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Sacred Steel Summit

Keeping the pedal steel guitar alive | 5 players on the instrument’s influence and evolution

Country music is changing.
So is the instrument that plays a key role in solidifying its entire sound—the pedal steel guitar.

Their marriage is still intact; however, it’s now an open one. An increasingly diverse group of musicians have taken interest in the oblong, floor-mounted electrified guitar fretted with a steel bar, putting the instrument in the ears of many indie, ambient, and experimental fans for the first time. Pioneered by Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day, the quintessential honky-tonk sound of the ’60s and ‘70s has by no means been erased. Rather, it’s been deconstructed and put back together by forward-thinking artists.

A highly vocal and emotive instrument, the pedal steel comes with a steep learning curve. Even seasoned lap and six-string guitarists struggle to navigate the added complexity of foot pedals and knee levers in conjunction to sliding and picking. Despite this, the midlife renaissance of the steel-guitar could be a determining factor in its continued lineage and reframing in music history.

For this piece, we invited five modern players for a roundtable discussion about their history, approach, and relationship with the pedal steel.


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