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Lap Steel Guitar Vs. Pedal Steel Guitar

By Matt McKay ; Updated September 15, 2017
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The debate between learning lap steel guitar vs. pedal steel guitar is common to all aspiring steel guitar beginners. While both have their pros and cons, the choice between lap or steel should come from player preference and choice of musical style.

Slide Guitars

Both lap and pedal steel guitars are slide guitars, using a steel, glass, or ceramic slide bar to produce different notes on the fretboard. The slide is placed lightly on the strings, guided by the player, and slid up and down the fretboard to produce the signature "slide" guitar sound.

Strings and Tuning

Lap and pedal steel guitars are designed in different models which use from six to eight strings. There are hundreds of tuning possibilities, with the most common being "open chord" tuning, in which strumming of the strings produces a particular chord. Lap steel guitars are sometimes tuned to standard guitar pitch, "EADGBE", from low to high.

Musical Styles

Both lap and pedal steel guitars are used in folk, country, Hawaiian, and some blues and rock music, with the main difference being the desired musical effect.

Playing Position

Lap steel guitars are made to be played on the player's lap, although they may be placed on a small stand. Pedal steel guitars require the use of a stand, as they make use of levers and bars mounted below the guitar, for string note modification. Lap guitars are more portable than pedal steels, and require much less set-up time.

Primary Difference

Laps steel guitars are statically tuned, as in any stringed instrument where tuning is not changed during actual playing. The pedals and levers on a pedal steel guitar, operated by the player's foot and knee, allow tuning changes to occur as the player performs.This additional function makes pedal steel guitars more versatile in musical keys and playing effects, but also makes them more difficult to learn.

About the Author

Matt McKay began his writing career in 1999, writing training programs and articles for a national corporation. His work has appeared in various online publications and materials for private companies. McKay has experience in entrepreneurship, corporate training, human resources, technology and the music business.