Though unclear as to when exactly the first steel guitar was introduced on the music scene, one of the first instruments was the pedal steel guitar, the Electradaire, developed around 1939. It had 3 pedals which had 3 different positions. These pedals raised and lowered the strings, making it unnecessary to have several necks.
In 1945, the Harlin Brothers developed a pedal steel guitar called the Multi-Kord. The pedals were designed to make tuning easier and faster. It was one of the best steel guitars made at that time.
In 1946, Fender commandeered Paul Bigsby to build steel guitars and the Fender Guitar Company helped set the standard in steel guitars until 1958. Two guitars stand out during this period, the Webb Pierce “More and More” guitar and the “Slowly” guitar. Bigsby added pedals to a triple 8 steel guitar (3 necks with 8 strings on each neck) for Webb Pierce’s band which produced hits such as “More and More,” “There Stands the Glass,” and “In the Jailhouse Now.” For the hit “Slowly,” a double 8 steel guitar (2 necks with 8 strings on each neck) with 2 pedals was used.
How Steel Guitars are used
Steel guitars were made popular in the early 1950s in Country Western music and helped develop this genre of music. The style of playing first became popular in Hawaii in 1928 when a cone was used to play on a keyboard to increase volume. The Dobro, named after the Dopyera brothers who developed it is a type of steel guitar that is shaped like an acoustic guitar but has a large resonator on the front and is played on the lap, rather than like a regular guitar.
Today’s Popular Models
• One of the most popular steel guitar used today is the Emmons Push Pull guitar. It was introduced in 1964 and is still popular for the excellent quality and tone. The Promat is a reproduction and very popular today.
• The GFI-Magnum class is popular because it is compact and light.
• Other popular brands today include Rittenberry and Mullen. Both are high quality and are available in different finishes and include a number of knee levers as well as pedals.
The use of computer controlled cnc machines by Mullen Guitars leads the industry in quality and precise tolerances. Ease of playing is also a benefit of the Mullen pedal steel when comparing to earlier vintage instruments and even some brands made today.
Benefits of Steel Guitars
The unique tone and sound of a steel guitar adds depth and intensity to any band. Although, usually used in country and Hawaiian music, it is sometimes used in rock. Pink Floyd used it to create one-on-a-kind sounds, such as in the song “Comfortably Numb.”
A steel guitar is really a combination of a stringed instrument and an organ. The sound is totally unique from any other instrument and when played alone, it is very soothing and enjoyable.