Pedal Steel of the Future

This is Bob Hempker with the newsletter for today.

First off, Bobbe called and said to let everyone know he is mourning the loss of Maurice Anderson. Bobbe and Maurice go back to 1963 and there is a lot of history between them. Bobbe has often said that he and Maurice fought like brothers and loved each other the same way. He said his heart goes out to Teresa and the kids.

I’ve been sitting around pondering what changes might occur in the steel guitar of the future. I can foresee most of the mechanicals being replaced by electronics. I think this will take a long time to happen but tuning problems would be gone and cabinet drop wouldn’t exit. This could propel the steel guitar into prominence again.

I think that before this happens, the first two strings of the E9th tuning will be incorporated into the tuning. In other words, the third string will become the first string, the first string will become the second string, the fourth string will become the third string and second string will become the fourth string. The fifth through the tenth will stay the same.

You’ll still push pedals and knee levers, but an electronic signal will be sent to an electronic gizmo that will change the pitch of the string similar to a synthesizer. I’m surprised somebody hasn’t built one already. The technology already exists in many devices.

It could also have a synthesizer built in to give you different sounds similar to electronic keyboards. There will be several hurdles to overcome. First of all, there will be tone. We would want it to sound like a steel guitar. But just as they sample real drums for electronic drums, the synth could contain sample sounds of every make and model steel ever made, thus giving you a complete steel guitar collection in one unit.

This could easily be extended to make it sound like a tuba or any instrument you want to just as is done in electronic keyboards.

The steel guitar of the future will be midi compatible with a midi recorder built in, have USB ports built into it, video outputs, even a hard drive built in. You’ll be able to transpose keys at the touch of a button, just like synthesizers do today. Think about being able to program and save any pedal setup you want with a few clicks of a mouse. The sky’s the limit.

At first, I’m sure it will be hard for steel players, especially older players, myself included, to accept such changes, but it will come and we will get used to it and learn to love it just like piano players have done.

There would be a great weight savings by getting rid of all the mechanicals and the steel would become much more lightweight and portable. A set of strings would probably last pretty much indefinitely.

I think at first, steel players will be expected to play this instrument and still be able to play the mechanical instrument that we play now mainly because the tonal characteristics won’t be quite the same in the beginning. That is the part that will take some time to develop. Remember when Fender came out with the Rhodes electric piano? Consider the improvement in tone that’s been made between the original Rhodes and current model synthesizers. It will happen in steel as well.

Nowadays, a piano player can tuck his instrument under his arm, walk into a gig and play it. He could never do that in the past. That’s why a lot of bands opt for a keyboard instead of a steel. Plus, they also get all the horns and strings and everything that a keyboard player can do. Also, most keyboard players sing while most steel players don’t.

When we get to the point where we can tuck our steel under our arm and walk into a gig and play, steel guitar may come back into prominence.

I’m not looking forward to it, but it’s coming. It has to. Otherwise, I fear the steel guitar could stagnate if it doesn’t. You might someday see one in a museum sitting next to Ben Franklin’s glass armonica.

Vic will be playing steel for Daryle Singletary on Saturday, July 20th at The Wyndham Convention Center in Panama City, Florida. Show begins at 6:30 PM. Come to the show if you can.

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