Archive for the 'steel guitar' Category



I’m not used to feeling boggled, but I’ve had to cope with it recently.  A few weeks ago, I got my first pedal steel guitar – a nice old Sho-Bud 6139 model.   Mine is relatively a simple, a single-neck 10 string.  It has ten strings, three pedals that change the pitch of various strings (sometimes more than one), and four knee levers that also change pitch.  Additionally, in the country-standard E9 tuning, the strings aren’t necessarily in low-to-high pitch order.  It’s very, very confusing.  I’m sure I’ll learn to play it eventually, but for now… boggle.


dog whistles

I sometimes refer to the subtle differences between tools (like guitar pickups or camera lenses) as “dog whistles”, not audible/visible to normal people.  But one of my dog whistles isn’t so whistly.  I have two different slides I normally use when playing lap steel.  One is a generic Dunlop bullet slide, basically a chromed steel rod with a rounded dome at one end.  The other is a glass slide I picked up from some guy on Ebay who makes them.  It’s much lighter than the Dunlop, a bit bigger in diameter, and rounded on both ends.  I strongly prefer its sound and feel to the Dunlop.  Unfortunately, glass being, well, glass, it has developed many tiny chips where it gets hammered onto the first string.  These chips sometimes catch the string, which I can both hear and feel.  So lately, I’ve been using the Dunlop more.

But in two different cases now, I’ve had other musicians insist I use the glass slide, after hearing both… even if it meant the chip-scrape sounds winding up on recordings.   So the tonal difference isn’t just a dog whistle, I guess.

I should take it to a jeweler sometime and see if they can polish out those chips for me.


Not the marrying kind

Here’s a track by Navigation Without Numbers, a sadly short-lived music project with my friend Jamie Jean Maertens. Jamie is a songwriter of marvelous clarity and directness. The chorus is simply, “I guess your mama was right about me all along”, repeated twice… a really profound statement of hindsight and regret.

I played the steel guitar part on a $50 Artisan lap steel, just weeks after getting the instrument and starting to learn it.  The engineers did a marvelous job capturing the sound.  In hindsight, I could now play something technically more complex, but I don’t know if I could play anything more musical or appropriate for the song.

Likewise, Jamie’s acoustic guitar part is a lovely example of unintentional simplicity.  She’s a very functional guitarist – she plays because she needs to play in order to write and play songs, not for the sake of the guitar itself.  Technically, I’m a “better” guitarist, but I can’t play this song the way she does to save my life.  The whole guitar part is the result of her limitations as a player, from the simple fingerpicking to the “cowboy F chord”. But as a whole, it doesn’t sound unskilled – just clean and simple. 


Blue Frogs from Mars

Blue Frogs from Mars, by Late November. Late November is my duo with Michael James.  Michael composed the song, sang, and played acoustic guitar.  I played percussion and steel guitar. This was a one-day rush job to be included in the ambient music for a bellydance show.