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Author Topic:  Advances in pedal steel construction
Daniel McKee

 

From:
Corinth Mississippi
Post  Posted 19 Jun 2020 5:13 pm    
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I think steel guitar, mechanically is at a good place. that being said I feel that new advanced features are always being added. MSA with their light L fret fretboard are really great. Williams and Sierra with their changer that allows you to put the string through a hole and not have to worry about it flying out during restringing. MSA with interchangeable pickup option. So many features that make life easier for the player in some way. I think there is always rooms for improvement of different areas of steel guitar. I would like to see more builders offer keyless and longer scale options and such a feat does take some trial and error. We also have quite a few builders trying different lightweight options so the advancement is definitely very present in this era of steel guitar.
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Michael Johnstone


From:
Sylmar,Ca. USA
Post  Posted 19 Jun 2020 5:33 pm    
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I got a pretty good idea that a digital steel will be a challenge. First of all, will it have actual strings to pick and slide a bar around on? If so what kind of information will they be able to generate and how exactly? Will the sounds be sample based? Will the pitch bend operate according to midi spec of 127 increments per semi-tone? What about bar vibrato? Blue tooth? Really? I smell latency.
I've played an IVL Steel Driver equipped Sierra U12 steel and I liked the sounds I could get out of a Roland 880 multi-timbral synth to add some keyboard sounds to a band without a real keyboard player. I thought I was pretty good at it but there's a midi latency tied to a string's frequency. Low strings lag more and you have to play more and more ahead of the beat as you work your way down the strings. A lot to keep up with just to play with any kind of time and feel. It's like wading thru mud.
I've heard of someone trying to pull strings with servos and I know something about servos. No matter how you calibrate the pedal throw and resistance to mimic a real pedal and have the servo timing and leverage set up so it feels and pulls like a real pedal steel, you'd never really have the infinitely incremental detail and tactile feedback a mechanical linkage has. And you'd spend a fortune in modern robotic hardware trying.
I'd be satisfied if someone would make a real light minimalist keyless 10-12 string single neck all pull pedal steel with maybe 4+5. Something along the lines of the old SGI steels that Mitsuo used to make in a super light fly case weighing in well under 40 lbs total that you could fly without paying an extra $100+.
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Greg Cutshaw


From:
Corry, PA, USA
Post  Posted 19 Jun 2020 6:17 pm    
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Reduced weight is a more recent innovation. My Excel S-12 with 8+8 weighs 37.9 pounds in the case. Reduce the pedals on that guitar that to 4+5 and remove the changeover hardware and your at maybe 33 pounds in the case!

http://www.gregcutshaw.com/Excel%2012%20String%20Keyless/Excel%2012%20String%20Keyless.html
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Greg Milton


From:
Melbourne, Australia
Post  Posted 19 Jun 2020 6:36 pm    
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One advancement that I have thought about recently after thinking about Earl Scruggs' cam tuners on his banjo is a mechanism located where the nylon tuners are that allow you to disengage and re-engage a change mid-song, kind of like backing out the nylon tuners and then tuning them up again, but with a mechanism that does it instantly and with tuning accuracy, maybe at the press of a button.

I imagine it allowing you to have twice as many changes on pedals or knee levers, but with some disengaged when not needed and able to be alternated.

Not sure what an engineer or builder would think of the idea, though.
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Jack Stoner


From:
Inverness, Fl
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 2:08 am    
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What happened to the guitar that was pictured on the forum about two years ago with all the pedal tuning on top? I think the person was from Illinois. That's innovation but apparently it never went any further than the prototype.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 3:13 am    
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Excels are a miracle of lightness as there is no apparent trade-off in tone or cabinet drop or general solidity. It's an innovative design even without the changeover option.

But my Williams is just as light even though it's totally traditional in construction.

So I suppose it's all down to evolution and refinement, including better materials.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 8:37 am    
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Michael Johnstone wrote:
I got a pretty good idea that a digital steel will be a challenge. First of all, will it have actual strings to pick and slide a bar around on? If so what kind of information will they be able to generate and how exactly? Will the sounds be sample based? Will the pitch bend operate according to midi spec of 127 increments per semi-tone? What about bar vibrato? Blue tooth? Really? I smell latency.


I recently had an unsettling revelation on this. I was coming up with an arrangement for a song and recorded it into an Audacity file to listen back to and critique. There was a part where I hit a harmonic and held it to lead into a phrase. My girlfriend thought that it would sound better if I slid down a step while holding the harmonic. I was curious, but tired, so instead of going back to my steel, I highlighted that part of the Audacity track and used a digital effect to create the slide. It sounded good enough to my ears... so I have to imagine that it would be just fine for non-steel players. Doing it digitally meant that the issue of string noise and the tricky volume pedal technique of sustaining a harmonic and then instantly going back to normal volume was a non-issue.

I don't know enough to speak about latency issues, but wouldn't it be the same general idea as running through an octaver effect pedal? I think you could still use actual strings and a bar. I think the strings would have to be changed so that they create the same signal without creating much acoustic sound. It would be obnoxious to hit a pedal that would digitally raise a note but still have the string continue to ring at the same pitch.
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Greg Cutshaw


From:
Corry, PA, USA
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 8:37 am    
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The Excel S-12 case weight is 12.1 pounds. The Williams case weighs 31.1 pounds. The small size of the Excel allows for a much smaller and lighter case. The difference in the case weights alone gives the Excel a 19 pound advantage!
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Charlie Hansen


From:
Halifax, NS Canada and Various Southern Towns.
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 9:06 am    
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Jack Stoner wrote:
What happened to the guitar that was pictured on the forum about two years ago with all the pedal tuning on top? I think the person was from Illinois. That's innovation but apparently it never went any further than the prototype.


The guys name was Fults. I can’t remember his first name.
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Leo Grassl

 

From:
Nashville TN
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 10:03 am    
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Charlie Hansen wrote:
Jack Stoner wrote:
What happened to the guitar that was pictured on the forum about two years ago with all the pedal tuning on top? I think the person was from Illinois. That's innovation but apparently it never went any further than the prototype.


The guys name was Fults. I can’t remember his first name.


His full name is Bob Fults. From what I’ve gathered he has built a few but isn’t planning on a mass production.
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 20 Jun 2020 10:31 am    
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Greg is right.
The actual guitars weigh much the same. Fortunately, I prefer the Excel for gigs and the Williams for home
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Slim Heilpern


From:
Aptos California, USA
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 6:19 am    
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Greg Cutshaw wrote:
The Excel S-12 case weight is 12.1 pounds. The Williams case weighs 31.1 pounds. The small size of the Excel allows for a much smaller and lighter case. The difference in the case weights alone gives the Excel a 19 pound advantage!


Probably worth mentioning, the case that came with my Williams S12 (Series 700) weighs ~22 pounds, so perhaps just a 10 pound advantage?

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Jerry Overstreet


From:
Louisville Ky
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 7:54 am    
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Let's not fail to acknowledge the Jackson's recent innovations and renewal to pedal steels as well.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 9:32 am    
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Greg Cutshaw wrote:
Reduced weight is a more recent innovation. My Excel S-12 with 8+8 weighs 37.9 pounds in the case. Reduce the pedals on that guitar that to 4+5 and remove the changeover hardware and your at maybe 33 pounds in the case!

http://www.gregcutshaw.com/Excel%2012%20String%20Keyless/Excel%2012%20String%20Keyless.html

The most remarkable and innovative thing to me about Excel is that open tuning change lever. What do you think of it now, after playing it a while, Greg?
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Greg Cutshaw


From:
Corry, PA, USA
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 1:55 pm    
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The Excel changeover works great but is not perfect on the two lowest strings which require some endplate tuning if you want perfect pitch. For just practicing at home I don't bother retuning but I do if recording.
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Larry Bressington


From:
The beautiful sunsets of Nebraska
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 6:18 pm    
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Years ago I worked with a hot tele picker on the road, he walked over to me with his tele on and laid down a blazing chicken pickin lick, he said Hey I bet you can’t do that on a steel? I said No (I) can’t and then I hit a G chord at fret 3 and slid up to fret 10 ala (Pete drake) very slowly with vibrato and I said; Ahhh bet you can’t do that on a tele?😊 That’s what a steel is all about, you need metal strings and a bar, it don’t matter if you do it on an old Sho Bud or you do it on the latest greatest updates, there’s nothing like it that will replace the emotion that brings.

I agree what everybody said about the updates on pullers, fingers, cabinets and EZ rod changes not to mention the weight loss. Etc etc, lots of changes gone on but they maybe somewhat invisible from the outside.
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Paddy Long


From:
Christchurch, New Zealand
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 8:24 pm    
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I think the guy building those new Sierra's has some rather amazing innovations (Ross Schaffer?) - especially his bellcranks which you can set the rod height/position almost anywhere you like...

And when I look under the hood of my Zum Hybrids it's light years ahead of my old Shobud Super Pro which was rubbish by comparison!
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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 21 Jun 2020 9:22 pm     Sierra
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The rod pullers on the new Sierras are quite elegant. There are many other innovations in those guitars as well.

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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 12:16 am    
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The idea of infinitely variable bell cranks was one that I had when I was building my first uni, but I didn't have the tooling to realise it.

Good to see it in action. Ross's video of making the little plastic thingies is good, especially if you're fond of animals

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoeuYNEZXcI
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Gene Tani

 

From:
The Pacific NW,
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 9:32 am    
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I remember seeing a pic that somebody mounted one of Bill Keith's banjo full or half step drop tuners on a lap steel or pedal steel keyhead

Greg Milton wrote:
One advancement that I have thought about recently after thinking about Earl Scruggs' cam tuners on his banjo

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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 11:27 am     Re: Advances in pedal steel construction
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Bill Duncan wrote:
There are several very good builders of pedal steels and they are exquisite. But as far as mechanical advances to me I don't see any. There are still the same scissor style changers, most appear to me to be Carter clones with more pull holes. Even the bell cranks are still about the same as in the seventies. Most have gone to square crossrods instead of round, but that is hardly groundbreaking technology. Easily interchangeable pickups are an advance I believe. Am I way off base?

Look closely. I don't see a whole lot of mechanical similarity to a Carter on Ross Shafer's Sierra guitars. And then there's the floating top deck, the tapered leg sockets, the adjustable-length carbon fiber pedal rods, etc.. I won't go into changer design, but again it's no "Carter clone" - it's a fresh look at the problem.
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John McClung


From:
Olympia WA, USA
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 7:29 pm    
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Greg Milton wrote:
One advancement that I have thought about recently after thinking about Earl Scruggs' cam tuners on his banjo is a mechanism located where the nylon tuners are that allow you to disengage and re-engage a change mid-song, kind of like backing out the nylon tuners and then tuning them up again, but with a mechanism that does it instantly and with tuning accuracy, maybe at the press of a button.

I imagine it allowing you to have twice as many changes on pedals or knee levers, but with some disengaged when not needed and able to be alternated.

Not sure what an engineer or builder would think of the idea, though.


Buddy Emmons' D10 Zum had that on the last steel he played out with. The late Hook Moore who inherited the guitar when Buddy passed posted some great photos of how it worked, it's still a bit murky to me. I've tried sketching out simple ideas to temporarily disengage changes, but it's beyond my meager engineering skills to come up with the most elegant way. Search for Hook Moore and you should find that thread. I'd think Ross Shafer at Sierra could figure this out!

UPDATE: here's a link to that thread and photos. https://bb.steelguitarforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=348978&highlight=
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Greg Milton


From:
Melbourne, Australia
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 8:41 pm    
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Thanks John! That seems to be an interesting way to do it, although I imagine it getting pretty cluttered under there if you wanted it for multiple changes on different strings. I think some kind of a new mechanism located where the nylon tuners go that essentially disengages and re-engages the pull rods quickly would provide more usability, but the back end of our steels behind the changer would never look the same again!
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Greg Milton


From:
Melbourne, Australia
Post  Posted 22 Jun 2020 8:49 pm    
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Gene Tani wrote:
I remember seeing a pic that somebody mounted one of Bill Keith's banjo full or half step drop tuners on a lap steel or pedal steel keyhead


Gene - Can you remember where? It's different from what John and I are talking about in that it changes the tuning of an open string, but I could see it being useful for a string like the 2nd string, where some people tune it to Eb or (like myself) C#. It would be nice to alternate between the two with the flick of cam tuner, and have all the raises and lowers on both - i.e. in Eb mode raising a half step and lowering a half and whole step, and in C# mode the same
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Andy DePaule


From:
Saigon, Viet Nam & Springfield, Oregon
Post  Posted 23 Jun 2020 9:58 am     They are not all clones
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They are not all clones.
While everybody who builds pedal steel guitars is riding the sholders of those who came before.
Ever since Paul Bigsby built Speedy West a working PSG in 1947 (The year I was born) every builder since then has followed and many have made improvements, small and large.

As for the scissor changers, as good as they are there are some that seem to work better than some others. Also there are other kinds of changers out there and some are better.

One only needs to look at the new Sierra's, MSA's and Jackson's as well as some others to see so many innovative ideas and real improvements.

I started playing in the mid 70's and the improvements in builds and the quality have done nothing but get better all that time.
Thank the lord for all these great people who build because nobody ever got rich building pedal steel guitars. It's a labor of love...
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