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......
"......am I a steel player?"
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
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 but........by 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.
Single neck 10 string (S-10) E9
Double neck 10 string (D-10) E9 + C6
Single neck 12 string (S-12) ext. E9 (extended E9)
Single neck 12 string (U-12) Universal
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.....
.....you 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.
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--
Used intermediate steel---$500--$800
Used Pro guitar---$800 & up.
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.
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.
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.
This site is a member of the
=====( Ring of Steel )=====
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The Steel Guitar Forum
b0b.com STEEL LINKS
Larry Bell's Universal Tuning seminar
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)
The Steel Guitar Information Resource (by Carter)
DVA's steel history and cool stuff
The Carter-Starter (Carter's entry level Steel Guitar)