Pedal Spacing

Here is the best reply I had to the last newsletter.


Speaking of the “newer generation” not knowing who the “pathmakers” were reminds me of a story I heard in Nashville a few years ago. I can’t remember the person who told me the story, or the singer involved, but it really hits the old nail on the head. Here ’tis:

It seems that pretty little Miss So and So was doing an album and needed one more song to finish it up. Her A&R man suggested she do a Patsy Cline song because they were a good cover. The gal answered, “Oh, she sings? I thought she just came out on stage at the Opry in a funny hat and told jokes.”

When I heard that, I knew country music was in for a big letdown. The funny thing is that when all of the “ignorant wannabes” are forgotten, and they are hustling sandwiches at Subway, and their records are in the fifty cents bin at the Salvation Army store or at garage sales, Patsy Cline recordings will still be selling on the racks with the latest hit makers . Just like Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, even Elvis.

I dug up another newsletter I wrote years ago and never got around to sending. Here it is.

The pedal board on a steel guitar. Do you realize how many different spacings, pedal travel and pedal shapes there are from guitar to guitar? When you say a pedal feels good, does this mean you want one to push real easy or have enough resistance that you can get half pedal without running the pedal into the floor?

There are many different types of pedal feels and of course, pedal shapes. If a pedal is rounded off from the top to the end, the ratio actually changes as your foot pushes it down and walks along the top of it. This might be okay if you get used to it, but after playing a guitar with a flat pedal on top like Franklin or Fessenden, it could be pretty confusing.

The first Emmons LeGrande and actually second and third LeGrandes, I took the pedals off and replaced them with the old style cast push pull pedals. I like the feel much better even though the tension from all the way up to all the way down was identical. Upon seeing Buddy Emmons first LeGrande, I see that he did the same thing.

I personally don’t like the LeGrande pedals because of the sharp edge on top that prevents a player from sliding his foot across the top of the pedal. The old Emmons pedals, you could do this quite easily. The good thing about this is if you have a belt sander, it’s very easy to cut this sharp edge off the tops of the pedals.

The Sho-Bud pedals do not have this trouble. I like the newer Sho-Bud pedals that are thin from the shank to the end of the pedal because it gives you more space between the pedals without the pedals being further apart. However, the very wide spacing like on the early Sho-Bud Pro IIIs, these new pedals give you almost too much space between the pedals. But let me say this out loud.

All these pedal sizes and pedal feels I’m talking about really must be sized and adjusted to the player. The person that likes one may hate another. I remember Tom Morrell and I building some of the first MSAs and Tommy himself built a steel guitar with only two inches of space between them. This was horribly narrow for me and I just couldn’t play it. But he wanted it that way and played it very well.

I like two and three quarter spacing or even more if the pedals are wide. I just put the pedal setup on my new Clinesmith and because of the width of the pedal, I went to three and a quarter inch spacing. This would be too much on a Sho-Bud or Emmons, but it’s just perfect for Bigsby or Clinesmith.

Remember here, Clinesmith and Bigsby pedals, like the first Sho-Bud pedals, are built with a very wide pad on the end so they require either thinning them down with a band saw, which I have done, or add more space between pedals overall.

Most steel guitars today that are on my floor here are a good blend of width and spacing, for instance, the new Mullen guitars. It’s obvious that these guitars are being designed and built by a very good player, Mr. Del Mullen himself. These guitars are extremely comfortable to sit down behind and play well the first time you try.

Just remember that any pedals that’s too easy to push is not going to give you the control that you need of the note changing from one pitch to another. Also, the rate of string change will determine the pedal feel. The harder you push the pedal the farther a note goes? This is not good. The pedal should push with about the same tension all the way to the stop. As you push the pedal, it should get progressively easier, not progressively harder.

You may notice if you’ve ever played an Emmons push pull, the farther the pedal goes down, the easier it is to push. This ratio of pressure can be adjusted on all guitars. However, it may take a different bell crank, or different parts to accomplish this. The Emmons LeGrande guitars are also very good about incorporating this feature.

I have seen several homemade guitars in my lifetime and guitars like the Sho-Bud Fingertip that have progressively harder push the farther you push the pedal. Not bad if you get use to it and can control it possibly, but not for me.

The Sho-Bud Permanent, built from ’57 to ’65 is fine, but the Fingertip made form ’64 to ’68, unless adjusted very precisely, does not have what I call good pedal action. However, this Fingertip model was a brilliant design and the great granddaddy of the all pull guitars of today.

Bobbe Seymour

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