"Lap Steels are inspiring instruments--challenging to play but worth the effort because they produce the most amazing soulful sounds."

-Bill Asher

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LAP STEEL 101

Many people have heard the sounds of a Lap Steel guitar, and maybe didn't even realize! Lap Steels can be heard in many classic Hawaiian melodies, country songs, and more recently in movie sound tracks, TV commercials, and a variety of musical genres such as rock, gospel and world music.

Some may have never even seen a lap steel. So for those of you who are wondering, here is a little bit of information weve put together...

So lets start with the basics: what is a lap steel? The term lap steel is pretty much self-explanatory. It's a guitar (electric or acoustic) that is held on your lap and is played by running a steel bar across the strings to change the pitch. The strings on a lap steel are raised slightly higher above the fret board than a regular guitar, and instead of steel frets, it has fret lines for positioning. Lap steels are usually tuned in one of several "open" tunings rather than standard guitar tuning, which gives the player the opportunity to create their own.

Many new to lap steel guitars may also wonder what's the difference between a lap steel, slide guitar, steel guitar and pedal guitar?Here are some basic guidelines:

Lap steel guitar: a square-necked acoustic or electric guitar that is held on your lap and played by running a steel bar across the strings to change the pitch.

Slide guitar: usually referred to as a method of playing a standard guitar in its usual position (not on the lap) and is played with a piece of metal or glass, usually a tube worn on one finger.

Steel guitar: a general term used to describe a guitar whose steel strings are "twanged" while being pressed with a movable steel bar for a glissando effect.

Pedal steel guitar: a stringed instrument with feet that is played while sitting down, much like when one is sitting at a table. It usually has pedals at the feet used to control and bend harmony and pitch.

There are many other styles and variations of steel-string guitars. Brad's page of Steel is a great place to find out more!


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A LITTLE BIT OF LAP STEEL HISTORY[Did you know...the very first electric guitar was a lap steel?]

Lap Steels have been around for quite awhile...legend has it that back in 1885, an 11-year-old Hawaiian school boy named Joseph Kekuku was walking along railroad tracks when he picked up a metal railroad tie and began sliding it along his guitar strings - creating that characteristic singing voice of a steel guitar that we are familiar with today. He was so intrigued by the sound, that he began exploring his newly discovered method on his guitar by experimenting with other objects. Using the back of a knife blade (we don't recommend trying this at home), little Joseph Kekuku began teaching himself to play.

For the next 7 years he learned how to master producing the unique and sweet sounds with a hair comb, a tumbler and finally, a smooth steel bar that is still widely used today. Little did he know that his imaginative methods would spark a revolution in guitar technique and instrument design.

In the years passing, Joseph Kekuku began spreading and teaching the then radical techniques of playing a lap-style guitar.

Some say however, that it wasn't until the San Francisco Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915, that this Hawaiian style of playing guitar really took off - reaching even more musicians and guitar players who became intrigued and fascinated with this soulful and expressive musical instrument.

The lap steel became tremendously popular on the mainland U.S. and continued to thrive in popularity until the 40s. The introduction of electrical amplification in the mid 1930's had a great impact on the history of lap steel guitars. Rickenbacher's aluminum "Fry Pan" electric steel guitar became a huge success among professional musicians of the time and some herald it as one of the most fertile periods in the history of steel guitar design.

Although the roots of the steel guitar had been somewhat established in Hawaiian music by the 1900's, and later in country music as well, there was a lacking of teachers to educate others how to play lap steel. Early legendary steel players were in so much demand to play and record that they had no time to teach others. By the 1960's the art and technique of playing Hawaiian steel was almost lost.

A few dedicated musicians, however, fought to keep the art of lap steel playing alive. Jerry Byrd, a Country Music Hall of Famer, Barney Isaacs, Billy Robinson, David Lindley, Greg Leisz, Cindy Cashdollar and more!

Lap-style guitar can be heard today in so many different types of music ranging from country, hawaiian, rock, blues and American Roots.

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WONDER WHO'S PLAYING A LAP STEEL TODAY?

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LAP STEEL TEACHERS

Want to learn to play lap steel guitar? Here's a partial list of lap steel teachers with varying styles and abilities. Feel free to contact them to see if they suit your needs, or possibly they can refer you to someone else in your area. If you would like to be added to the list, please email us.

IN THE UNITED STATES:

Alabama
TONY LOMBARDO
Birmingham, AL
(205) 328-1128
(205) 427-2255
lombardo56@hotmail.com

Arizona
JOE BETHANCOURT
Boogie Music

Pheonix, AZ
(602)978-6688
www.whitetreeaz.com/lessons

California
JOHN HOWLAND
Berkeley, CA
(510) 693-2416
www.johnhowlandtrio.com

JOEL HARPER
Folk Music Center
Claremont, CA
(909) 624-2928
Folkmusic.center@verizon.net

BOB BROZMAN
Los Angeles, CA
(831) 336-0304

MICHAEL WITCHER
Los Angeles, CA
(818) 554-4424

Illinois
DAN PHELPS
The Player's Bench
Crystal Lake, Ill.
(815) 459-8614.
Private lessons available
(815) 262-1358 (cell)
www.danphelps.net

STEVE DOYLE
Old Town School of Folk Music
Chicago, IL
(773) 728-6000
www.oldtownschool.org

ROB ANDERLIK
Old Town School of Folk Music
Chicago, IL
(773) 728-6000
www.robanderlik.com

Georgia
MARK VAN ALLEN
Music Farm Recording Studio
Loganville, GA
(770) 972-9013
www.markvanallen.com

Massachusetts
EARLE PUGHE
The Minor Chord
Acton, MA
(978) 264-0299
www.theminorchord.com

New Hampshire
STEVE LATANISION
Guitar Gallery
Amherst, NH
(603) 672-9224
www.guitargallery.com

SETH AUSTEN
Vintage Fret Shop
Ashland, NH
serth@sethausten.com
www.sethausten.com

Upstate NY & NYC
DAVID YANNUZZI
Nyack, NY
(845) 558-1978
dyannuzzi21@hotmail.com

Oregon
BEN BONHAM
Portland, OR
(541) 386-5904
www.benbonham.com

MARY FLOWER
Portland, OR
www.maryflower.com

Pennsylvania
MIKE BRENNER
Philadelphia
http://heyslomo.com

Pennsylvania
RICHARD BRANDT 131 N Smith Rd Waymart, PA Ph: (570) 785-5867 alohatu@nep.net

MIKE BRENNER
Philadelphia
http://heyslomo.com

South Carolina
MIKE BAGWELL
Greenville, SC

OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES:

Canada
JOHN HIGNEY
Song Bird School of Music
Ottawa, Ontario
Lesson Hotline (613) 355-2146
www.songbirdmusic.com

Canada
ERIC GOLDING
Eric Golding Studio of Guitar
Hamilton, Ontario
(905) 383-7875
egolding@mountaincable.net

India
PANDIT DEBASHISH BHATTACHARYA
**The only steel guitar training institute in India for students from the country and abroad
www.debashishguitar.com
hindslide@hotmail.com

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LAP STEEL LEARNING RESOURCESwww.guitarseminars.com
The International Guitar Seminars is a wonderful way to learn from some of the best players out there. Check their site for dates and locations.

*** More lap steel learning links to come soon!