Pedal steel is a very different instrument from the lap steel and console guitars. You play it with a steel bar like those instruments but you also modify the pitch with pedals and levers. It also has 10 strings rather than 8 or 6 strings on a lap steel. It is complicated to play because you are using your legs and knees as well as your hands (try scratching your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time).
My pedal steel is a MSA Classic SuperSustain II single neck with three pedals and four knee levers tuned to E9 (Nashville) tuning. Great to play but not pleasant to carry!
In E9 tuning the lowest 8 strings are tuned to a dominant 9th chord. The 9th interval is repeated on the top string but the second string is tuned to a major 7th interval. So if you simply strum all strings it will sound dissonant because of clashes between the dominant 7th, and the major 7th intervals.
The playing technique involves selectively picking strings so as to omit the dissonant strings and form chord “grips” (major triads are usually formed by picking the 10th, 8th, & 6th strings, the 8th, 6th & 5th, 6th, 5th and 4th, or the 5th, 4th and 3rd strings). The presence of the major 7th interval means that you can easily change to a dominant chord in the same key without moving the bar.
As well as sliding the bar to change pitch, you also use pedals and knee levers to raise or lower the pitch. Levers can be set up to raise or lower the pitch of more than one string at a time. Sometimes one knee lever will raise the pitch on one string and lower the pitch on another at the same time. Different players set these pedals and knee levers up in different ways – the way they are set up is called the “copedant” (from “ChOrd PEDal arrangemENT“). My steel is set up with the following copedent:-
Here is a recording of me playing pedal steel on a track for Claire Hamill:-
Here are some links to websites that I have found useful to refer to when learning pedal steel:-
Steel Guitar Supplies / Repairs
Tuition / Lessons
Pedal Steel Manufacturers
Accessories – Bars – Ezee Slide from Basil Henriques
Accessories – Picks – Eagle Music
Tuners – Peterson Strobe Tuners