Buying a guitar: Steel Guitars
Prepared by Alan Humm
This is not really my 'thing' as it were, so these comments will tend to
be brief and generally informative, rather than helping you purchase
anything. Steel guitar playing, (not the same as steel-string guitar
playing) probably had its origins in Hawaii in the 19th
century. Hawaiian music crossed the ocean to America in the early
20th century, and steel playing caught on here.
Shubb-Pearse Steel Guitar Slide.
It is called 'steel' guitar, not because the guitars are metal (although
they can be), but because the slides are big old chunks of (usually
chrome plated) steel. You can play 'slide guitar' on any guitar, usually
using a bottle-neck slide. But true steel players don't use frets
(except as markers) and usually the steel guitar is held on their lap,
or resting on a table of some sort.
In that sense, they are in the same category as resonator guitars, when
they are played in the lap format.
Gretsch Lap Steel Guitar.
The guitar itself can be just an ordinary guitar with the strings lifted
off the fingerboard using some sort of insert. This allows the slide to
rest on the strings without pushing them down to the frets.1
But they can be specifically made for the purpose like the electric
steel in the image on the right. What look like frets are just marks to
tell the player where the fret would have been, if they existed.
GFI Student Model Pedal Steel Guitar.
Later, pedals were added (originally by Gibson) to stretch individual
strings, allowing to player to essentially change the tuning of the
guitar on the fly, in the middle of a song. Here are a couple of samples
(be sure to watch both to get the full effect):
David Hartley: The Blame by Highway 101
Guido Ambrosi: Still Got The Blues by Gary Moore