Sound Check Pedal Steel - Truck Lab
posted by July 19 at 11:43 AMon
The pedal steel guitar is a bitch to play. Players are heady, a combination of trucker and scientist.
The sound of the pedal steel swells in and colors. It implies country, back roads, and voodoo on the swamp. The cross-ties of its presence in a song are ominous and possessed and pretty as a rose. 18-wheelers with their ears on roll all night. Glissando the interstate notes are drawn. Breaker breaker, steady the rig and spit the sunrise down.
Today, pedal steel man, Kevin Suggs, is with us to break it down.
Heís played his pedal steel for the Shins, Brandi Carlile, Rocky Votolato, Luke Temple, and ThorNton Creek. He also plays in a band called Evangeline, which will be at Tractor Tavern on August 10th. They swirl it perty.
Iíve been playing this freaky thing for over ten years now. When I bought my first steel I had no clue how it worked. I had to get a book to show me how to tune it and get some tips on playing. It took me quite some time to play anything resembling music. It was very frustrating. Pedal steel is a different beast.
10 strings, 3 pedals, and 3 knee levers. The tuning I use is E9. It isnít an open tuning. You canít just strum all the strings and have it be a pretty chord. You have to be very selective as to which strings you hit or it sounds like ass, and because there are no frets you really have to use your ear for intonation.
The pedal steel guitar uses a metal slide to stop the strings, rather than fingers on strings. The pedal steel is mounted horizontally on a stand. The strings face up towards the player. Itís plucked with fingerpicks mostly. The pedals are used to change the pitch of its strings while being played.
Origins of its technique stem from Hawaii in the late 1800ís. There was a different kind of trucker back then.
The pedals and knee levers raise or lower certain strings by an exact increment. Usually, a whole step. Sort of like a whammy bar that only works on certain strings and has a stop at a preset point.
If you place the bar at the third fret and pick the correct strings you get a G chord. Makes sense right? Now if you push the first two pedals down it brings it up to a C chord. That makes sense as well. If you push those pedals in a slow and graceful way it really sounds cool and people think you know what you are doing.
Minor chords are a little tricky. If you want a C minor, you move the bar a half step up from the C chord, pull your foot off the two pedals, and kick the right knee lever on your left leg side. It can get to be a right brain / left brain train wreck sometimes.
The volume pedal that you work with your right foot is a beautiful thing. It allows you to strike the string with the volume off and then swell into the note. This is a big factor in giving the instrument that weeping sound. It can also be used to help hide sloppy playing and I really like that feature.
Iíve always loved country music but never really sat down and studied the classic country pedal steel players. I made up my own licks and stuff. Pedal steel isnít just for country music of course. I play in a lot of rock groups, and have played on a lot of records by non-country artists. I think the steel is very versatile in that way. It works well in lots of places.
I hear that Bon Jovi just added a steel player to his group and that kind of pisses me off. Thatís just going too far.
I play an MSA. They are a top name in steels. Some other good names are Sho-Bud, Emmons, BMI, Sierra (made in Portland), and Carter.
Kevin also plays with Kristen Ward tomorrow, Friday, July 20th at Tractor Tavern.
Heíll have his 18 wheeler parked outside the show. Itís easy to park on Ballard Avenue.