The Sweet Sounds of Lap and Pedal Steel Guitars

Evolving from early Hawaiian steel guitars, lap and pedal steel guitars brought a new dimension of sound to guitar music, especially in country music. Both acoustic and electric models are available. If you’re interested in acquiring a lap or pedal steel guitar, you can find a range of all types on eBay being sold new and second hand.

How are lap steel and pedal steel guitars different?

The sound producing techniques are similar for all types; one hand plucks the strings, while the other locates pitches on the fretboard. The main differences are:

  • Lap Steel guitar: Lap steel guitars are placed on your lap, face up. Assuming you’re right-handed, your right hand fingers pluck the strings while your left hand holds a metal or glass tone bar that you slide up and down the strings to vary the pitch of the strings when plucked.
  • Console steel guitar: These are played the same as lap steel guitars but are freestanding.
  • Pedal steel guitar: These are the same as freestanding console steel guitars, but they also have foot pedals that enable you to modify the tuning arrangement by raising the pitch of individual strings. Pedal steel and console steel guitars often have two parallel necks to enable a wider range of pitches and tunings.
Can chords be played on lap or pedal steel guitars?

Yes. You can pre-tune the strings so that each string when plucked produces a note of a particular chord, such as C6, which is a common choice. Plucking groups of open strings at the same time without applying the tone bar produces that chord. By sliding the tone bar up or down the neck while plucking the strings, chords of the same type, but based on a different root note, will be sounded. To vary the type of chord on a lap steel guitar, select different string combinations to be plucked at the same time. To vary the chord type on a pedal steel guitar, you can also use the foot pedals to change the pitches of selected strings.

Left-handed lap or pedal steel guitars

Some manufacturers also produce left-handed versions of their lap steel and pedal steel guitars. They’re not common, though, and it’s a fact that many left-handers learn to play right-handed lap or pedal steel guitars.

Lap and pedal steels for kids

Smaller versions for kids are available. For console steels, look for one with adjustable legs so that they can be extended as the child grows.