Smitten with the Steel Guitar

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Hearing the song “Sliding Home by Cindy Cashdollar (above), I rediscovered the sound and instrument of the steel guitar. This type of guitar is usually played horizontally. The musician uses one hand to pluck the strings, and the other hand to change the pitch by pressing and gliding a slider. A steel guitar can be played a number of ways, such as “lap style:

Or “bottleneck style:

The steel guitar’s form and method of playing can be traced to Hawaii. There’s a tropical breeze and grassland quality to the instrument’s sound. Most of all, there is an underlying human quality. When asked if playing the steel guitar is like “imitating vocals, Cashdollar answered:

“It does sound like a voice. That’s why I love this instrument. It’s so expressive. You’re sliding and swooping, and you have control over the emotion and the notes [that] you’re not fretting with your hand.

During the same interview, Cashdollar expressed that the typical take of the instrument as a “whiny guitar is no longer the perception, thanks to its growing versatility in media and attraction to players. A musical term that the steel guitar can demonstrate is “glissando, meaning to glide from one pitch to another. One cherished example of this effect is the steel guitar-based song “Sleep Walk recorded and released in 1959 by rock-and-roll duo and brothers Santo & Johnny. Here is a performance of this hit by Clayton Douglas on his “Homemade LapSteel:

As a guitar, steel is not strucked nor plucked. It smoothly glides.

Nate Burgos

Images from Wikipedia.

Read related post “Sound of Metal: Steel Strum with A Trussart Steel Guitar.

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