The pedal steel guitar is a console-type of steel guitar with pedals and knee levers that change the pitch of certain strings to enable playing more varied and complex music than other steel guitar designs. Like all steel guitars, it can play unlimited glissandi (sliding notes) and deep vibrati—characteristics it shares with the human voice. Pedal steel is most commonly associated with American country music and Hawaiian music.
Pedals were added to a lap steel guitar in 1940, allowing the performer to play a major scale without moving the bar and also to push the pedals while striking a chord, making passing notes slur or bend up into harmony with existing notes. The latter creates a unique sound that has been popular in country and western music— a sound not previously possible on steel guitars before pedals were added. [lower-alpha 1]
From its first use in Hawaii in the 19th century, the steel guitar sound became popular in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and spawned a family of instruments designed specifically to be played with the guitar in a horizontal position, also known as "Hawaiian-style". The first instrument in this chronology was the Hawaiian guitar also called a lap steel; next was a lap steel with a resonator to make it louder, first made by National and Dobro Corporation. The electric guitar pickup was invented in 1934, allowing steel guitars to be heard equally with other instruments. Electronic amplification enabled subsequent development of the electrified lap steel, then the console steel, and finally the pedal steel guitar.
Playing the pedal steel has unusual physical requirements in requiring simultaneous coordination of both hands, both feet and both knees (knees operate levers on medial and lateral sides of each knee); the only other instrument with similar requirements is the American reed organ. Pioneers in development of the instrument include Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day, Bud Isaacs, Zane Beck, and Paul Bigsby. In addition to American country music, the instrument is used in sacred music in the eastern and southern United States (called Sacred Steel), jazz, and Nigerian Music.
In the late 19th century, Spanish guitars were introduced in the Hawaiian Islands by European sailors and Mexican "vaqueros".   Hawaiians did not embrace the standard guitar tuning that had been in use upon their introduction.  Rather, they re-tuned the guitars to make them sound a major chord when all six strings were strummed, now known as an "open tuning".  The term for this is "slack-key" because certain strings were "slackened" to achieve it.  To change chords, they used some smooth object, usually a piece of pipe or metal, sliding it over the strings to the fourth or fifth position, easily playing a three-chord song. [lower-alpha 2] It is physically difficult to hold a steel bar against the strings while holding the guitar against the body and the Hawaiians laid the guitar across the lap and played it while sitting. Playing this way became popular throughout Hawaii and spread internationally. 
Hawaiian lap steel guitars were not loud enough to compete with other instruments, a problem that many inventors were trying to remedy. In Los Angeles in the 1920s, a steel guitar player named George Beauchamp saw some inventions which added a horn, like a megaphone, to steel guitars to make them louder.  Beauchamp became interested, and went to a shop near his home to learn more. The shop was owned by a violin repairman named John Dopyera. Dopyera and his brother Rudy, showed Beauchamp a prototype of theirs which looked like a big Victrola horn attached to a guitar, but it was not successful.  Their next attempt yielded some success with a resonator cone, resembling a large metal loudspeaker, attached under the bridge of the guitar.  Buoyed by their success, Beauchamp joined the Dopyera brothers in forming a company to pursue their invention. The new resonator invention was promoted at a lavish party in Los Angeles and demonstrated by the well-known Hawaiian steel player Sol Hoopii. An investor wrote a check for $12,000 that very night. 
A factory was built to manufacture metal-body guitars with the new resonators. Money problems and disagreements followed, and the Doperyas won a legal battle against Beauchamp over the company, then went on their own to form "the Dobro Corporation", Dobro being an acronym for DOpyera and BROthers. Beauchamp was out of a job. He had been thinking about an "electric guitar" for years, and at least part of the dispute with the Dopyeras was over him spending too much time on the electrification idea and not enough on improving the resonator guitar.  Beauchamp enrolled in electronics courses and, for his first effort, he made a single-string guitar out of a 2x4 piece of lumber and experimented with phonograph pickups, but had no success. He eventually came up with the idea of using two horseshoe magnets encircling the guitar strings like a bracelet, and six small metal rods wrapped with wire to concentrate the magnetic field (one under each guitar string). 
When connected to an electronic amplifier and loudspeaker, it worked.  He enlisted the aid of a skilled craftsman to fashion a guitar neck and body to connect to his device. The final construct, he thought, resembled a frying pan, and that is what the instrument was nicknamed. He applied for patent June 2, 1934 and received it on August 10, 1937.  Beauchamp asked a nearby engineer named Adolph Rickenbacker to help manufacture the product and together they founded a company first named "Ro-Pat-In", soon changed to "ElectroString".  The guitar brand was called "Rickenbacker" because they thought the name was easier to pronounce than "Beauchamp" (pronounced Beecham) and because Adolph's cousin, Eddie Rickenbacker, an American pilot and WWI flying ace, was a well-known name in the U.S. at that time. 
In 1931, the Great Depression was at its worst, and people were not buying guitars; in addition, the patent office delayed on the application, in part because they had no category for the invention—was it a musical instrument or an electrical device?  Electrostring's competitors infringed on the patent, but the owners did not have the money to litigate the infringements. Beauchamp was ultimately deprived of economic benefit for his invention because his competitors rapidly improved on it making his specific patent obsolete.  Electrostring's most successful product was the Hawaiian guitar (lap steel) A22 "Frying Pan", the first electrified instrument of any kind  — made with a metal body, smaller than a traditional Spanish guitar, to be played on the musician's lap.
Two additional breakthroughs emerged: One, the guitar amplifier, which had to be purchased in order to use the invention;  and two, perhaps unrealized at the time, that electrified guitars no longer had to have the traditional guitar shape—this profoundly influenced electric guitar designs forever forward. 
The first lap steels had a smaller body, but still retained a guitar-like shape. Instrument makers rapidly began making them into a rectangular block of wood with an electric pickup, the precursor of the pedal steel. According to music writer Michael Ross, the first electrified stringed instrument on a commercial recording was a western swing tune by Bob Dunn in 1935.   He recorded with Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies.  Brown has been called "The father of western swing"  The inherent limitation of the lap steel was its constraint to very limited chords not changeable during a performance without re-tuning.  For that reason, scores of different tunings are available for lap steel players. 
The next problem to be dealt with was the need to play with different voicings on the same guitar; i.e., the way the strings are tuned.  The only way to accomplish this at the time was the addition of a duplicate neck and strings on the same instrument, tuned differently.
Players continued to add more necks, eventually getting up to four. This meant a bigger and heavier instrument, now called a "console" which necessitated putting it on a stand or legs rather than the performer's lap. Noel Boggs, a lap steel player with Bob Wills, received the first steel guitar made by instrument maker Leo Fender in 1953. Fender relied on prominent performers to field test his instruments.  Boggs was one of the first players to switch to a different neck during a solo.  Leon McAuliffe, composer of "Steel Guitar Rag", also played with Bob Wills, and used a multi-neck steel guitar. When Wills said his well-known tag line, "Take it away, Leon", he was referring to McAuliffe.  A Fender Stringmaster triple-neck console steel was heard in a number one hit song in 1959,"Sleep Walk", a steel guitar instrumental by Santo and Johnny, the Farina Brothers.
The expense of building multiple necks on the same instrument made them unaffordable for most players, and a more sophisticated solution was needed. At this point, the goal was simply to create a pedal that would change the pitch of all the strings at once to emulate a second neck.  In 1939, a guitar called the "Electradaire" featured a pedal controlling a solenoid, triggering an electrical apparatus to change the tension on the strings.  This was not successful. That same year, bandleader Alvino Rey worked with a machinist to design pedals to change the pitch of strings but was without success. The Harlan Brothers of Indianapolis created the "Multi-Kord" with a universal pedal that could fairly easily be configured to adjust the pitch of any or all strings, but was extremely hard to push when tensioning all strings at once.  The Gibson Guitar Company introduced the "Electraharp" in 1940, which featured pedals radially oriented from a single axis at the instrument's left rear leg. The instrument was not popular and only 43 were sold before production was halted, but the U.S. entry into World War II played a part in lack of demand.  After WW II, Gibson redesigned and reintroduced the Electraharp and Bud Isaacs used one on the song "Big Blue Diamonds" for King Records. 
The most successful pedal system from the various contenders was designed about 1948 by Paul Bigsby, a motorcycle shop foreman and racer who also invented the commercially successful Spanish guitar vibrato tailpiece.  Bigsby put pedals on a rack between the two front legs of the steel guitar. The pedals operated a mechanical linkage to apply tension to raise the pitch of the strings. 
Bigsby built guitars incorporating his design for the foremost steel players of the day, including Speedy West, Noel Boggs, and Bud Isaacs, but Bigsby was a one-man operation working out of his garage at age 56, and not capable of keeping up with demand.  One of Bigsby's first guitars was used on "Candy Kisses" in 1949 by Eddie Kirk.  The second model Bigsby made went to Speedy West, who used it extensively. 
In 1953, Bud Isaacs received one of Bigsby's new creations, a double-neck steel which featured pedals to change the pitch of only two strings. Isaacs was the first to push the pedal while notes were still sounding. Other steel players strictly avoided doing this, because it was considered "un-Hawaiian". 
When Isaacs first used the setup on the 1953 recording of Webb Pierce's song "Slowly", he pushed the pedal while playing a chord, so notes could be heard bending up from below into the existing chord to harmonize with the other strings, creating a stunning effect which had not been possible with the older (non-pedal) lap steels.  Of this recording of "Slowly", steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Green said, "This fellow, Bud Isaacs, had thrown a new tool into musical thinking about the steel with the advent of this record that still reverberates to this day."  It was the birth of the future sound of country music and caused a virtual revolution among steel players who wanted to duplicate it.  
Also in the 1950s, steel guitar hall-of-famer Zane Beck  added knee levers to the pedal steel guitar capable of bending notes downward.  The player can move each knee either right, left or up (depending on the model) triggering different pitch changes. The levers function basically the same as foot pedals, and may be used alone, in combination with the other knee, or more commonly, in combination with one or two foot pedals.  They were first added to Ray Noren's console steel.  Initially, the knee levers just lowered the pitch, but in later years with refinements, could raise or lower pitch.
When "Slowly" was released, Bigsby was in the process of building a guitar for steel virtuoso Buddy Emmons. Emmons heard Isaacs' performance on the song, and told Bigsby to make his guitar setup to split the function of Isaacs' single pedal into two pedals, each controlling a different string. This gave the advantages of making chords without having to slant or move the bar, e.g., minors and suspended chords. Jimmy Day, another prominent steel player of the day, did the same thing, but reversed which strings were affected by the two pedals. This prompted future manufacturers to ask customers if they wanted a "Day" or an "Emmons" setup. In 1957, Emmons partnered with guitarist/machinist Harold "Shot" Jackson to form the Sho-Bud company, the first company devoted solely to pedal steel guitar manufacture.
Emmons made other innovations to the steel guitar, adding two additional strings (known as "chromatics") and a third pedal, changes which have been adopted as standard in the modern-day E9 instrument.   The additional strings allow the player to play a major scale without moving the bar.  He also developed and patented a mechanism to raise and lower the pitch of a string on a steel guitar and return to the original pitch without going out of tune.  The Sho-Bud instruments of the day had all the latest features: 10 strings, the third pedal, and the knee levers.
The pedal steel continues to be an instrument in transition.  In the United States, as of 2017, the E9 neck is more common, but most pedal steels still have two necks. The C6 is typically used for western swing music and the E9 neck is more often used for country music.  The different necks have distinctly different voicings. The C6 has a wider pitch range than the E9, mostly on the lower notes. 
Certain players prefer different setups regarding which function the pedals and levers perform, and which string tuning is preferred. In the early 1970s, musician Tom Bradshaw coined the term copedent ( /koʊˈpiːdənt/ koh-PEE-dənt), a portmanteau of "chord-pedal-arrangement". Often represented in table form, it is a way of specifying the instrument's tuning, pedal and lever setup, string gauges and string windings.
There are proponents of a "universal tuning" to combine the two most popular modern tunings (E9 and C6) into a single 12 or 14-string neck that encompasses some features of each.  It was developed by Maurice Anderson and later modified by Larry Bell. By lowering the C6 tuning a half-step to make it a B6, many commonalities with the E9 tuning are achieved on the same neck and it is called the E9/B6 tuning. 
The pedal steel most commonly associated with American country music, but it is also sometimes heard in jazz, sacred music, popular music, nu jazz, and African music.   In the United States in the 1930s, during the steel guitar's wave of popularity, the instrument was introduced into the House of God, a branch of an African-American Pentecostal denomination, based primarily in Nashville and Indianapolis. The sound bore no resemblance to typical American country music.  The steel guitar was embraced by the congregation and often took the place of an organ. The first documented use of a pedal (rather than lap) steel in this tradition was in 1952, but it did not become common until the early 1970s.  : 60 This musical genre, known as "Sacred Steel" was largely unknown until, in the 1980s, a minister's son named Robert Randolph took up the instrument as a teenager, and has popularized it and received critical acclaim as a musician.  Neil Strauss, writing in the New York Times, called Randolph "one of the most original and talented pedal steel guitarists of his generation. 
The pedal steel guitar became a signature component of Nigerian Juju music in the late 1970s.  Nigerian bandleader King Sunny Adé featured pedal steel guitar in his 17 piece band, which, wrote New York Times reviewer Jon Pareles, introduces "a twang or two from American blues and country"  Norwegian jazz trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer, considered a pioneer of Future jazz (a fusion of jazz and electronic music), released the album Switch, which features the pedal steel guitar. 
An electric guitar is a guitar that requires external amplification in order to be heard at typical performance volumes, unlike a standard acoustic guitar. It uses one or more pickups to convert the vibration of its strings into electrical signals, which ultimately are reproduced as sound by loudspeakers. The sound is sometimes shaped or electronically altered to achieve different timbres or tonal qualities from that of an acoustic guitar via amplifier settings or knobs on the guitar. Often, this is done through the use of effects such as reverb, distortion and "overdrive"; the latter is considered to be a key element of electric blues guitar music and jazz and rock guitar playing. Designs also exist combining attributes of the electric and acoustic guitars: the semi-acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars.
The guitar is a fretted musical instrument that typically has six strings. It is usually held flat against the player's body and played by strumming or plucking the strings with the dominant hand, while simultaneously pressing selected strings against frets with the fingers of the opposite hand. A plectrum or individual finger picks may also be used to strike the strings. The sound of the guitar is projected either acoustically, by means of a resonant chamber on the instrument, or amplified by an electronic pickup and an amplifier.
Rickenbacker International Corporation is a string instrument manufacturer based in Santa Ana, California. The company is credited as the first known maker of electric guitars – a steel guitar in 1932 – and today produces a range of electric guitars and basses.
Slide guitar is a technique for playing the guitar that is often used in blues music. It involves playing a guitar while holding a hard object against the strings, creating the opportunity for glissando effects and deep vibratos that reflect characteristics of the human singing voice. It typically involves playing the guitar in the traditional position with the use of a slide fitted on one of the guitarist's fingers. The slide may be a metal or glass tube, such as the neck of a bottle. The term bottleneck was historically used to describe this type of playing. The strings are typically plucked while the slide is moved over the strings to change the pitch. The guitar may also be placed on the player's lap and played with a hand-held bar.
A steel guitar is any guitar played while moving a steel bar or similar hard object against plucked strings. The bar itself is called a "steel" and is the source of the name "steel guitar". The instrument differs from a conventional guitar in that it is played without using frets; conceptually, it is somewhat akin to playing a guitar with one finger. Known for its portamento capabilities, gliding smoothly over every pitch between notes, the instrument can produce a sinuous crying sound and deep vibrato emulating the human singing voice. Typically, the strings are plucked by the fingers of the dominant hand, while the steel tone bar is pressed lightly against the strings and moved by the opposite hand.
String instruments, stringed instruments, or chordophones are musical instruments that produce sound from vibrating strings when a performer plays or sounds the strings in some manner.
The lap steel guitar, also known as a Hawaiian guitar, is a type of steel guitar without pedals that is typically played with the instrument in a horizontal position across the performer's lap. Unlike the usual manner of playing a traditional acoustic guitar, in which the performer's fingertips press the strings against frets, the pitch of a steel guitar is changed by pressing a polished steel bar against plucked strings. Though the instrument does not have frets, it displays markers that resemble them. Lap steels may differ markedly from one another in external appearance, depending on whether they are acoustic or electric, but in either case, do not have pedals, distinguishing them from pedal steel guitar.
A vibrato system on a guitar is a mechanical device used to temporarily change the pitch of the strings. Instruments without a vibrato have other bridge and tailpiece systems. They add vibrato to the sound by changing the tension of the strings, typically at the bridge or tailpiece of an electric guitar using a controlling lever, which is alternately referred to as a whammy bar, vibrato bar, or incorrectly as a tremolo arm. The lever enables the player to quickly and temporarily vary the tension and sometimes length of the strings, changing the pitch to create a vibrato, portamento, or pitch bend effect.
Copedent is a term used to describe the tuning and pedal arrangement on a pedal steel guitar and is unique to that instrument. Typically expressed in the form of a table or chart, the word is a portmanteau of "chord–pedal–arrangement and is pronounced "co-PEE-dent". It was coined in 1969 by Steel Guitar Hall of Fame member Tom Bradshaw and first reached a wide audience in a 1972 article in Guitar Player magazine. A complete copedent includes the order of strings, their tuning, string gauges, and whether a string is plain or wound; it also indicates how any string's pitch is changed by applying a foot pedal or a knee lever. It has become an international standard used by steel guitar players and manufacturers to describe the specifications of these instruments.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to guitars:
The console steel guitar is any type of electric steel guitar that is built in a frame supported by legs. It may be a lap steel or a pedal steel. Console steel guitars are typically heavier instruments that have multiple necks and/or more than six strings per neck and are therefore not manageable on the player's lap. This type of instrument was created when players in the late 1940s needed to play in different keys and with different chords than the lap steel afforded. To do this, they added additional necks to a lap steel. The player could then easily switch to a different neck on the same instrument, but this made the instrument so heavy and cumbersome that it could not be easily held on the lap. Trying to solve the problem with multiple necks led to the invention of the pedal steel guitar in the 1950s.
A resonator guitar or resophonic guitar is an acoustic guitar that produces sound by conducting string vibrations through the bridge to one or more spun metal cones (resonators), instead of to the guitar's sounding board (top). Resonator guitars were originally designed to be louder than regular acoustic guitars, which were overwhelmed by horns and percussion instruments in dance orchestras. They became prized for their distinctive tone, and found life with bluegrass music and the blues well after electric amplification solved the problem of inadequate volume.
The National String Instrument Corporation was an American guitar company first formed to manufacture banjos and then the original resonator guitars. National also produced resonator ukuleles and resonator mandolins. The company merged with Dobro to form the "National Dobro Company", then becoming a brand of Valco until it closed in 1968.
E9 tuning is a common tuning for steel guitar necks of more than six strings. It is the most common tuning for the neck located furthest from the player on a two-neck console steel guitar or pedal steel guitar while a C6 neck is the one closer to the player. The E9 is a popular tuning for single neck instruments of eight or more strings. This tuning has evolved in the last half of the twentieth century with input from prominent performers including Jimmy Day, Ralph Mooney and Buddy Emmons to support optimal chord and scale patterns across a single fret on the 10-string pedal steel guitar.
The Rickenbacker Electro A-22, nicknamed the "Frying Pan" is the first electric lap steel guitar. Developed in 1931/1932, it received its patent in August 1937. A previous attempt, the Stromberg company‘s transducer-based "Stromberg Electro", was introduced in 1928. It used a "vibration-transfer rod" from the instrument's sounding board attached to magnets inside the guitar, and was not successful. George Beauchamp created the "Fry-Pan" in 1931, and it was subsequently manufactured by Rickenbacker Electro. The instrument gained its nickname because its circular body and long neck make it resemble a frying pan.
Buddy Gene Emmons was an American musician who is widely regarded as the world's foremost pedal steel guitarist of his day. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981. Affectionately known by the nickname "Big E", Emmons' primary genre was American country music, but he also performed jazz and Western swing. He recorded with Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, The Everly Brothers, The Carpenters, Jackie DeShannon, Roger Miller, Ernest Tubb, John Hartford, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ray Price, Judy Collins, George Strait, John Sebastian, and Ray Charles and was a widely sought session musician in Nashville and Los Angeles.
A resonator ukulele or "resophonic ukulele" is a ukulele whose sound is produced by one or more spun aluminum cones (resonators) instead of the wooden soundboard. These instruments are sometimes referred to as "Dobro ukuleles," however the term "Dobro" is currently trademarked by the Gibson Guitar Corporation.
The Fender 1000 is a model of pedal steel guitar manufactured by Fender in the 1950s and 1960s.
Forrest "Bud" Isaacs (1928–2016) was an American steel guitarist who made country music history in 1954 as the first person to play pedal steel guitar on a hit record. He is known for his playing his innovative technique on Webb Pierce's 1954 recording of a song called "Slowly" which became a major hit for Pierce and was one of the most-played country songs of 1954. Isaacs was the first to push a pedal while the strings were still sounding to create a unique bending of notes from below up to join an existing note; this was not possible on older lap steel guitars. The stunning effect he created was embraced by country music fans and many lap steel artists rushed to get pedals to imitate the unique bending chords that he played. Music historians pinpoint the actual dawning of country music's modern era to Isaac's performance on this song. He became a much-favored session player and performed on 11 top country records the year following the release of "Slowly". Even though pedal steel guitars had been available for over a decade before this recording, the instrument emerged as a crucial element in country music after the success of this song.
Zane Beverly Beck (1927–1985) was an American steel guitarist and builder of pedal steel guitars. He is best known for his 1952 innovation of adding knee levers to the pedal steel guitar to alter the pitch of certain strings, a feature which has become a standard on all modern-day instruments. Other inventors had patented crude knee-operated devices as far back as 1933, but none were successful. Beck revolutionized the concept into a durable and reliable mechanism and was the first to put knee levers on production guitars. He became a member of the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame (1991). As a musician, he performed on the Grand Ole Opry and Shreveport's Louisiana Hayride. Beck formed the ZB Music Company which manufactures steel guitars, later called BMI.