forum of steel guitar pros, beginners and everything in between.


sadly, I've received some abusive email from some serious fox news type wack jobs so I've removed my address from this page

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The Steel Guitar Forum STEEL LINKS
Larry Bell's Universal Tuning seminar Tunings
The PSGA--around almost as long as the PSG
Rebel™s' and Rickys' Real Audio Clips And Tab
Brad's Page of Steel (non-pedal)
Carter website
The Steel Guitar Information Resource (by Carter)
DVA's steel history and cool stuff
The Carter-Starter (Carter's entry level Steel Guitar)