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Rockin' the Country: Adapting Pedal-Steel Licks to the Electric Guitar

The following content is related to the September 2013 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue.

One of the things I love about country guitar is the way its vocabulary has, over the past 60-plus years, been influenced by the rich lexicon of licks invented by pedal-steel players. This month, I’d like to show you a few cool pedal-steel-like licks and playing approaches I’ve picked up over the years.

For those unfamiliar with the pedal steel, it’s an electric stringed instrument (typically sporting 10 to 14 strings) that’s played in a manner not unlike a fingerpicked slide guitar—with high action and configured to some kind of open tuning chosen by the player. Unlike a standard guitar, a pedal steel lays flat in front of you, like a bench or table with legs.

The steel is a smooth, solid metal bar that you hold in your fretting hand and glide along the strings to raise and lower their pitches (and wiggle to produce vibrato) as your other hand picks the strings with a thumbpick and fingerpicks. A mechanical system of footpedals and knee-operated levers allows the player to stretch or slacken individual strings to raise or lower their pitches to specific pre-set intervals, such as a half step or whole step, which offers the player the ability to craft harmonically complex riffs that feature smoothly and precisely “bent” notes within chords.

The pedal steel is one of the most recognizable and characteristic instruments in country music, and emulating its sweetly “weeping” sound is an ambitious but fun challenge for electric guitarists.


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