FRETS.COM Illustrated Glossary

No frets, really
Lap Steel
© Frank Ford, 10/13/98 Photos by FF

The steel guitar is not a guitar made of steel, and it's not just any old guitar with steel strings. It's a guitar played with a "
steel," a metal bar that slides along the strings to define the notes.

In the early years of electric instruments, the 10930s, the steel guitar was often an electric guitar, like these "lap steels" hanging on the wall here:

As their nickname implies, these guitars are played like this:

These were not originally called "lap steels" but, as the first electric guitars, just known as electric steel guitars. Later on, they were built into little tables and had various pedals and levers connected to raise or lower the pitch of selected strings. The popular "pedal steel" is the most commonly used of the steel guitars in Nashville and other recording centers.

The earlier lap steels are enjoying something of a comeback these days, what with the resurgence of interest in country swing and other period music. That's why I've included this electric guitar in the glossary of acoustic instruments

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