Most country songs employ a pedal steel to achieve what has been characterized as a “high lonesome sound”; however, most people have no idea what this instrument is or how it’s played. A pedal steel typically has ten strings and features several pedals (hence the name) which typically tune strings a step or half step higher. When played in the context of major chords, a pedal steel is generally used to raise a second a whole note up to a third, resolving the chord. Because the pedal steel relies on a steel to play the notes it can be compared to a fiddle. The instrument doesn’t distinctly move from one note to another it slides from note to note.
The following video explains the mechanics of a pedal steel.
I have been a fan of pedal steel artists for about two years now. I discovered the instrument studying banjo in fact–the great Sonny Osborne often utilized steel licks in his banjo playing. One of my favorite steel players is Sarah Jory. She has been a very minor musician in the main scope of things. In fact she has not played with overly successful mainstream country bands; however, it’s her improvisational talent and body language that draws me most to her playing. The following video was captured many years ago and demonstrates her crazy style!
She is definitely in the zone! Her humorous faces and concentrated expressions reveal a connection between body, mind, and music. Her performance is especially convincing of genuineness.
One of the great advantages of the pedal steel is that its licks can be used on so any different instruments. Country guitarists often mimic the pedal steel. Foremost of these guitarists is Jimmy Olander of Diamond Rio. Olander plays Glaser guitars which have a built in pedal mechanism that mimics the sound of a pedal steel. The following video demonstrates the string benders.