About Lap Steel Guitars & Pedal Steel Guitars:
Lap Steel Guitars
Lap steel guitars are played in a different manner to the regular guitar. Instead of playing them upright and with the strings facing away from the player’s body, lap steels are played while laid flat either on the lap or on a stand, or standing up using a guitar strap designed to accommodate the different angle.
Unlike standard guitars, the notes are not sounded by pressing the string to the fretboard, but are created instead by using light pressure on the strings from a slide or tone bar, usually constructed of metal.
Many players of standard slide guitar (that is to say, not played on the lap) use glass, ceramic, steel or brass slides. Lap slide players prefer metal slides because the high action of the strings allows the use of a heavier slide for improved tone and sustain. And while standard slide guitar players use slides that are of the bottleneck design and worn over one finger, lap steel and pedal steel players generally use solid bars made from machined steel coated with chrome, hence the term “steel guitar.”
As with all styles of slide guitar, standard tuning is uncommon—most players preferring to use open tuning.
Pedal Steel Guitars
Pedal steel players typically sit on a stool or seat at the instrument. The right foot is used mainly to operate a volume pedal. The left foot is primarily used to press one or more of the instrument's foot pedals. The knees are positioned under the instrument's body so that by moving them left, right or even vertically, they can push levers that are mounted from underneath the body of the steel guitar.
The strings are positioned high above the neck of the instrument. Rather than controlling the vibrating length of strings by pressing them to frets on a fingerboard, the player applies a polished metal tone bar, sliding the tone bar on the strings, to and away from the bridge to change pitch. If the bar is perpendicular to the neck (oriented like a fret), it changes the pitch of all strings equally. The player may also slant the bar, holding it at an angle to affect strings unequally.
One hand plucks the strings, usually with a set of thumb and finger picks—but some players use only a thumb pick, and some use their fingernails. A variable volume foot pedal also contributes to the sound of the instrument.
Mastering the pedal steel guitar can take time, due to its technical and complex inner workings and the unique physical techniques a player must learn to create the instrument's trademark sounds.